Anyone who is comfortable writing macros or sophisticated Excel spreadsheets has what it takes to create apps with Coghead, says McNamara. A person needs a basic understanding of relational databases, such as an account record that has many invoices stored against it. Sounds easy enough, yet the problem is that even seasoned business executives who know how to operate intricate database applications have no idea what goes on in the background, adds Heagney.
Moreover, Heagney acknowledges some of Coghead's limitations today. For instance, the tool lacks simple ways to make mass changes and to create complex fields, he says. As with all cloud systems, reporting is a drawback because there's limited access to the back end. "One part I couldn't write was the general ledger -- the core piece of ERP -- which is a challenge right now because of the way the tables work," he says.
InfoWorld Test Center analyst and software developer Peter Wayner, who authored the Coghead and Caspio reviews, takes it a step further: "In essence, [Coghead] is a fancy front end to a spreadsheet." Wayner, though, is quick to point out its potential, saying, "We're reaching a space where people can quickly build Web applications on top of any kind of database tables."
Into a wall of disillusionment
But don't count your applications before they hatch. Codeless software development is not as easy as the examples of Heagney and NextWave's Smith suggest, contends Forrester's Gualtieri. Rather, nonprogrammers heading down the do-it-yourself route should expect to confront a number of trials.
Gualtieri believes many business users will get in over their heads and become frustrated, which will lead to disillusionment. That's because they'll have made mistakes along the well-trodden developer's path of identifying what they want to do, selecting the right tools, and architecting the project appropriately. Or, more simply, they'll pound their heads on the desk because they won't be able to insert a table with an image in one of the cells.
"It didn't take me long to generate an inscrutable error message, the kind that leads to panic in mere mortals but inspires real programmers to roll up their sleeves," Wayner writes in his Coghead review. "The drag-and-drop tool may look nice, but I think most serious Coghead programmers will need to learn BPEL syntax and then work backward to figure out why something isn't working." In other words, the Cogheads may eliminate the coding, but they still require you to think like a developer.
The average business executive will hit a wall trying to do this himself, agrees Heagney. For this reason, 60 percent of Coghead's sales flow through the channel where at least some level of technical expertise and guidance is available.
A simple Web app can also grow into a monster, with more users and features added daily. It may become so large and so unwieldy that intervention by the IT department is needed to save it. Or a company may need to hire a Coghead programmer to support the app. "Somebody has to understand the internal architecture of applications in order to protect integrity," says Yefim Natis, distinguished analyst at Gartner.