Friday, October 27, 2006

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.

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