Product Reviews

Flat-File Revival?

With Access facing an uncertain future, Alpha Five might be a worthwhile alternative for your smaller database apps.

You may recall Alpha Four, a multi-user relational database for DOS. Well, you can still buy Alpha Four, but not Alpha Five, a native Windows application, is the flagship product for the company. With version 5, they've overhauled and improved the product considerably, and are now aiming to take business away from Microsoft Access.

Version 5 includes a ton of new features (see the full list at http://www.alphasoftware.com/products/a5v5/newfeatures.asp). Some of the most significant include the ActionScript scripting language for fast automation, the ability to interoperate with Microsoft Office or other OLE applications, e-mail integration, a new form designer, and excellent customizability for the user interface including some spiffy toolbar editing tools.

After spending time with Alpha Five, it does seem to live up to the reputation of being easy to use and fast for straightforward databases. The profusion of "genies" (Alpha's answer to Wizards) lets you hook things together quickly, and the table, form, and report designers all work adequately well. If you want to tweak anything, you can generally get into the XBasic definition and play to your heart's content.

So, will it replace Access? For high-end applications, I doubt it. But there is certainly a chance of Alpha Five gaining some market share. You may recall that I recently wrote about the end of life for Access 97. I know a lot of developers who've stayed with that version because they don't need the high-end features of later versions of Access. For building bread-and-butter applications for typical small or medium businesses, Alpha Five may provide an attractive alternative to upgrading.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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