Many Pies

Many Pies

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Alternatives to dabbledb

(Update: I've come to a conclusion.)
I'm doing some work in my spare time for a local charity. They are using dabbledb, which has been acquired by twitter. The future is not certain, though they are supporting existing customers and say they will give 60 days notice before they shut it down.

I looked around for alternatives and came across this helpful article - migrating away from dabbledb. It lists a number of alternatives. I'm still investigating the alternatives, but I thought you might find it useful to know what I've found so far.

Zoho Creator
They are the only one I've found to have a specific dabbledb migration tool, which takes the schema and sucks it in. What it can't do is spot which tables link to what, but once you tell it that it brings all the data in. Once you've created your app joining two tables can be done, but not through the interface, you have to resort to the scripting language. Update: you can join tables. However, the fact that it has a scripting language increases its power. If you want to make forms available to non-users you can ask them to do that, it can't be done yourself. (Update: this is a one-off and you can do it with subsequent forms - see comment below.) As you'd expect with a web page, form layout is pretty basic, though you can put fields in a second column. The form editor has drag and drop. Reporting options are varied: you can have lists, grid, chart, calendar, HTML page, as well as pivot table and pivot charts.

"Creator" is one of many applications they offer.

Teamdesk offer a Dabbledb migration tool, though unless I'm missing something, it's just an import tool that reads in all your CSV data. It's been around for 5 years, which is quite a long time in this business, but is probably a good thing. It looks a little outdated, but is quite capable. When I imported data it didn't recognise data that was a picklist, but by using the move column function you can convert an existing column to a picklist. It was easy to set up relationships between tables. As well as normal data table views you can have summary, chart, calendar and timeline views.

ForeSoft, the company behind Teamdesk, have a small number of other applications.

Infodome is Flash-based, so looks a little more swish than the others. The import from dabbledb worked well. You can define table relations through the interface. You don't seem to be able to make forms available to non-users. Forms have free-form layout (probably easy because of Flash) and you can have subforms. It's reporting function allows you to do simple grouping and totalling, as well as just listing things, so less options than the other two.

Infodome is the company's only product.

There were three others that I'm not considering.

Caspio is another Flash-based one, but needs you to host it on your own site, even though you work on designing your database via their site. After I signed up for their trial I was contacted by someone wanting to help me, so that's good customer support. One gripe on the import - it couldn't recognise data types, like dates, by default, and made everything text.

Qrimp looks quite capable, but the company seems quite small. I asked for an account on their demo system and never got one. Although you get two free months (all the others have 14 day trials) you only get that by signing up with your Paypal account.

Intuit Quickbase is an order of magnitude more expensive than the others above.

MyTaskHelper had a lot of features in beta when I first looked, but since then the product seems to have matured - see the discussion below.

It's always hard to evaluate suppliers without having access to their financials. You don't want them to go under, or be too successful like Dabble and get bought out. Zoho boasts a large number of users. I couldn't tell much about the other companies.

Interim Conclusion
I had hoped that writing this would help me decide which to use, but I think I need to try and do more real stuff before I see if it fits what I want. I haven't mentioned features that they mostly or all have - separate applications, users, dashboards, email functions, sample/template applications etc.

The real conclusion is in another post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Civil Society IT Conference

Yesterday I went to the Civil Society IT Conference.

The opening plenary talk was from Ian Osborne. He talked a lot about the Cloud. I'm still sceptical as to whether it will make much difference to small to medium charities. One of his passing comments was about online databases which made my ears prick up, as I'm working, in my spare time, with a local charity to get them off DabbleDB, an online database tool. There are a few around and I think for a very small charity, they represent a good solution for record keeping. It's not rocket science, but if well packaged and delivered it could give a good alternative to Access.

The first workshop I went to was Martin Jervis from Blackbaud talking about a CRM implementation they did with British Heart Foundation. He did well at not blowing their own trumpet and the fact that the BHF project manager co-speaker wasn't able to attend meant he could be effusive with his praise for the absent person.

One of the things BHF did was to fit their processes with the software, something which I remarked on after a conference four years ago. Someone else said you do that for the run of the mill stuff, like HR and Finance, and work on tweaking and bespoking the area where your charity specialises. Interesting thoughts.

Andrew Brenson from Save the Children spoke about Creating a sustainable IT strategy, with some common sense stuff about hitting the right point on the adoption curve, and the importance of not letting a strategy gather dust, but refining it.

I was fortunate enough to meet my counterpart in another Christian charity and it was useful to share experiences and explore the differences between our approaches to CRM and websites.

There was a session on Getting Your Website Strategy Right with Catriona Campbell from Foviance, and her work with clients on user personas. Also talking about TV and online video was Jackie Brambles who I vaguely remember from Top of the Pops, but who has been presenting other stuff in the US and then back over here since then.

Touchstone did an extended plug for their CRM stuff. The interesting thing about that session was that it works in an online way with Azure. I wondered when Azure first came out why it was positioned in the way it was, not directly rivalling App Engine or Amazon EC2. However now I can see that it's a platform for their own offerings, like Dynamics, or for third parties to do the equivalent.

Robert Schifreen from Security Savvy gave a talk about security, which can never be really done well in a short space of time. However I think he was scary enough to make you look at it again.

Recent IT conferences have had social media all over them. This one didn't at all which was strange. I found all but one of the sessions (guess which one) were useful, and if there's a different spread of stuff next year I'd consider going.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

[Microsoft][ODBC Microsoft Access Driver] Could not use '(unknown)'; file already in use

I got this when trying to open a second recordset in an ASP page. The problem was the permission on the directory where the database was didn't allow the IUSR_.. user to create or modify files, even though they could modify the mdb file. Presumably it was something to do with access to the .ldb file.