MS Access like development environments for the Web – 3 alternatives

So you would like to construct simple applications that you can at the moment create in MS Access but you want to do it on the web. By that I mean you would like to create a data driven application with somewhat complicated forms that can be accessed by anyone through either IE or Chrome anywhere in the world with a simple login screen at the front to prevent simply anyone accessing the applications collecting the information into a database. What are your options for programs that will assist you in a MS Access like environment rather than going the full IDE deep dive – Visual Studio route?

From my experience the unicorn of access on the web is slowly coming to fruition BUT for the vast majority of people with a budget similar to that for MS Access – lets say £200 a year for unlimited applications there is simply nothing which is quite as easy and powerful as MS Access. Some are pretty close but simply not as stable and require typically several magnitudes greater amount of configuration. WYSIWYG design isn’t quite as WYSIWYG and stability is a few orders lower than the desktop.

What you are probably looking at can typically be described as either RAD tools for the Web, a Low Coding Platform or something called a Code Generator any of those phrases can be useful for Google.

Assuming you don’t have your own servers whatever you do you will need to spend money on a web host.

The minimum this is likely to cost you is in the region of $15 a month. If you don’t want to spend the next 6 months learning about the insides and outsides of frameworks then I would suggest you go to one of the below three providers who all provide complete environments set up and ready to go with their particular generators pre-installed. This is good value it is extremely difficult to beat these guys on cloud hosting costs and unless you are very advanced and have very particular requirements its a waste of time to try. All three of the below providers will allow you to create limitless number of applications albeit you are limited by the space you hire on your web server. Similarly distribution will be limited by the quality of web server you sign up for. In all likelihood if you have few users it is unlikely that the coding front ends of your applications will be a limit to the number you create more likely the size of databases you are attaching them to and the shear time you have available to create applications.

I have a cloud hosted provision with Nubuilder Pro – I pay a monthly amount and I can create as many applications as I can fit within my space ( which is more than I can use even on the lowest version ). There are a number of providers that do this. With nubuilder the software is free. With other providers the software that helps manage the construction of the site is not free. Whatever you go for you will need a webserver. Paying one of the guys below means they set up the environment for you. Which for people starting out is a BIG step forward.

Be warned n-tier web applications do not play as friendly as the desktop you WILL be slower to construct applications than you are on the desktop, getting into it WILL take time and a bit of commitment, you WILL have far less flexibility regards coding, there WILL be less people about to ask questions and there is far far less WYSIWYG design capabilities, error trapping is poor and errors are far more likely to be fatal and the really big warning is that on release of new web frameworks you may not necessarily be able to update without a full site re-design (A fact that comes as a nasty surprise to many CIOs and Project Managers when they realise that they are locked into front end system replacements every 4 or 5 years ) Know how to get data to your local environment out of the back end and accept that the front end is ephemeral and not likely to last in the same way as your desktop applications. (Your database will last but don’t expect to be running it through the same front end ten years from now). Accept that you will now have monthly or annual rental fees for cloud provision.

That said the design of these items is significantly faster than its ever been.

Scriptcase and PHPRunner have free downloads that are good for getting started.

Commit to one and go for it. – I’ve got both PHP and ASP.NET solutions.. Nubuilder only connects to MySQL whereas Scriptcase and ASPRunner.NET connect to pretty much any database. I started with Nubuilder and am using ASPRunner.net as well because importantly it connects to SQL Server and in particular I can host everything in MS Azure. I find Nubuilder Pro really conceptually elegant which despite its rather drab looks is incredibly flexible. I would probably be able to change it’s look if I was prepared to get my own server and install everything on it myself. That is not something I have time to do at present.
Nubuilder hosts its IDE in the browser. ASPRunner.net is more traditional in that you have a program running on a desktop and then you publish your application up to the web server this has the advantage that you get to see the plumbing in the background which makes backup of the site easier but publishing slightly harder.

Zoho Creator / Alpha 5 / Outsystems hold your hand even more but as a result are even more proprietary and won’t fit in that budget of £200 per year ( by quite a long way!)

Nubuilder Pro Link

Scriptcase Link

ASP Runner – PHPRunner and ASPRunner.Net Link

Good luck

About Mark

Mark Brooks a forty something individual working and living in and around Edinburgh
This entry was posted in All, Code Generators, Continual Professional Development, Database Design, Dev Ops, dot NET framework, General Opinion, Learning, Low Coding Platforms, MS Access, Personal Development, RAD Web Tools. Bookmark the permalink.