Caspio Bridge 6.0

Caspio Bridge, like a Microsoft Access on the Web, allows nonprogrammers to easily create online databases and the Web forms to fill them

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Caspio Bridge 6.0
  • Caspio Bridge 6.0
  • Caspio Bridge 6.0
  • Caspio Bridge 6.0

Pros

  • Simple to develop and deploy Web apps

Cons

  • Table structure may be restrictive

Bottom Line

Caspio Bridge's crisp, business-like GUI brings Microsoft Access-like simplicity to building Web databases online. Caspio shines with tight integration with Microsoft Office applications and a clean pricing model. The SQL structure imposed on tables will be welcome to some, but restrictive to others. And while applications are built without coding, many old programmer tricks are still necessary. Table names, for instance, require underscores instead of spaces. The biggest limitation is there's no easy way to add arbitrary logic to Caspio's back end.

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Please note: pricing for this product is in US$.

Now that the desktop revolution is largely over, most of the excitement lies in the counter-desktop revolution that is bringing all the flair developed by the desktop programmers back to the safe world of the server. Caspio is one of the most prominent players seeking to lure the desktop database builders away from Microsoft Access and back into the datacentre's fold. The company has been around since before the last bubble burst, and now it boasts a number of prominent companies as customers.

The process is simple and requires, as Caspio's Web site promises, "no more programming." First you specify some database tables and then you describe how these tables can be filled up with Web forms. After a bit of testing, you push a button and copy some JavaScript, and the forms are deployed on your Web site. The data your Web application captures lives in Caspio's datacentre.

Caspio's solution, called Caspio Bridge, is part of a wave of Web-based applications for building Web applications. Some, such as JotForm, WuFoo, FormAssembly, and their many cousins, promise to help automate the process of turning forms into tables and CSV files (see "Application builders in the sky"). Others, such as Coghead, want to help you develop an entire Web application. The line between them is getting quite blurry, but Caspio Bridge lies much closer to Coghead because it aspires to help you build full-fledged, database-driven Web applications.

As a programmer, I'm loath to call what Caspio and Coghead let you do as "not programming" because it includes much of the architectural forethought and experience that pays my rent. You do need to think about the structure of the data and make a number of other decisions that take up many of the early meetings during a programming project. Smart database design can make a difference. After that, though, using Caspio is just filling out metaforms that specify what other forms will look like.

Wizards and widgets

Caspio won't help you build the coolest applications, but you can accomplish quite a bit without much effort. The meat of the process comes during a fairly complex wizard for designing Web forms. Each field in the data table can have a number of basic and advanced rules for converting it into a field on the form seen by the user.

I particularly liked the way Caspio implemented the duplicate fields used by many Web sites to gather fragile information, such as new passwords. All it takes is one click on a check box; Caspio inserts a second field and automatically checks the two for consistency. All of the standard widgets are provided, plus a few somewhat novel ones, including a CAPTCHA button and Google Maps integration. The look of these widgets is vintage Microsoft, and the icons will take you back to simpler days when your real estate was going up in value. Although there's a good deal of JavaScript at work here, Caspio's designers have stayed away from the pastels, morphing blocks, and pulsing DIVs so common in Web 2.0 implementations.

After the form is built, though, comes a brick wall. There's no simple way to add your own custom validation to the server side of the application. Caspio offers a number of suggestions for how to add JavaScript to the client side, but you can't tweak any of the application logic on the back end.

This will be frustrating to a programmer who wants control over every layer in the stack, but it's easy to see why Caspio locks the server down. I've played with one reporting tool that lets you add arbitrary Java classes into the reporting logic. It's slick and programmer-friendly, but it fails badly when something goes wrong. The tool offers to compile your Java for you, but if it finds an error, it fills the screen with a stack dump. Caspio, like all of these server-based tools, must anticipate the worst that a user can do, which usually means endless loops and other simple mistakes. Exiling extra logic to the client is a simple and fairly elegant solution to malicious code, though Caspio's JavaScript customisation comes with fine print: "Caspio is not responsible for the correctness, compatibility or applicability of these functionalities."

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