Webfuser dev tool aimed at non-programmers

The latest version of an Ottawa firm’s hosted Web development platform lets non-developers build business applications in less time with what the company said would be minimal intervention from IT administrators.

Inuvia Technologies Corp.’s version 2.0 of Webfuser includes new features that extend the ability to support robust applications, said the company’s chief technology officer, Scott Thomson.

For instance, a graphical environment has been added that allows users to layout graphical objects without dealing with code. “The biggest thing is the fact that you don’t have to be a programmer to use it. Making people write code is a big stumbling block,” said Thomson. The tool also makes the programming process visual and instantaneous for the user, he said, cutting overall development time by 50 to 60 per cent.

Also, he said the printing and reporting capabilities do away with having to “bring up some big reporting editor.” Users can create reports from existing pages created within the graphical environment that are automatically converted to PDF or Excel spreadsheets and e-mailed or downloaded.

There are overall performance enhancements like Ajax support to serve up pages faster, a capability much valued in Web development, said Inuvia’s managing partner, Robert Brenning.

To minimize the learning curve for the non-developer, a five-lesson tutorial is designed to take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours to complete, said Brenning. The tutorials guide users through a progressively complex path from creating an application from scratch, to connecting the application to a database or Excel spreadsheet, to filtering data.

Companies can also design the applications as per their corporate brand or choose one of the “skins” the tool provides.

Application design and hosting are integrated on a Webfuser server, therefore minimizing the labour required of the IT administrator, said Brenning, adding that depending on how server access is set up, employees from different departments can access the software and build their own applications. “There is nothing at the desktop, which is IT’s big bane.”

Moving an application from one server to another is also easier because the entire site is stored in a single file, and there is no code to deal with unlike most development tools that “spit out gobs of code,” said Thomson.

George Goodall, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, said although Webfuser is targeted at the enterprise and SOHO (small office/home office) environments, adoption will be mainly in the SOHO space – or the “pre-formal IT” organization – where staff typically wear multiple hats.

The SOHO environment is where the tool will be adopted in “rogue fashion” outside of IT support and guidance because as companies get bigger and develop an IT department and IT processes, said Goodall, they tend to turn to more standardized technologies, like Microsoft SharePoint for instance. And, besides, he added, larger companies will have dedicated staff to build these applications.

“Once you have a formalized IT policy and staff in place that goes beyond basic system admin, then the utility of something like this product starts to decrease,” he said.

Although Webfuser targets the non-developer, Thomson acknowledged that not all non-developers, like say the office assistant, will want the task of building an application. Instead, the tool is designed for the user who lacks the development skills but who really wants to design a site, given the myriad of components that need to be understood in order to assemble a full Web application.

Actually, Webfuser fills the “gap” that’s left as IT departments begin to refocus their core competency from an ROI perspective and move away from the costly and time-consuming business of customer application building, said Brenning. Building applications the traditional way could, depending on how extensive the client’s requirements are, mean a company “spends the first month just understanding what has to be done.”

Goodall agreed that the role of the IT department is changing to a certain extent, however, he noted that Webfuser is still a rapid application design tool that doesn’t eliminate the need for developers’ understanding of architecture and usability. “Coming up with a sense of appropriate work flow, appropriate controls for the appropriate task, minimizing key strokes, is really what all developers have to deal with now. It’s not just pushing code around on a screen.”

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