InfoWorld review: Tools for rapid Web development

With WYSIWYG prototyping environments and preconfigured graphical components, rapid Web development tools can help you build applications faster -- but with less flexibility

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Faster, but less flexible
If you choose one of these tools to accelerate your Web development, keep in mind that your gain in development speed will be paid for by a loss in flexibility. Alpha Five and Iron Speed Designer, for example, are geared to very specific kinds of applications. Along with Agile Platform and LANSA, they also pre-impose a structure on your code. Your application will have to live with that structure throughout its lifetime -- and you may have to as well. In addition, many of the products here require proprietary components.

It's important to remember that Iron Speed doesn't do it all, nor does it try to. Iron Speed builds fundamental database access code -- which, if you're building a database management application, gets you a long way there. As with Alpha Five, Iron Speed's runtime is Windows based. But if you're building database-centric Web applications running atop ASP.Net, it doesn't get much better than this.

LANSA is also a well-established company, and its tools span more platforms than any other products in this roundup. But the total number of tools available can be daunting; just figuring out which tool you need for a particular development project could take some time. Also, learning RDMLX will require effort, but if you need to build Web applications that run on a wide range of platforms, LANSA might be just the ticket.

The Agile Platform strikes a fine balance between visual development and hands-on coding. Because the platform generates standard .Net and Java code, you can take the source out of your application and continue working on it with your favorite development tools. Agile Platform's free community edition lets you build applications supporting up to five simultaneous users. However, it can only create Windows (.Net-based) applications. Only the paid editions of Agile Platform can be used to build Java-based Linux applications.

Finally, OPA is still a work in progress. Even elements of the language are in a state of flux. For example, documentation accompanying the parser function tells us that the syntax is experimental and may change in future versions of OPA. This isn't the sort of thing you want to read if you're building an application that your business is going to depend on. Anyone embracing OPA is susceptible to the problems attendant with adopting any new technology: Will it still be there next year or the year after that in the future? If not, what happens to all my applications? This is not a trivial matter.

Rapid Web development tools at a glance

  Cost Pros Cons Bottom Line
Alpha Five 10 Developer edition, $349; Application Server edition, $599; Developer and Application Server bundle, $799
  • Wonderful user interface
  • Extensive help system
  • Company is well established
  • Server runs on Windows only
  • Xbasic is proprietary language
Alpha Five is an excellent database application builder that can create desktop as well as Web applications, but is not the best choice for a general Web application construction tool.
Iron Speed Designer 6.2.1 Enterprise Edition starts at $1,995; Professional Edition starts at $995; limited free edition available.
  • Point it to a database, and it does the rest
  • Source code can be "peeled away" from the application
  • No proprietary back end
  • Server runs on Windows only
  • Only builds CRUD database interfaces
Essentially a front end for developing .Net and ASP.Net applications, Designer is good for jump-starting database-centric Web applications.
LANSA for the Web 11.5 Available upon request
  • Runs on IBM midrange systems, Linux, and Windows
  • Excellent and extensive help system
  • Server runs with Apache or IIS
  • Proprietary server-side language
  • Development system is complex
  • Significant learning curve
Not your typical development system, LANSA nevertheless can execute on a wide range of platforms.
OutSystems Agile Platform 5.0 Priced per application user. Community edition is free; Basic edition starts at $90 per month; Professional edition starts at $425 per month.
  • Runs on Linux and Windows
  • No proprietary back end
  • Easy to extend environment with external source
  • Free edition can only create Windows applications
  • Current version requires all entities to be in one database
  • A bit of a learning curve
Pure visual development, the Agile Platform nevertheless creates user-modifiable source code.
MLstate OPA S2 Beta Available upon reqiest. A free community preview is available for download.
  • Everything goes in one file
  • Simplified deployment
  • Executable includes Web server and database
  • Product is still being developed
  • Language is in a state of flux
  • Documentation is incomplete
OPA is a unique all-in-one-file approach to Web development, but a work in progress currently still in beta.

This article, "InfoWorld review: Tools for rapid Web development," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest news in software development at InfoWorld.com, and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter and on your mobile device at infoworldmobile.com.

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