Alpha Anywhere – In Brief

Alpha Anywhere (AA) is a low code development platform from Alpha Software for creating web, mobile and desktop applications.

AA offers rapid application development of line of business applications that use CRUD operations against SQL and DBF database and premium versions can access remote web services.

Alpha Anywhere UX Component
Sample Alpha Anywhere UX Component

AA provides several prebuilt components including data grid, UX form, tabbed UI, calendar, dialog, image gallery and others. These can be customized for various use cases using wizards and by setting properties of the prebuilt components.

Alpha Anywhere Property Settings

The prebuilt components can be customized by writing custom code. The Alpha dialect of XBasic is used to create serverside code whilst javascript code is used to create custom clientside code.

We recently downloaded the latest trial version of AA (August 2019) to assist a client upgrade an AA desktop app and noted several new features and enhancements.

Pros

New features and enhancements in AA include

  • access and create web and REST services
  • utilize third party node packages from xbasic using node integration
  • integration with Alpha Transform
  • perform CRUD operations against SQL, DBF, and mongoDB
  • Git source code control
  • Deploy mobile apps to device/store using Phonegap
  • Offline support with synchronization
  • Alpha Cloud (AWS based with support for multiple versions of AA, extra cost)
  • IIS plugin (additional cost)
  • OpenSSL updates
  • User support forum
  • Paid options available from Alpha for mentoring and application development

Example App

To evaluate the latest version of AA (Alpha Anywhere Development Server/12.0 Build/6012-5338 August 2019) we created a process that enabled an existing AA desktop app to take payments via a secure payment gateway. AA already provides integration with stripe integration but our client wanted to continue to use their current payment provider.

Billing Details Screen

The AA solution to access the secure payment gateway primarily consists of a5W pages calling into XBasic functions compiled into an AEX file.

  • URL encode variables to be sent to payment gateway
  • registration of payment with payment gateway
  • receive parameters from payment gateway including transaction id, security key and redirect URL
  • await the payment gateway to callback to an AA URL with status and additional parameters
  • check parameters received from the gateway for tampering using security key previously provided
  • confirm final status to payment gateway to commit or rollback the payment transaction

Initially, we utilized the AA XBasic http_fetch command. When tested on the payment gateway it caused a server error 500 page to display. We tested similar code on several other websites which worked correctly without error.

The error generated by the Payment gateway

To overcome this we modified the Xbasic code to use the AA http_post command. This worked successfully but unlike the http_fetch command the documentation is unclear how to amend the default timeout to the http_post. A timeout parameter is documented but our use case required all other parameters to retain their defaults (e.g. sometimes called named/optional parameters/arguments in other environments)

Payment Gateway Card Entry
Payment Success

Cons

Based on limited time to evaluate AA we did encounter some issues and queries

  • annual subscription cost is expensive and it is unclear if a deployed application will continue to work if the subscription is not renewed
  • requires a proprietary web application server (Alpha WAS) to deploy an application
  • In the UK only a few developers and businesses use AA. It is more popular in other countries. See The International Alpha Developers Network website (IADN.COM) which lists AA developers for hire based on region, expertise together with other resources including addons, webinars, and training
  • The AA IDE is difficult to use compared to VS Code and similar. E.G. It does not appear to be possible to move the UX design screen to a second monitor. Several windows are Modal so must be closed to access other screens. Whilst working in the IDE source editor the cursor caret seems to disappear frequently
  • the AA pricing/feature matrix is unclear as to exactly what is included in each subscription level. e.g. SQL access and third-party APIs
  • Only a few downloadable apps in source code format are available https://github.com/alphaanywhere?tab=repositories
  • much of the documentation is stored in release notes which are slow to load due to numerous images etc. Many of the videos referenced also use the older swf format which has limited support today
  • the website Alphasoftware.com is difficult to navigate using an iPad safari due to popup cookie consent and chat windows
  • Alpha Software provides support via a public forum or by purchasing a support incident at $249

Summary

AA is a great tool for quickly building apps and if you have a need to develop your own apps it is worthwhile trying out the trial edition which can be used for 30 days.

Identify the features and external services you require then check the documentation, videos, addons, source code sample availability, and online forum.

Don’t forget to also check out the costs for app server hosting and licensing.