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MS Access Developers on How To Approach Mobile/Web App Development

MS Access Developers discuss working with MS Access apps

Microsoft AccessEach week, thousands of Microsoft Access developers come to our website looking for a way to extend their Access applications to the web and mobile devices. While leaving your desktop applications in place, Alpha Anywhere lets you build a secure, responsive HTML5 and Hybrid (HTML5/PhoneGap) web and mobile applications that tie directly to your Microsoft Access data—applications that run smoothly on all browsers and mobile platforms from a single codebase.

We recently came across the thread below on the Microsoft Access Gurus LinkedIn discussion group where different Access developers share their stories of moving to Alpha Anywhere for web and mobile development. Their comments are copied below

Topic: Looking at Alpha Anywhere

  Tech Support for Hire: Computers - Tablets - Smart Phones etc. Access Database Programs. Hold your hand. Top ContributorDoes anyone have any feedback on Alpha Anywhere? I'm looking at it to expand on to the web and mobile devices. I have existing access apps that they claim can be easily interfaced.

Alpha Software Bob Alston, Owner at Alston Consulting
I have used Alpha Anywhere a bit. You can read my assessment

Stephen Attwood, Owner, Advance Software Pty Ltd
Hi Jeff, I've recently returned from Boston (I'm from Australia) where I undertook three Alpha Anywhere training courses over two weeks. I had been looking at Alpha for a
little while but decided it was time to get serious. Since being back I have dived right into developing my first apps and I am convinced that Alpha Anywhere is the way forward for me. I can use any of my current Access/SQLServer backends and the Alpha product is continuously being updated and I am always getting amazed by what is coming out next. To be short I am excited by the product. I hope this helps.
Tech Support for Hire: Computers - Tablets - Smart Phones etc. Access Database Programs. Hold your hand. Top Contributor
Thanks for the comments. I'm really starting to tire of Microsoft' approach to access. Access always seems to be the orphan step child, the after thought. Then when they do make changes to Access, developers seem to be the after thought. I'm still mad about the GUI changes from 2003 to 2007. I work in many versions of access, but new ribbon interface is still to clunky, and I'm still mad about it.However, My biggest interest is in developing powerful database apps that run locally on mobile devices, and only sync sporadically with the main database. My understanding is that Alpha will allow this without too much extra learning curve.
Robin Bennett, Director, Start Software
Hi Jeff, I'd echo Stephen's comments. We're a UK software house and our team of developers previously used Access but we didn't feel it could deliver for us on web or mobile. I took the leap of faith with Alpha and we've not regretted it at all. It isn't a perfect product (what is?) but it is absolutely ideal for web and mobile developments and the learning curve from Access really isn't too bad. The new disconnected feature is also a real game-changer.
Jim Dettman, President at Online Computer Services of WNY, Inc.
Not to side track the thread, while I applaud the concept of moving to a functional approach to the location of items with the ribbon, from a UI standpoint it is a mess (text at top, text at bottom, layout in each section is different, etc), and from a developers standpoint it's a massive waste of screen real estate.But back to the subject at hand; I haven't tried Alpha Anywhere myself, but I belong to a developers list where several have tried it out. I don't think they've tackled any real complex projects as yet, but they seem happy enough at the moment.I'm always leery though of any software that promises it can "do it all" and I have yet to see any wide spread comments on it (good or bad).As has been pointed out though, you need to use their server software for putting an app on the web. I actually don't mind that as long as the price stays reasonable for the SMB market that I mostly work in. It does however present problems for some where software must be first certified. I think for most of us though, clients don't really care about the details; they just want it to work.I'm hoping to hear from a few that have used it and tried to tackle something more complex and what kinds of problems they found.
Tech Support for Hire: Computers - Tablets - Smart Phones etc. Access Database Programs. Hold your hand. Top Contributor
Robin, could you elaborate a little on the offline capability of Alpha and the learning curve. You said it's a real game changer. I have that sense too, but no real world experience to rely on. I have zero background in developing mobile apps. My developer experience had strictly been in the desktop. Access, dbase , Q&A, supervise, scripted.I use vba extensively, I can create Sql queries, but it is a weak muscle, so I rely heavily on access to do the heavy lifting there
Robin Bennett, Director, Start Software
Hi Jeff,Alpha Anywhere has some similar concepts to Access but inevitably there are lots of differences too. With some guided help you can be building function web and mobile systems very quickly (see some progress in hours, really!) but there is a learning curve for sure, especially if you need to get "under the hood" and use Javascript and XBasic (their VBA equivalent).The offline/disconnected stuff is very cool. One of the key control types - "lists" - has been developed to work in an offline mode with fully automated sync features including conflict management. The "list" control is actually a mini table tool in its own right with search, list view, detail view etc etc built in, so you can build a mobile screen which has a search facility (for a sales person, say) to take data away with them and then changes and new records can be committed offline with sync'ing handled automatically when connectivity is recovered. Really, really clever.
Lee Taylor-Vaughan, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner - Cardiac Surgery
Alpha Anywhere is a fantastic product. I've used AlphaSoftware since 1991 (and MS Access since around that time) and I can say that the versatility, ease of use, etc is outstanding. The great thing about AlphaAnywhere is they are always coming out with new features. Recently they came out with 'disconnected' technology that permits a user to work 'off line' and then sync to the server once re-connected. The videos and instructions by Alpha's team are a great guide on getting started and explaining their features. Additionally, their customer support is outstanding (and I mean amazing). Alpha really cares about their clients/developers/customers. There is a small learning curve when you first install alpha, but that the same with any product; again, their videos really help, and the help from the forum is amazing.Lee

David Kates, Alpha Software Developer
I've been using Access since it first appeared, coming from a Mainframe and PC relational database world. I always loved Access until Microsoft refused to fix a data deadly bug in the runtime in 2007. That bug destroyed data and my faith in Microsoft and Access. I looked at, and tried, a number of alternatives... none of which lived up to their claims. I used VB for a while but Microsoft kept changing the direction they were trying to find and there were too many 3rd party controls needed... all of which had their own unique behaviours.Then I tried Alpha Anywhere. Similar in nature to Access... desktop environment... the controls were all there. It could talk to one of the few really powerful ActiveX imaging libraries I was using at the time... just as easily as Access could. It worked. XBasic wasn't so different... the structure was there. The back end was my choice. Getting help was interesting, though. The easy questions are usually always answered by the docs of any environment. It's the odd stuff that you really need help with. The Alpha Forum provided not only answers... but usually several levels of answers all from the differing perspectives of a very active and talented community.But Desktop? That not where stuff gets interesting. Alpha was moving into the web. Little did I know mobile wasn't far behind. For the web, Alpha leveraged the same environment I was becoming familiar with. Adding new controls and methods to an XBasic language that was already home to a ton of functions and methods. Events were everywhere and were both Server-side and Client-side. I could write JavaScript (which I now had to learn) to do anything on the Client side. I could then make an Ajax Callback from JavaScript to the Alpha Server calling functions, passing data and firing off SQL commands. The return from my call to the server could contain more JavaScript. I could also take advantage of Events that fire when those Callbacks were done.And I could choose my level of comfort while doing all this. Ready-made actions made the process simple for me to learn. In many cases I could create an Action (a Macro in Access terms) and click a button to see the JavaScript and XBasic that Action was going to run. I could draw back the curtain and actually see that, in this case, it wasn't all smoke and mirrors... this was real code. This was really good code... that I could use. What better way to learn than to experience the code that runs Alpha written by guys who know how to write code.And then there's the move to Mobile. More Events, more functions, more methods... each to take advantage of another new world. JavaScript is heavily used, cURL, JSON, jQuery. And lurking in the back end... always... XBasic. It's there and being updated along with everything else. The Alpha Server... ready to serve, if you need it. If you don't need it, then talk to Amazon S3, DropBox,, Mandrill, PubNub, Parse. Because, along with PhoneGap Build being fully integrated into Alpha, you get the ability to talk to pretty much any API out there. If the API supports CORS then JavaScript or jQuery. But... what if cross-domain mocks you and refuses to talk. No troubles... XBasic with a battery of HTTP functions.The Alpha World Cup app doesn't use the Alpha Server and either does the AlphaRef Reader... King James in the palm of your hand. The Alpha World Cup app is part of the Alpha docs... you get the app and it's notes. It teaches you the proper way to talk to the outside world... and how to handle its data.While working in Mobile you can test connectivity... you can simulate turning it off... you can utilize Events for its detection. You can write your own data storage using localstorage or let Alpha look after your disconnected state where you decide how data synchronizes with the server.You can talk to MongoDB or CouchDB via XBasic.And this is all just the beginning.There seems to be a big movement in Access right now. Microsoft has not provided an answer to Web and Mobile. Many Access users have tried other environments and become frustrated. But I wonder if this frustration is because they've forgotten that they had to deal with Access in the beginning as well. They had to learn their way around a form and visual basic and how to make everyone behave. It's no different with Alpha. You have to spend some time with it. There's lots of Actions and help along the way but you're still going to have to spend time. At the end of that time you'll see the depth of this environment.I just finished integrating an API into a project I'm working on. Up until 2 years ago I'd never talked to an API. This API wasn't too closed off so I first used jQuery Ajax calls... successfully. Then, just for fun, I tried an XMLHttpRequest in JavaScript... it worked. Then, just to see... I took the API example cURL commands, used the tools in Alpha to convert those commands to XBasic, and again... successful. Finally, using XBAsic HTTP GET, POST, AND FETCH functions to get at the same API. It doesn't get much more diverse than that... or much more fun.

Michael Wells, Experienced in Information Technologies and Programming
Jeff, I’ve been using Access since it came out in 1992. I’ve had many good years with Access, but around 2003, Microsoft started making it almost impossible to continue upgrading Access versions, mainly due to backward compatibility and security issues. I currently have all or the newest versions of Access, but have had to freeze my Access development at the 2003 version. Each time that Microsoft would release a new version, I hoped that there would be something that could allow me to convert my current code to a more modern platform, but that never happened. After years of letting the Hope Monkey ride around on my back, I decided to call it quits with Access and look for something else. After many months of reviewing development products I discovered Alpha Anywhere and never looked back. (At that time Alpha Anywhere was called: ‘Alpha Anywhere - Version 9’).All of my new projects are being done in Alpha Anywhere and I am in the process of converting my old Access projects to Alpha Anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy working with Access (2003), but I sincerely can’t see it as part of a modern development scenario, much less a path to the future that includes real web and mobile development.One of the most important features in Alpha Anywhere is it’s multitude of database connectivity options. This alone allowed me to continue supporting my old code base while simultaneously starting new projects in Alpha Anywhere. My largest project is a hybrid solution that is currently using both Access and Alpha Anywhere. It is successfully running complex programs and sharing live data on desktops, the web, and on various types of mobile devices. (Android, Apple, and many others.)The applications that I write are primarily for use in my own company and as an interface for my client base and sales force. If I were a developer who was competing in the open market as a consultant, I would not be writing this reply, because I would consider Alpha Anywhere a secret weapon that I hope my competition would never discover.That being said, I strongly encourage you to download the fully functional demo version of Alpha Anywhere, watch the ‘getting started’ videos and you WILL be making database connected web and mobile applications in literally just a few hours.I’m not an Alpha Anywhere employee or receiving any compensation for my comments. I’m just an old-school programmer who has found the path to the future and that path’s name is Alpha Anywhere.
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About Author

Richard Rabins
Richard Rabins

Co-founder of Alpha Software, Richard Rabins focuses on strategy, sales, and marketing. Richard also served as CEO of SoftQuad International from 1997 to 2001, when it owned Alpha. In addition to his 30 years with the company, Richard played a key role as co-founder, and served as president and chairman of the Massachusetts Software Council (now the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council), the largest technology trade organization in Massachusetts. Prior to founding Alpha, Richard was a project leader and consultant with Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), and a management consultant with Management Decision Systems, Inc. Richard holds a master's degree in system dynamics from the Sloan School at MIT, and a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and master's degree in control engineering from University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has served on the boards of Silent Systems, Legacy Technology and O3B Networks, and is co-founder of Tubifi

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The Alpha platform is the only unified mobile and web app development and deployment environment with distinct “no-code” and “low-code” components. Using the Alpha TransForm no-code product, business users and developers can take full advantage of all the capabilities of the smartphone to turn any form into a mobile app in minutes, and power users can add advanced app functionality with Alpha TransForm's built-in programming language. IT developers can use the Alpha Anywhere low-code environment to develop complex web or mobile business apps from scratch, integrate data with existing systems of record and workflows (including data collected via Alpha TransForm), and add additional security or authentication requirements to protect corporate data.