Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Alpha Software Alpha Five 8
Alpha Five offers more choices for extending functions with scripts and Web software, but most users will likely want to spend the extra money for the more-intuitive FileMaker.
- Big developer community, wizards, dialog-box builder
- Not as intuitive as FileMaker
Alpha Five's extensive wizards and Web application development tools let you create custom database applications without pain or programming, at a relatively low cost.
Price$ 249.00 (AUD)
Alpha Five Version 8 Professional does a good job of helping ordinary people create useful and good-looking database applications. Like FileMaker Pro 9, it lets you create desktop and Web databases for everything from e-mail marketing campaigns and online storefronts to media libraries and Christmas card lists. But the programs have different strengths: FileMaker is more intuitive, while Alpha Five offers more extensibility via scripts and Web apps.
Alpha Five 8 has a big developer community, but provides far fewer templates than FileMaker Pro 9. It has wizards for many tasks (called Genies), and a very good dialog-box builder. Nonprogrammers will be able to create quite powerful apps without scripting, although I had to spend a lot of time reading the help files and studying the examples; this program is not as intuitive as FileMaker.
Alpha Five looks sleek and polished, offering new layout tools that have been sorely lacking, such as gradient fills, as well as row colour and line styles in a tabular format. Also, you can add buttons and images that are conditional on other data in browse views. For example, you can add a button that, when clicked, sends an e-mail to the person in that row, or calls up their photo from a linked personnel database. Clicking on a browse column header can now sort the data, too. Forms with embedded browse views suddenly become both pretty and useful. According to the company, version 8 performs faster window-switching and quicker execution of script and code compared with the previous version.
Other major new features include a CSS style sheet builder for better Web form designs and a well-designed Web Security framework, which lets you define privileges for users and groups to pages or collections of pages in your Web application. For instance, teachers could enter and change the grades for their own classes, but only view the grades for other classes. Fields for sensitive data like credit card numbers can be hidden entirely from unauthorised users. Web applications could also perform a variety of other functions, serving, say, as a calendar, a reservation system, or a tool that calculates the quantity of supplies needed for a specific project.
Overall, Alpha Five is less expensive than FileMaker, but its high-end versions are especially so. Comparing list prices, Alpha Five Enterprise version with SQL support costs only $US349, compared with $499 for FileMaker Pro Advanced (however, even the $299 FileMaker Pro 9 offers SQL support). If you require many people to pitch in on the design of your database, you'll need FileMaker Server to get more than nine simultaneous client connections. Alpha Five's Application Server is more of a bargain at $399 for the basic version, compared with FileMaker Server's much heftier price tag.
FileMaker's somewhat easier learning curve, rich template library, SQL capabilities, and instant Web publishing make it the better choice for typical home and small-business users. Also, businesses in need of SQL support could benefit from that feature's presence in the Pro version. But Alpha Five has the clear edge in extending basic functions via script building and Web application development tools, and its lower cost of ownership makes it an attractive alternative.
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