Alpha Software throws down gauntlet to Microsoft

Alpha Software aims to take on Microsoft's Access software with the latest version of its Alpha database, which has automated...

Alpha Software aims to take on Microsoft's Access software with the latest version of its Alpha database, which has automated development features and improved capabilities to create customised applications.

Alpha 5.0 contains features for both users and developers, including a new application scripting language.

Company officials claimed the new language lets users and developers gain a finer level of control over their information, thereby making them more self-sufficient in terms of building customised applications.

"If you do not see yourself as a database professional, what you really care about is ease of use or to customise your solution without having to bring in the experts and the costs and time associated with that. We focused extremely hard on that aspect of it," said Alpha Software co-chairman Richard Rabins.

Although Alpha software has had a consistent history of focusing on ease-of-use features to appeal to less sophisticated users, developers have become increasingly important as an attractive market opportunity.

"What counts with developers is not ease of use but to be able to build robust apps in significantly less time that the other market alternatives, with those alternatives being largely Access or Visual Basic," Rabins said.

Alpha hoped that the database's lower price and reduced time required for projects would appeal to both developers and consultants.

"Based on the feedback from early users, they are able to build robust apps in much less time than something like Access. And if developers and consultants can get jobs done in less time, then they can be more competitive because they can either bid lower on projects because their costs are lower and they have more time," Rabins said.

While many have shied away from taking on Microsoft on the desktop, Rabins thinks Alpha's chances are good only because there is always a place for a competitor who can add value in any market.

"People do not like to have total dependency on just one vendor. Having another choice in a market can only encourage competition because it applies more pressure on [Microsoft] to be more aggressive in terms of product development and pricing," Rabins said.

The latest version also sports improvements to its XBasic language, including a new interface building language called XDialog. The company has added a multi-pane colour-coded script editor along with customisable menus and toolbars.

The product contains an integrated debugger that permits developers to create a high-level Action Scripting feature by using the code editor. They can switch at will between the code editor and the Action Scripting capability.

Version 5.0's Application Scripting can write editable, structured, and documented code automatically, and also has the ability to switch back and forth from across from the Menu system of Action Scripting to the XBasic code editor.

Designed to appeal to users as well as developers, Version 5.0 has several new features that better allow desktop users to manipulate and report on data without the need for higher level programming skills. Some of the end-user-oriented features include a visual report writer, fully integrated e-mail, security, backup integration with Microsoft Office, and a number of data manipulation tools.

Alpha Software has included a Script Genie that can automate more than 200 different actions. It allows developers to produce customised and automated applications through a menu-oriented approach. Users do not need to know to XBasic use it, a company spokesman said.

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