Test Center review: Coghead clicks for non-coders
Web application for building Web applications shines with easy GUI for code-free development, but troubleshooting may require real programmersFollow @infoworld
One of the odd side effects of designing the data structure by building forms is that there's a form for editing even relatively hidden tables that aren't meant to be seen by the public. This means you often need to go through and build a simpler set of pages on top of the first, in effect creating a sort of wizard. The good news is that you don't need to build an administrator's console after you get things working for the end-user. The bad news is that the applications tend to offer endless forms. Getting things done at the beginning includes clicking on multiple forms and tables.
The real programming comes in when you start creating actions with the cute drag-and-drop flowchart builder. This mechanism is pretty slick and impressive, but I'm guessing it will drive old-school ASCII typers nuts. I found myself clicking and clicking and clicking to build up some basic if-then-else structures. A few lines of a C-like language could be spun up in a tenth the time because there's no need to take your hands off the keyboard. Sigh. But I think this may sound curmudgeonly and old fashioned to visual thinkers.
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. I was dragging some widgets around the flowchart tool for specifying what happens when you create a new database record and I thought I could just pop in an action to send some e-mail. One variable was wrong and a dialog box warned me, "BPEL process could not be generated -- Action Projects/Send Email could not be converted to BPEL."
Coghead turns the pretty flowcharts into BPEL structures. 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. Casual users can probably avoid much of this if they're happy with the basic CRUD (create, update, and delete) operations.
A room with a view
The interesting part of Coghead emerges when you decide to start sharing your application with the world. It's rare for one software company to handle this much of the stack. The developer tool companies usually are nowhere to be found when it comes time to move your code to a server. I once asked a friend who worked for Oracle for help just installing Oracle on my Linux box and he laughed. He couldn't even do it himself and needed special help from other Oracle jockeys. Coghead has spent a fair amount of time thinking about this, and it offers versioning to let you roll out new features. It's just another click on a Web form. You build, test, and deploy in the same world.
Coghead did realize that this total integration can scare some CIOs who equate it with total lock-in. The CIOs are half right, and Coghead is trying to dodge this limitation by offering an open API for doing your own queries to the database. The data is always yours. If you want to leave Coghead, though, you're going to have to find another way to build the application that runs the data.
The real disruptive force behind Coghead lies in its payment model. Everything at Coghead is sold a la carte. Adding a user, storing some data, or putting a new record in a table all add small amounts to the bottom line. You don't sign some hundred-thousand-dollar contract for some slick software salesdroid; you just commit to paying a monthly amount per user. When you activate your account, you pay for "members." A pro account comes with five members for $49 a month.