The Paperless Push

An Appreciation for Adesso’s Rich Sync Engine and APIs

I’ve built quite a few database-driven web applications using Adesso, so I am quite familiar with its offline capability, its integrated design environment (IDE), and its synchronization engine. After all, I started using Adesso all the way back in 2003. Sure, it’s a bit dated now (we are working on this…more details to follow on a forthcoming blog article). But there is still—even in 2013—absolutely no sync engine out there that can match Adesso Sync. If you think otherwise, prove it to me. I welcome the challenge.

My Experience with Straight-Up SQL Server

About 3 years ago, I was convinced by others that for our chain of custody software application concept, I should use native Microsoft SQL Server instead of Adesso. Reasons cited (by other expert developers) included:

  • “…the web apps will have a direct path to SQL Server, with less overhead to process than if they use Adesso”.  (Translation: web pages will load faster)

  • “…SQL Server can handle massive quantities of simultaneous hits”.

  • “…SQL Server is well known within the corporate world, so you won’t have much to explain when someone asks you about the underlying database engine”.

So, like an idiot, I bought into those arguments and decided to build our chain of custody tool using native SQL Server instead of our own Adesso Server database. Man, what a mistake that was. We are three years into this (after expending a huge pile of money), and I think the only way I would ever use native SQL Server again instead of Adesso (or Wakanda) for the database engine is if someone put a gun to my head. Otherwise, no way I would ever ever do that again.

Why? Let me explain.

Yes, SQL Server is robust and can handle anything you throw at it. But so can Adesso, because Adesso also uses SQL Server as the database repository, is 64-bit, and can be load-balanced and handle just as many web calls as SQL Server. But at least Adesso contains seriously easy-to-use administrative tools and built-in APIs for any data exchange imaginable. It also happens to be the best commercial sync engine in the world, bar none.

Building Apps with SQL Server as the db is a Pain in the Ass

SQL Server does not come with easy-to-use tools, built-in APIs, or rich sync. It comes with SQL Server Management Studio, which in and of itself is OK, but to use it, you will need to use a VPN connection if you want to access your server database remotely, which adds more layers of latency with which to deal. And if you are using SQL Server on Microsoft’s Azure platform, that’s even more of a challenge.

As for APIs to exchange data between SQL Server and other databases or applications, you will have to build those, too. And what if you want to have an application that can handle offline data and sync back to the database, bi-directionally (like, for example, a native iPhone app)? You are going to have to figure out how to build your own synchronization scripts and logic to handle the sync properly, which is prone to a humongous list of human error bugs when coding it in.

In my opinion, building something in SQL Server is analogous to building a car from a kit with 10,000 parts and a crappy manual.  Sure, you can build a Porsche with it, but the sheer amount of effort to get it done is gargantuan when compared to what you can do with something like Adesso in a fraction of the time. Yes, a FRACTION of the time. Like maybe in 20% of the time it takes to do with native SQL Server.

It takes a huge effort to build something with SQL Server, and frankly, it’s just not worth it when there are other tools that are easier to use and manage the database.

I’d like to point out that I’m not saying this to sell copies of Adesso. I am saying these things because after 3 years of building a complex product using SQL Server, I now really appreciate what we have in Adesso, and I kick myself daily thinking about the amount of money and time we would have saved if I didn’t listen to anyone and just went with my gut and built it with our own damn tools.

So What’s So Great About Adesso?

Take a look at the screenshots below.

These are screenshots of Adesso’s SyncAdmin web portal, where, with a few clicks, you can set up user and group permissions and sync rules down to an individual column in a table. So, for example, you could set up a user group to be allowed to view and write data to a particular table column, and another group to only view data entered in that column, and a third group could be set up to not even be allowed to view data in that column at all (fields would be greyed out on their screen).

As for sync itself, you can set up full bi-directional sync (with conflict resolution settings) between the offline client machines and the server, with the ability to add filters in either or both directions, and you can set these up to be different for different users or user groups.  This allows you to easily build multi-tenet applications that have to handle data records differently between users and groups. And all of this is in real-time, meaning that if you change any of the permissions or sync settings, the next time your users sync up, those changes take effect immediately and automatically.

Fine-Grained Offline Permissions Is Not Even Possible with SQL Server

Try that shit with native SQL Server. It’s not even possible. You have to build your sync rules yourself.  With Adesso, all of that is already handled, tested, and proven out. And if you decide to edit your application’s schema, maybe add another column to a table, or create a new form that displays when a user enters a particular value somewhere? Just make the changes in the Adesso Designer and click on the sync button…presto…all of the schema changes are also pushed down to the individual client devices the next time they sync.

I will never ever ever use SQL Server again to build a product.  I learned my lesson the hard way, and at much higher and unnecessary cost and time. Never again. You can be sure that all of my current and future projects (including BernieSez and all enterprise-level applications we build for AEP and Duke Energy) use Adesso as the underlying database engine and technology.

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Outgrowing Spreadsheets

I’ve been using spreadsheet software since the days when Lotus 1-2-3 and IBM PC-XTs ruled the business world. No doubt that spreadsheets are awesome. Easy to use, extremely flexible and powerful, even in today’s world of all things digital.

However, there comes a time when using a spreadsheet for a particular task is like trying to use a soup spoon to build a sandcastle at the beach. At some point, it becomes the wrong tool to use. I’ll use a real example to explain:

American Electric Power (AEP) used to use Excel to manage their entire safety statistics program. Yes—Excel—to manage their OSHA incident rates, near misses, and recordables at a company that employs over 18,000 people; has over 230 contractor firms; and records over 5 million work hours a year just on contractors.

How did they manage that much information using Excel?

I’m sure it all started out as a simple task. Someone got hurt at a plant, Corporate decided they needed a tracking system, and they assigned a person to start a program to track and manage that information. So that person started out by creating a simple spreadsheet. Then it got bigger and bigger. Pretty soon, that spreadsheet contained 5 worksheets in it, then it was 8 different spreadsheets with 5 worksheets each, some of which were used to graph things like which body part was injured most frequently or what day of the week accidents occurred the most. Then they started sending the spreadsheets around by email to everyone involved, forcing them to use a “master” spreadsheet to compile the data from all the other spreadsheets. Eventually, a bunch of people are involved and one person’s formal job description includes details on how to to manage the incoming data and keep the “master” spreadsheets accurate and up-to-date and disseminated across the organization.

Using Database-Driven Web Applications

When your workflow gets to the point where you are sending around multiple spreadsheets by email on a weekly basis, then it’s time to look at a different tool to improve the job at hand, because that task has outgrown spreadsheets. Now it’s time to move your workflow to database-driven web applications.

Tangible Benefits

So instead of using your own people to enter contractor data, let the contractors themselves enter their own data, with limited permissions that can be used to control what they can enter into the system. Then your people are left with QA review of that data. That means less time and cost feeding the machine and more time analyzing what the machine is spitting out in terms of data analytics. And instead of spending an entire day of wages doing mundane tasks like copying and pasting data values from one spreadsheet into a “master” spreadsheet and making sure that cell ranges and formulas are updated, your team can spend its valuable time reviewing the data and understanding what the data are telling them.

That’s what we did for AEP…replaced not only the technology they used, but also changed the way their workflow was handled. By doing this, AEP got a system with more accurate data collection, much faster data analysis and reporting, and substantial payroll cost savings. All from simply moving a tracking process from Excel to a web-based database system.

Do It Now

So, if you are using multiple spreadsheets and email to track, disseminate, and analyze data, then maybe it’s time for you to take a look at the next step: database-driven web applications. They will not only provide your organization with more accurate and timely data, but they will also save you tons of cash in the long run.

We specialize in creating database-driven web applications for the energy and environmental sectors, among others. Drop me an email ( if you’d like to discuss your unique problem with me.

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4 Reasons Why Windows 8 Mobile Devices Will Surpass iOS and Android in the Enterprise by 2014

Posted on June 26, 2012 by James Young

You may be thinking “…no way that this prediction is accurate…this guy is smoking crack!”

Yes, it’s true that current Windows tablets and phones are so scarce that their total volume is a mere rounding error when compared to the volume of iOS and Android devices in the marketplace today.  But that’s today. Remember yesterday?  Just 10 years ago, in 2002, Apple was the rounding error.  Back then, if someone would have said that in 10 years time Apple products would dominate the tech world and become more valuable than Microsoft and Google combined, the comment above (about smoking crack) would have been levied to that guy.

So what’s around the corner with Windows 8 that’s so awesome for the enterprise?

  • live tiles
  • a single OS kernel across ALL windows devices
  • all your apps and documents, available from any of your devices, with the same UI
  • it’s Microsoft

    Windows 8 Live Tiles

1.    Live Tiles

By now everyone has heard about live tiles.  Think about them as a live stock ticker feed like you see on CNN’s Headline News.  Rather than using static icons for your apps, tiles display live information on them, even when an application is not running.  For example, a weather app will display the latest weather.  An email app will display the latest emails arriving in your inbox.  Live tiles make static iPhone app icons look downright archaic.

2.    A Single OS Kernel Among All Windows Devices

Microsoft has figured out how to cram the entire Windows kernel into a smartphone, even when running on an ARM chip.  That means that nearly all of those custom enterprise apps that your organization developed will run on the new Windows 8 hardware, even on phones.  Some apps will need to be recompiled, of course, to be compatible with ARM chips and the Metro interface, but the ability to port entire C++ apps across all devices running Windows 8 is huge!  This is something that not even Apple apps can touch in the enterprise.

3.    All Your Apps and Docs, From All Your Devices, In a Common Interface

Let’s face it.  Change is sometimes hard to deal with, and more so for the older generation.  With Windows 8, you learn how to navigate a single OS, and it’s the same regardless of whether you are using a tablet, PC, laptop, or even a phone.  The interface — and the apps — are the same.  Microsoft Office, with Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, works the same on any device running Windows 8.  And document sharing among all your devices is seamless.  Try that on a Droid.  Not possible.

4.    It’s Microsoft

Everyone loves to bash Microsoft.  But make no mistake: Microsoft always learns from their missteps, and they are a force to be reckoned with by the time they figure out what they did wrong.  Not convinced?  Is Netscape, the maker of the original web browser, still here today?  No.  Netscape was first, but Microsoft prevailed.  Likewise, Apple was first with an amazing phone OS in 2007 (a mere 5 years ago), but the jury is out whether they will maintain that lead 5 years from now.  And Microsoft understands the enterprise’s security needs better than anyone.  IT departments at nearly all mid-size and large enterprises are very Microsoft-friendly.  There’s no way that Apple or Google’s Android can penetrate the IT departments the way that Microsoft has and will continue to do so.

Will Windows 8 also dominate the consumer space?  Probably not, at least not in the near term.  But in my opinion, Windows 8 will dominate the enterprise mobile space once again, and it won’t take long to do it.  It’s coming, and not a day too soon.

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Introducing Adesso Web Client

Posted on June 12, 2012 by James Young

adesso web clientSimply put, Adesso Web Client (AWC) is a server-side version of Adesso that happens to work over any web browser. Its core use case is for field data entry on modern browsers such as Safari on iOS, Firefox on PC/Mac, Chrome, and even IE on PC. Imagine your Adesso application, but accessible over a web browser. That’s basically it. Nothing more.

How is it different from regular Adesso Client?

Because it runs over a web browser, there are some inherent limitations in AWC. This includes the following:

  • It runs in online mode, meaning you need a live internet connection to use it
  • Binaries are currently in read-only mode, meaning that photo capture, signatures, and the like are read only
  • Some of the more complex functions in the Adesso expression engine are not supported

If it can’t do those things with AWC, then why should I use it?

Well, it’s free for Adesso users. There’s no fee to use it. The typical use case of AWC is for basic field data capture and/or editing using a standard web browser, including your mobile phone. There’s no software to download or install. It just works, as long as you have Internet connectivity. It’s great for editing records that were entered by another person and for entering new records where you are simply entering text, picking values from list boxes, selecting radio buttons, etc.

adesso web client

What are the benefits to using AWC?

  • It’s free (for Adesso users)
  • It runs over a browser, so there’s no software to download or install
  • It syncs automatically.  Because it’s already connected to the server, you don’t need to click on the sync button (which doesn’t even exist in AWC)
  • It runs on iPhones, iPads, Android Phones, Windows Phones, etc

When will more features be available on AWC?

We are working on improving AWC. Currently, this is version 1.0. By this time next year, it should be pretty close to parity with the standard Adesso Client app, except that it will be limited to online only, not offline.

Would you like to be notified of upcoming changes and developments? Fill out the form below!

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Personal Users and Windows 8

Posted on May 21, 2012 by admin

windows 8 personal usersWhen Windows 8 hits the market, many home users who upgrade or purchase new devices with the updated operating system (OS) will likely face some confusion. For most of the years that Microsoft Windows has been on the market and for most of the upgrades that have been offered for the OS, many key factors have remained the same.

This is all about to change, and in a big way.

What Will Be New?

When you log into Windows 8, you’re going to notice some immediate differences from prior OS versions:

  • No start menu
  • Program tiles instead of icons
  • Mobile device-like interface

No Start Menu

The Start menu has been at the heart of the Windows OS since Windows 95. It’s where users go to open programs, run the command prompt, open recent documents, and much more. Windows 8 throws that concept out the window, to be replaced with a “Start Screen” that will allegedly make opening and switching between applications a smoother process for desktop and mobile users alike.

Program Tiles Instead of Icons

If you’re accustomed to the program icons on every version of Windows, right up to Windows 7, you’re familiar with the idea of them being an image representation with the program/file name. On Windows 8, these items will be live and will behave like you would expect them to behave on your mobile device. For example, the icon for a program that gives you weather reports may simply display the temperature, allowing you to avoid opening up the application to get the information that you want.

Mobile Device-Like Interface

In Windows 8, you will be dealing with an interface that is more similar to what you would see on a mobile device than what you would expect on a desktop computer OS. Windows 8 is designed to offer a very similar user interface across several different types of devices, helping users to bridge the gap between their desktop computers and mobile devices. From the app-like icons to the touch-screen compatibility, this new OS is a huge step from both previous versions of its own software as well as any of the OS software currently offered by competitors.

While the changes seem to be endless, those who already use mobile devices will probably transition easily. Those who have avoided joining the mobile movement, however, might experience a learning curve. Fortunately, Windows 8 will also offer a “classic” mode that is similar in layout to the previous OS versions to help the transition go more smoothly.

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What Will Your Version of Windows 8 Be?

Posted on May 16, 2012 by admin

Microsoft always releases operating systems in different versions for different types of users. Windows 8 will be no different than any of their other releases. As is typical, there will be versions designed for business users and home users, but Microsoft is also releasing a version for very technically advanced users, which may make for an interesting twist on the usual software release.

Available Editionswindows 8 versions

Windows 8 editions include four products. They are:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Enterprise
  • Windows 8 Pro
  • Windows RT

User Categories

Standard users: Windows 8 will be the basic version of the operating system and will be suitable for the vast majority of users. This version of the operating system will be the right choice for those who just want to boot up their computer, have everything work, and get to enjoying the experience.

Large businesses/corporations: Windows 8 Enterprise is obvious in terms of its target audience . This version is the one that large businesses and corporations will roll out on their computers.

Advanced users: For those who want a bit more control, there is Windows Pro. It’s designed for business users who may need more customization options for their computers. Unlike Windows Enterprise and Windows RT, however, this version will also be available to consumers.

Equipment manufacturers: Windows RT is only available for equipment manufacturers. It’s the version of Windows 8 designed for ARM-based tablets, and you cannot buy this version for one computer. You have to buy it in volume, and it will not be available in stores.

Microsoft Built It, Now Who Will Come?

The rate of adoption of Windows 8 remains to be seen. In the past, Windows has had some versions that have received rather widespread and fast adoption in business settings—XP, for example—but has also seen some versions flounder, such as Vista. The preview version of Windows 8 can give you insight into what this operating system has to offer. If you’re not ready to commit to the trial, however, remember that more and more information is being released as the hype around the new operating system grows…and we’ll be doing our best to make sure you can find that information here!

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Windows 8′s Backdoor Into the Corporate World

Posted on May 14, 2012 by admin

mobile deviceComputer technology used to be so expensive that only businesses or the very rich could afford to purchase computers or mobile devices. Those days are long behind us, with more and more consumers buying into the latest in technology. In fact, for many workers, their personal devices are also their business devices. They get work email on their mobile phones, access company resources on their own tablets, and perform other tasks every day that involve blending their technology with software available to both users and businesses…such as Windows 8. This, perhaps, provides a way for Windows 8 to get into the business — and tablet — market.

Where mobile devices are concerned, most of the world seems dominated by Apple and Android. Microsoft’s efforts to get in on the mobile and tablet computer world have been feeble, at best. The new Microsoft Windows 8 operating system, however, just may change all of this. With its cross-device compatibility, it offers something that none of the other competitors, even Apple, have been able to manage yet. Users will be able to download an App on their desktop, create a file, and open that same file on their tablet through the same App. No more desktop version versus tablet version. No more tablet version versus mobile device version.

Just Windows 8.

Couple cross-compatibility with Microsoft’s already popular Office suite, and you’ve got one killer combination.

Though Windows 8 on tablets will not run all the software that users are accustomed to using on their desktop PCs (primarily legacy software), it will have versions of Office software that can be downloaded from the Windows Store. One download, and an employee’s Outlook profile can be ported to their tablet without any issues. The same can be said for any Microsoft product and Windows 8 tablets.

If Windows 8 takes off enough among personal users, they’re likely to take it to work with them, and that means that there is real potential to displace the iPad and other mobile devices that dominate the market at present. Microsoft has, for a very long time, not been a very significant presence in the mobile computing world, but we have a feeling that all of that is about to change.

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Windows 8 Aims for Corporate Acceptance

Posted on May 11, 2012 by admin

Bill GatesWhen you have a large corporation and you’re responsible for its Information Technology (IT) assets, it’s important to make sure that any upgrades actually offer the company something and don’t end up costing time and money. Windows 8 will be on the market in late 2012, and Microsoft is already making overtures to businesses. Here are some of the benefits that the company is touting.

1: Better Security

Windows 8, according to Microsoft, will be a safer alternative for businesses that have personnel who bring their own devices to work. This is because apps purchased for mobile devices must go through the Windows Store (similar to how Apple is able to regulate apps by forcing device owners to purchase them through their App Store). Additional security enhancements include SmartScreen technology and Windows Defender. SmartScreen technology, which detects potentially malicious sites, will be included with the Operating System (OS) and will automatically scan files as they are downloaded. Microsoft has also made improvements to Windows Defender so that users who fail to renew trial antivirus subscriptions will still have basic protection.

2: Volume Licensing

A software assurance agreement is the only way that any corporation can get their hands on Windows 8 Enterprise. The benefits, however, include some significant savings – the volume licensing price is nearly 30% less than the regular price.

3: Cloud Management

According to tech blogs, cloud management tools will be used for ARM-based devices to provide some of the services that are currently handled by Active Directory in Windows Server. This may or may not win favor among corporate clients. The changeover offers a lot in terms of new features and flexibly, but it also may put some network admins off about parting with the very popular Active Directory feature.

4: To Go

There is a mobile version of Windows 8 that users can boot from a USB drive. This allows company employees to take their corporate Windows 8 desktop with them and to load it up whenever they wish. It also allows IT administrators to set up that version so that the network is kept as safe as possible.

5: Faster Boot-Up

According to an article by ITBusinessEdge, Windows 8 can boot up in as little as 8 seconds. This will save businesses a lot of time in the long run, particularly when employees must shut down their systems because of new software installations or updates.

There are plenty of other developments on the way from Microsoft with their Windows 8 OS. When the debut does come around, it should be a busy day in IT departments around the world.

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Will the Windows Store Take the App Scene By Storm?

Posted on May 9, 2012 by admin

Windows 8 Windows StoreThe Android Market. The iPhone App Store. By now, nearly everyone has heard of one or both of these virtual shopping centers for mobile apps. With the arrival of Windows 8, another will be added to that list – the Windows Store. It will be at the heart of Windows 8 and will make it possible for people to download or purchase the new “apps” that go along with the new operating system (OS).

Apps and Downloads

Like app stores for other platforms, the Windows Store will allow users to download applications compatible with their OS, be they mobile or desktop apps. It will allow them to get everything from very expensive, business applications like Microsoft Office to inexpensive or free, third-party applications that enhance the Windows 8 experience.

Microsoft will be allowing independent developers to build apps, but they will only be able to distribute those apps through the Windows Store.  This way, Microsoft can check the apps that developers upload to make sure that they’re safe for users. This element of control in the online store will function to protect users and the OS itself.

Limits on Apps

There are some limitations on what kind of apps can be uploaded to the Windows Store. The following are banned:

  • Adult content
  • Content that glamorizes illegal activity
  • Obscenity and defamatory software
  • Apps that facilitate illegal activity

The guidelines are not surprising and are pretty much in line with Microsoft’s image as a business-friendly platform. The restrictions should not prevent any legitimate developers from getting their work featured in the Windows Store.

Will it Last?

The Windows Store will be a particularly big draw for those who own tablets, as those will not support all applications that run on Windows 8 and will require software specifically from the Windows Store. Whether the Windows Store will be as popular as its rivals, however, will probably depend more on the customer’s preference for devices and whether they run a Windows OS than the actual usefulness of the store. Only time will tell.

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Location Data Collection & Windows 8: Friend or Foe?

Posted on May 2, 2012 by admin

windows 8 location dataFor some people, the fact that mobile applications gather location data and use it to provide services is an intolerable violation of their privacy. For others, it doesn’t really matter as long as their mobile device can direct them to a nearby Starbucks. So what will change in regards to location data with Windows 8?

Windows Location Provider

In Windows 7, the Default Location Provider supplied location data via user input in the Control Panel. This was the only built-in location provider; any others had to be installed.

The Windows Location Provider will replace the Default Location Provider in Windows 8 and will operate in an entirely different manner. Windows 8 will use Wi-Fi access points and your IP address to determine where you are and give that information to some applications. There are some cases where this may be beneficial to you:

  • When you need GPS service
  • When you need local information
  • When you need weather information
  • When you need to find nearby stores

Some of the applications that get this information, no doubt, will be ones that users install themselves and that provide a service based on having information about their present location.

The way that Windows 8 gathers location information is really quite interesting, no matter what people may think about how that data is used. The operating system can reach out to nearby Wi-Fi networks and get latitude and longitude information. This is accurate to approximately 350 meters in urban areas, according to Microsoft. The OS can also use your IP address, which gives a location that is accurate to approximately 15 miles.

So where’s the off switch?

Having the option to turn off this data gathering, of course, would be the only requirement for the users who do not want it to be part of their Windows experience. Fortunately, both users and administrators will have the ability to enable or disable location settings through the Settings charm in the control panel. Users can also opt in or out on a per-app basis.

While the ability of Windows 8 to determine your approximate location might make some nervous, Microsoft is clear that they will not use location data improperly (click here for their privacy statement). As indicated above, the power is in your hands!

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