Friday, October 27, 2006

Top 2 Reasons To Use A Visual DataFlex WebApp

Top 2 reasons to interface your current data with the web with Visual DataFlex Web Applications

Visual DataFlex WebApp (TM of Data Access Worldwide of Miami) is a tool used by (Applause Software) and the (NEDC) two of the premier Visual DataFlex specialists in the USA.

Type 1

Your website collects prospect data in the form of email or CSV and you must manually compare the results to your prospect database and manually type in new data thru your windows or dos programs. Some companies write scripts to "parse" the email but changes to the email format require reprogramming and the "batch parsing" routines make response to the emails slow.
With a Visual DataFlex WebApp, your incoming queries from the web are automatically fed directly to the correct on-file customer or a new customer/prospect record is created. When the prospect lead comes in, you feed the inquiry directly to the sales manager via email (to assign to a CSR or salesrep) and a reply email is sent back to the inquirer with your chosen text indicating that you received their information and that you will be in touch shortly. Determination if the inquiry is a customer or prospect is made instantly at the time of the inquiry and response time is immediate. Example of Type 1 LIVE Visual DataFlex WebApp: Sports Travel And Tours Inc.

Type 2

Your phones are ringing too much with customer inquiries that could be eliminated thru a sharing of data online where the customer logs into their account and can view their inventory, outstanding debt, status of sales orders, etc. (customized to your need) and save the phone from ringing.
With a Visual DataFlex WebApp from Sonata Software, or NEDC, your chosen data is shared securely in a customized format designed by you, and passes thru a login page to data that has 4 levels of security built into it including a datadictionary object that determines whether data can be changed/entered, etc. based on your needs. A subset of your data can be shared on a dedicated PC running XP Pro: no need for investment in a Linux or Unix based server thru a technology from Microsoft called IIS (internet information services).
Bonus: Your data does not have to be in a certain format: Visual DataFlex and WebApp are transparent "front ends" which can share and collect data to DataFlex tables, MS SQL tables, IBM DB2 tables, etc. or a combination of all.
Both these options give you 24/7/365 presence to serve your market.
Example of Type 2 LIVE webapp: American Data Storage Inc.

Project: Stop The Phones From Ringing With a Visual DataFlex WebApp Database Sharing Application

Client: American Data Storage of Boston, MA (www.AmericanDataStorage.Com)

Client Problem: My phones are ringing off the hook with inquiries about inventory requests and the manpower I have is being sapped by these inquiries to the point of not allowing us to perform our regular duties and we have a backlog of work.

As a software engineer with 23 years in the custom software business, I chose a tool called Visual DataFlex WebApp from Data Access Miami whose main website is The reason I chose this tool is that it is data-centric rather than interface-centric. Instead of defining a beautiful interface in 10 hours and spending 80 hours in interfacing with the customer's data, I chose a tool where I invested 20 hours of data interface time and touched up the user interface .asp pages over time (20 hours more) and delivered the application at a lower cost than a Studio like .NET or VB because the
Visual DataFlex Studio (rev 11.1) starts at the data interface and automatically (after defining the business rule layer for sharing data) creates the .asp pages which are totally functional but not beautiful.

I have spoken with a number of Sales Marketing Executives including a 500 billion dollar company Marketing and Sales VP, and they have spent huge amounts of effort and dollars invested in web / data interfaces with the .NET and VB Studios. The story from them is very similar: in a very quick time they get a beautiful contemporary interface to do the job, but enforcing business rules such as who gets to see which data, which subsets of data are available, and whether a particular user can delete/edit/create etc. individual data tables at which times is a nightmare that sometimes is unacceptable in the end and costs huge investments in making a web tool compatible with data business rule layers. In addition, the result is that these business rule layers reside in the .asp rather than in (available only thru Visual DataFlex WebApp) a dynamic datadictionary class for each table, and customized data dictionary objects for each module (business rule exceptions to the main blueprint but for an individual module only).

The DataDictionary Classes From Visual DataFlex WebApp function on 4 levels:
1. You are able to define attributes to each column of each table, such as capslock, required entry, comboform values (must be one of....)...
2. Methods are written (functions/procedures) and hooked into the desired columns of each table which are run prior to agreeing on a save or delete.
3. The DataDictionary Class has a cascade of messages that get called upon a new save, an edit to an existing record, or on all saves, or on a delete.
These messages are customizable (say to drop down a parent value into a child table), assign a unique ID to a new record, etc, and lastly validate the data after all the massaging is done to centralize the rules: example: if the total result of the transaction makes the customer overlimit on credit limit you can rollback the transaction entirely based on this level of control.
4. This is the best part: DataDictionaries for each related DBMS table are organized in tree fashion and hooked together so that the data structure of the table is REQUIRED to use datactionaries from it's related parent and child tables. This is called a DDO TREE. Layman's terms: You are saving a new customer, but because the customer table is connected to the terms table, you cannot save a customer unless a predefined record is found by the terms datadictionary object. No save: you haven't selected terms for the customer.
Now, for business modules, the DDO Tree is instantiated for each individual module. You can actually augment the find/clear/save/delete/validate business rules for each module easily and customize them for that particular module. Example: show only the fire protection inventory and hide all other.
Let's get back to the client's application specifically:American Data Storage specializes in keeping inventory of film media, video, and digital video and CD's and targets Advertising Agencies, Broadcasters, and Corporations that do videos for training new employees and advanced study for existing employees. In a bold move, ADS has offered the City of Boston an online, immediate retrieval of all their video surveilance tapes which, in this day of terrorism and crime, is an excellent choice. Instead of trying to maintain (and then locate) certain video, they would login to ADS, search for the inventory, and pick it up within an hour at ADS's main site or have it shipped overnite.

I crafted, in a very low budget, a highly dependable Web Interface to data over the internet which accesses inventory ONLY for the company logged in, and divided into categories or sub-clients of the client, featuring 6 search engines to locate the data and a shopping cart withdrawal of inventory.

The owner of ADS was so pleased, based on his review of the end result, that he hired Sonata Software, (The Author) to create a DEMO AREA where you can login as DEMO and try out the application based on an inventory of popular movies on DVD (all demo, none available in real life). This acts as a promotional piece for the company and it is now swamped with inquiries due to only word of mouth, from new customers and existing customers that want to be able to search for, and order their inventory online 24/7/365.

ADS and I invite you to review the final result and run the Web Application in DEMO MODE at (login page).

The results will speak for themselves, and you can contact ADS thru their website to ask how they feel about Visual DataFlex WebApp and what it's done for their business.

Peter A DonovanOwner / Lead Programmer
Sonata Software: Applause (TM) Software
Boston, MA, USA

Visual DataFlex Product Review

Visual DataFlex is a database RAD (Rapid Application Development) visual studio where windows and web database applications can be designed.

~The best kept secret in database development~

This article is meant for viewing by mid-size and small companies seeking a lower cost or more rapid alternative to Microsoft platforms such as .NET and VB.

================= Here's the Index For This Article: ===============
* Where did Visual DataFlex Originate?
* What advantages does it have over .NET and VB?
* Why should I try Visual DataFlex (download eval)?
* Who makes Visual DataFlex?
* What support would I receive from Newsgroups Or Support Groups?
* What's the future of Visual DataFlex?

* Where did Visual DataFlex Originate?
In 1981, along with DBASE2, FOXPRO, etc. DATAFLEX (the dos version) launched it's 2.3 version for DOS, CPM, and UNIX.Because it was the highest price database engine and development platform, and it's specs outweighed the competition many individuals who were not programmers purchased DATAFLEX and with it's english like syntax became faithful followers and many success stories were launched. If you were an accountant, sales manager, or inventory analyst, DATAFLEX was perfect since it was a 4GL product and handled the interface with the database included in the package automatically for you, and a winning combination of work skills and easy database development combined to make v2.3 a highly successful endeavor. The packages written in this era were from experts in the field and while many unorthodox methodology was employed, it worked! Unfortunately, like many other (now) Legacy Systems written for DOS became more and more difficult to deploy and maintain since Windows was introduced. There are many DOS DATAFLEX applications still fueling businesses across the world now and most are considering: port to Visual DataFlex, or port to the Web? The main concern of many companies is that unique and proven code which runs like lightning would be compromised by eithe of these solutions, and is generally a real concern: but of significantly less importance than the users perceive.

* What advantages does it have over .NET and VB?
Imagine you are a designer of software, and a .NET solution from Microsoft is available. First, you start with the user interface, and the tools to produce an interface in windows/web are highly attractive. Then, you have the job of writing an interface to the data which is a huge undertaking and requires thousands of lines of code to produce a stable application that follows the specs of database table business rules, connections between database tables (dependencies, etc).

Now, Imagine you are a Visual DataFlex designer. First, you start by subclassing the controls provided by Data Access Worldwide (true windows controls) and leave these subclasses (based on your business name for instance) completely alone and unchanged.... but for future use. Then, you open the database builder which creates datadictionaries for each and every database table in your project, relate the database rules to each other (auto-generated) and determine how each column of each table will appear, which validation will apply to it, and set your business rules directly in the CLASS for the table.

See how the two approaches are completely the opposite?

Visual DataFlex centralizes on data validation, finding, clearing, deleting, and saving, and then you use the Visual Studio to create the visual portion of the program which is built on a TREE of connected data dictionary objects (instantiated business rule layers based on the classes) which can introduce business rule exceptions and augmentation.

The advantages appear immediately:
1, Data Integrity and business rule layers intertwine and you MUST validate the data (automatically generated validation based on your rules) and synchronize together in order to save a record or records.2. The visual designer has the same classes for the most part as .NET and VB but they are tied into database definitions and take on immediately a save/clear/delete/validate/find operation that does not need programming.
The combination of these two advantages means that your data integrity is higher, your data operations are more eloquent, and also the interface (while not quite as beautiful as .NET) is visually appealing.
The design and deploy time from start to finish is less than .NET by a estimated 40% resulting in lower cost to your customer and more winning bids for you.

* Why should I try Visual DataFlex (download eval at www.VisualDataFlex.Com)?
First, from the above, you can see how a database oriented approach is significantly easier than other options. Don't download VDF to program a game! It's built for business applications as a specialty, so if that's what you are programming I suggest you give it a try.
Second, the VDF community is closely knit and we publish free code and add-ons, answer questions immediately and with great skill on the newsgroups, and you will belong to an elite membership where close relationships with other developers is quite attractive.

Visual DataFlex is a transparent front end for just about any database back end you care to use such as MS-SQL, IBM DB2, etc.

If you are afraid of being sacked for using a non-Microsoft product, please disregard this article entirely!

* Who makes Visual DataFlex?
The answer is surprising. Of course, Data Access Worldwide of Miami FL USA makes the product, but it is crafted largely thru suggestions of individual developers who receive personal feedback from company representatives on our newsgroup forum, and feedback at conventions personally. Imagine that you too can shape the direction that the product flows and your actual bug reports are included with the fixes in the next release! Credit where credit due.Data Access also has worldwide distributors and is a global product used in many countries.

*What support would I receive from Newsgroups Or Support Groups?
Example: If you are from New England, USA, you can join the NEDC User Group at which welcomes developers and has regular meetings in person to promote camaraderie and show tech presentations on current projects by the members.In addition, there is a Visual DataFlex newsgroup which is monitored by Data Access Tech Support to some degree, but the feedback comes mainly from globally based Visual DataFlex developers and I personally recommend this newsgroup due to the high quality support received (and given) over the years.

*What is the future of Visual DataFlex?
Data Access Corp has network partners over many locations that introduce the latest features available such as SOAP, AJAX, activeX, Web Services, etc. and is about to launch version 12 which will look very familiar to .NET developers. In addition, the ~FREE Personal Edition~ which includes the entire studio and all connectivity kits with a 5 user limit will be unveiled at the next global meeting called "Synergy" in Miami Beach FL in 2007. The promotion of this product will be largely word of mouth and this keeps the tradition and nickname of the product as ~The best kept secret in database programming~ alive!

I invite you to pop open a search engine and search for Visual DataFlex to see what all of the (not(fuss)) is about!

Author: Peter A Donovan of Applause (TM) Software
Peter has been developing custom database applications since 1982 and has migrated his development techniques thru DOS/Windows/Web and oops programming specialization thru centralized coding in both Window/Web and Crystal Reporting.