Web Development by an Access Developer
(including PHPRunner Review)
I am an experienced programmer on mainframes and Windows PCs. I have used Microsoft Access extensively and like it very much for how much you can do without needing to resort to code. Several years ago, when I had only very minor experience in building online applications, I decided to learn about building web sites. My interest is in data management web sites, similar to what one might produce using Microsoft Access. I was hoping to find something similar in capabilities for the Web as Access is for the desktop
In 2013, after trying out a number of software products, I am a group of nine other developers licensed Instant Developer, produced by an Italian company. It is the closest thing to Access that I have found for Web development in that the language itself can do lots of things for use just by learning how to use the software. There are also extensive exit points for you to write custom code.
The software comes in two versions, currently being sold together. The system can generate its code to c#/.net for running on a windows IIS server. It can also generate Java code and run under any system running Java and a web server such as Apache.
I should note that the generated code, once compiled, needs no other run time software or nonstandard capabilities other than Microsoft Windows IIS or Java. A significant competitor, Alpha Systems, which has a similarly capability product, requires you to license and run a specialized server.
It is not for the faint of heart as there is a significant learning curve. Luckily, there is extensive documentation, tutorials and training available.
You can try it out, develop applications and run then locally for free. This version is limited to 20 forms but certainly enough to do a small app and to try out the software.
The software is on the expensive side. Currently about $200 per month. One approach to development is to use the free version for development, then license for a month or two for implementation. Not sure how well this would work.
If you are doing development as an employee for a commercial enterprise or an independent contractor in a for-fee environment, the software cost should be offset by the development productivity you get.
As one of my colleagues likes to say, is that with Instant Developer if there is something you are doing that seems very difficult, you are probably doing it the wrong way.
Other products I investigated (Updated February 2012. )
I have completed trying out Alpha Five version 11. All I can say is WOW! It is like Access on steroids and produces very functional desktop or web apps without code. A5 has extensive options and "Genies" to "build stuff for you". There are lots of Ajax based capabilities that "just happen". If you need code, there is Xbasic, very much like VBA. Xbasic can tap into .Net capabilities as well. And while you have to do an Ajax callback to execute Xbasic which runs on the server, Alpha Five builds the Ajax callback for you so you just need to learn Xbasic.
Notwithstanding what I wrote above, there is a big caveat for considering Alpha Five. That is that it runs only on Windows and requires its own proprietary web server to run any app you develop. Since my testing days, they have developed a version that runs with IIS but it also requires you to license and deploy the special server. Something to consider very carefully.
There is a 30 day free trial that I urge anyone interested in trying.
Be sure to load up the Demo app. It has MANY examples of things you can do with Alpha Five without code! And then you can examine the app to see how it works.
Be sure to listen to three videos here
Scroll down to the Additional Resources or follow the steps below.
1) Scroll down and first view this video, showing the capabilities of a fully functional web demo app created in 5 minutes flat by an experienced web developer.
2) Next listen to the Information Week discussion on building the app
Fritz Nelson of InfoWeek discussing the 5-minute application with Dave McCormick:
scroll down to Additional Resources and click on the already visible video pane
3) Now watch the Ajax app being built in 5 minutes
The biggest issue with Alpha five seems to be how to get started and how to learn it. I have been working at this now for three weeks and am just now starting to be comfortable in building web apps. To that end, be sure to follow the steps of the Read Me first page
Then, if it still looks interesting to you, I would strongly recommend investing $69 and buying the Total Training videos by Steve Workings. They are excellent.
After wading through the first several Total Training videos, you should be itching to build something yourself, which I urge you to do before completing all of Steve's videos. You will come back for more!
Other web development software worth considering
Iron speed Developer – this product is no longer available.
ScriptCase – I know of several other developers who use this and like it very much.
Code on Time - I also know of several other developers who use this and like it very much.