Alpha Software ships PDF plug-in

A new plug-in released Monday will allow users of Alpha Software Inc.’s Alpha Five Version 5 application and database development tool to streamline the process of sending out PDF (Portable Document Format) documents in bulk e-mails, a company executive said.

The new plug-in component, Report Mailer, will sell for US$79 and is the first of many that will be released in the coming months for Alpha Five Version 5, according to Alpha Software Co-Chairman Richard Rabins.

Alpha Five Version 5, the latest version of the company’s Alpha product, was released in September after a three-year development effort. It is designed to compete against database software for Windows, including Microsoft Corp.’s Access and Filemaker Inc.’s database product, Rabins said.

When implemented, the new plug-in will allow customers to merge PDF documents such as reports or invoices into a bulk electronic mailing using information pulled from the Alpha Five database and the product’s built in e-mail merge feature.

Report Mailer will appear as a menu option in a future Alpha Five software update. Customers who have not already purchased a Report Mailer license will be brought to the Alpha Software Web site to do so when they select the Report Mailer menu option, Rabins said.

Rabins said that Alpha is working on “a bunch more” plug-ins for the Alpha Five product, mostly focused on applications for e-mail and online message boards.

They’re features familiar to users of Microsoft’s Access and the Microsoft Exchange messaging server, but they come without the cost, complexity and administrative overhead of those products, Rabins said.

The new focus on plug-ins is a way for Alpha to add functionality to its database, making the product more attractive to both end users and application developers, Rabins said.

“We’re trying to enable business people to do what they want. Our goal is to give non-programmers the power to program, but also to write clear, concise, well documented Xbasic code,” Rabins said.

Report Mailer was created internally by Alpha Software developers using Alpha Five’s built-in design languages, Xbasic and Xdialog, among others.

The goal is to make a development tool that is more efficient and easy to use than products like Access, while not sacrificing the control that most developers want, Rabins said.

What was once a crowded field for Windows-compatible databases has narrowed considerably, as Access competitors such as IBM Corp.’s Lotus Approach and Corel Corp.’s Paradox have faded from view, Rabins said.

In such an environment, Rabins is hopeful that Alpha Five can win both businesses and third-party developers from Microsoft and Filemaker.