Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps? 
Author Message
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Hi,

I'm going to have to make a decision to rewrite VB-based apps for
payrolls, accounting etc. that my dad currently sells.

Considering that we have to send updates regularly to customers who
are still often not connected to the Net (thanks to the ProComm BBS by
the way...), and are far from being computer-savy... I'm thinking hard
about whether to rewrite those as web applications.

If some of you went through the same thing, ie. rewrite dedicated
business apps into web apps, what did you discover? Would you
recommend it, or are the hassles of writing web apps not worth the
effort?

If the projects were successful, which tools would you recommend?
Plain languages like Perl or PHP, or full-fledged toolboxes like Zope,
.Net, J2EE, etc.?

Thx much for any infos
JD.



Sat, 21 May 2005 00:33:58 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?


Quote:
> Hi,

> I'm going to have to make a decision to rewrite VB-based apps for
> payrolls, accounting etc. that my dad currently sells.

> Considering that we have to send updates regularly to customers who
> are still often not connected to the Net (thanks to the ProComm BBS by
> the way...), and are far from being computer-savy... I'm thinking hard
> about whether to rewrite those as web applications.

> If some of you went through the same thing, ie. rewrite dedicated
> business apps into web apps, what did you discover? Would you
> recommend it, or are the hassles of writing web apps not worth the
> effort?

> If the projects were successful, which tools would you recommend?
> Plain languages like Perl or PHP, or full-fledged toolboxes like Zope,
> .Net, J2EE, etc.?

I feel your pain. The people who use "...apps for payrolls, accounting
etc..." can be extremely attached to their routines and tools. Getting
them to switch will probably require significant incentive. A better
(easier or faster) way to do things is one such incentive. A cheaper way
to do things is another.

Compared to web-based applications, administering and maintaining "fat
client" applications is a nightmare; an expensive one. If you're not
passing the cost of that on to your customers, you should think about
doing so if you move ahead with your web-based development. This will
provide the cost incentive for those customers to get connected to the
net and embrace late-20th century technology. :)

Your choice of development platform and tools depends largely on the
nature of the application. To be fair, there are some things for which
the fat client architecture is still the only solution. Simple database
type activity though, is easily handled by simple scripting languages
like PHP and ASP (VBScript and jscript).

Whatever you choose, have a hard look at the usability of your
anticipated solution. You may want to seriously consider prototyping
major pieces for usability testing.

Remember, better or cheaper, preferably both.



Sat, 21 May 2005 01:26:54 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:

> If some of you went through the same thing, ie. rewrite dedicated
> business apps into web apps, what did you discover? Would you
> recommend it, or are the hassles of writing web apps not worth the
> effort?

I just finished converting one, a financial program that was vb/access
based. Some of the forms had excessive number of fields, and the client
demanded that the end-result function nearly identical to the old app,
including tab-through forms. I really developed my javascript and DHTML
skills on that one.

The down side was I decided to use ASP and MS SQL Server in the hopes of
being able to hook up Access as a client. Even on speedy connections this
really sucked, so I gave it up. Next I tried building an ActiveX control in
C++ that was embedded in the page but when I realized that the data issue
would be about as bad I scrap-canned it. I then considered Java but I am
pretty weak at such.

I started looking into some third party apps and components but the client
started freaking about more and more licensing costs.

So the main product ended up plain ole' ASP, (D)HTML, JavaScript running off
an MSSQL Server database. I also used PHP to perform some back-end
maintenance, data parsing and network routines. Ever try to do some socket
work with stock ASP?

ASP and MS SQL Server, especially together, are pretty darn whiny compared
to MySQL and PHP (or maybe it's just me ;-). Anyhow, my pets now hate me.

The good side is that the reports where a real breeze. Make a cookie cutter
and change the SQL statements.

One thing I did do that I normally didn't do in the past was to generate
static html pages for all the forms as data is imported. That way people
could literally click through the records at slightly more than twice the
speed. This made it more of a chore managing deleted records, while keeping
the "next, forward, first, last" navigational buttons working properly. And
there was a slight performance decrease in updating and deleting records,
but it wasn't worrysome to the client.

Another trick was automating their data entry process. Normally they would
log into another website (not mine) where they had an account and set some
parameters to generate a report, then download the data, import it into
Access.  They would have to generate several reports each session, which
was four or fives times a day. I was able to automate the entire process
using PHP and cURL, which even impressed myself ;-)

Take care,

--
Waitman Gobble         EMK Design     Buena Park, California

Public Key                          http://pgp.emkdesign.com
Find an example                    http://freakinexample.com



Sat, 21 May 2005 11:54:54 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:

> I'm going to have to make a decision to rewrite VB-based apps for
> payrolls, accounting etc. that my dad currently sells.

That's a big decision.  Note that Web-based applications are best
when you have a geographically distributed organization, when data
is fed into the system and retrieved from the system from many
locations.  

Quote:
> Considering that we have to send updates regularly to customers who
> are still often not connected to the Net (thanks to the ProComm BBS by
> the way...), and are far from being computer-savy... I'm thinking hard
> about whether to rewrite those as web applications.

What you might consider is to actually become an Application Service
Provider (ASP) of sorts...  You can offer to host your applications
for your clients (obviously, you would host their data as well, perhaps
with an option of letting them back it up onto their local machines).  
These days, a dedicated server at Rackspace costs about $250 per month.  
Depending on how many clients you have, the ASP service can actually
be an economical solution.  The only updates you will ever need to do
would be on your server, in the environment you control...

Check out NetLedger (http://www.netledger.com/) for an example of
an enterprise application service.  

Another option for you is to distribute something like phptriad or
phpdev with your Web-based applications, so that they could be run
on your cients' local networks.  For example, phpdev (which includes
Windows versions of Apache, PHP, MySQL, and phpMyAdmin) is an 11 Mb
distribution, which can easily be fitted on a CD-ROM along with your
actual application.  

Quote:
> If some of you went through the same thing, ie. rewrite dedicated
> business apps into web apps, what did you discover? Would you
> recommend it, or are the hassles of writing web apps not worth the
> effort?

To reiterate, Web applications are great for geographically distributed
organizations.  They definitely have a performance penalty when compared
to traditional "fat client" applications (anyone who test-drove something
like MySQLmanager after working with phpMyAdmin for a while will attest
to that), so being able to enter data and view reports from anywhere
must be important enough for the client to live with the somewhat
slower application.  

One project I participated in involved a professional organization
with a few thousand members, and a few dozen officers, staffers,
and volunteers (all scattered across the North American continent).  
There, the Web-based system made perfect sense.  It allowed everyone
who wanted to to remain in the loop.  It allowed volunteers to help
with data entry from their homes or offices.  It allowed staffers
and officers to look up members' contact information or details of
dealing with counterparties while being away from the office (and
outside normal business hours, too).  

Now where Web applications really sing is situations when some part
of business process is already put online.  Imagine a real estate
firm, whose property listings on the public Web site feed into the
back-office system, which figures out commissions of agents who listed
those properties, and then into a CRM module that suggests to agents
follow-up calls and e-mails, pages them with reminders, etc...

Quote:
> If the projects were successful, which tools would you recommend?
> Plain languages like Perl or PHP, or full-fledged toolboxes like Zope,
> .Net, J2EE, etc.?

It's whatever you, the developer, are most comfortable (and most
productive) with.  One other consideration is the degree of control
you, the developer and the implementor, have over the client-side
environment.  Example: you may be able to write something really
slick with ActiveX (check out all those charting tools at MSN Money
Central; they're really fast and allow you to print high-quality
graphics), but it will only support one client, Internet Explorer
for Windows.  

Another important issue is the choice of the database back-end.  
But the thinking here will depend on whether you adopt the application
service model (meaning, you are going to need something industrial-
strength) or decide to go with a LAN-based implementation (and be
content with a not-so-powerful, but economically priced database
engine)...  You may also consider using a database abstraction
layer...

Cheers,
NC



Sat, 21 May 2005 13:57:13 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?
if written in VB then I would consider using ASP as it supports VBscript and
laungage conversion would be small effort.

If the VB ap was developed using classes then those may be easily converted
as ASP / vbscript will use  classes and you may even have less work to do
then you thought.

cheers

================================
 http://www.ASPkey.net/
A Resource Site for Web Developers
*Free OnLine web Tools
================================

Quote:

>Hi,

>I'm going to have to make a decision to rewrite VB-based apps for
>payrolls, accounting etc. that my dad currently sells.

>Considering that we have to send updates regularly to customers who
>are still often not connected to the Net (thanks to the ProComm BBS by
>the way...), and are far from being computer-savy... I'm thinking hard
>about whether to rewrite those as web applications.

>If some of you went through the same thing, ie. rewrite dedicated
>business apps into web apps, what did you discover? Would you
>recommend it, or are the hassles of writing web apps not worth the
>effort?

>If the projects were successful, which tools would you recommend?
>Plain languages like Perl or PHP, or full-fledged toolboxes like Zope,
>.Net, J2EE, etc.?

>Thx much for any infos
>JD.



Sat, 21 May 2005 14:05:45 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?


Quote:
>Compared to web-based applications, administering and maintaining "fat
>client" applications is a nightmare; an expensive one. If you're not
>passing the cost of that on to your customers, you should think about
>doing so if you move ahead with your web-based development.

Right. My dad has been handling this issue pretty badly. Some
customers would not download updated versions often enough, and we
would end up with a bunch of different versions lying around, with all
the nightmares of compatibily. Hence my looking at a solution that
would concentrate the code on a single host, and not require any
update on the client hosts.

Quote:
>Whatever you choose, have a hard look at the usability of your
>anticipated solution. You may want to seriously consider prototyping
>major pieces for usability testing.

Business apps like accounting and payroll for small organizations
don't require much bandwidth, but I'm really concerned about the
poverty of the web browser as client interface. One simple thing that
I find missing is a spreadsheet tool, which is a must-have for that
kind of apps. Some such objects are beginning to be available, but I'm
concerned about using proprietary solutions. My brother is heavily
into ASP.Net, while I'd rather use cross-platform, open-source
solutions to keep my options open.

Quote:
>Remember, better or cheaper, preferably both.

In this case, since those customers belong to the public sector,
raising productivity is not that big an issue. A more pressing issue
is making sure that everyone gets updated in a timely fashion, and
without our spending a lot of time pushing updates. I'll keep that in
mind.

Thx for your help!
JD.



Sat, 21 May 2005 17:56:42 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?
On Tue, 03 Dec 2002 03:54:54 GMT, Waitman Gobble

Quote:

>I just finished converting one, a financial program that was vb/access
>based. Some of the forms had excessive number of fields, and the client
>demanded that the end-result function nearly identical to the old app,
>including tab-through forms. I really developed my javascript and DHTML
>skills on that one.

That's exactly what I'm worried about. Even the best web apps come
nowhere as good as a dedicated app, in terms of ease of use, speed,
and ease for the developper. Even drop-down menus through DHTML don't
work with all browsers. I know that I could make the assumption that
they all run Internet Exploder, but occasionnaly, I'm sure I'll have
to customize the code because such and such feature is only available
in release 6 and no older versions, and since the whole point is not
having to deploy anything on the client side...

Tough decision...

Thx!
JD.



Sat, 21 May 2005 18:08:34 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:
>That's a big decision.  Note that Web-based applications are best
>when you have a geographically distributed organization, when data
>is fed into the system and retrieved from the system from many
>locations.  

Actually, I doubt any of our customers will choose to have the server
part located on the Net, but will rather have it installed on a host
on their premises.

Quote:
>It's whatever you, the developer, are most comfortable (and most
>productive) with.  One other consideration is the degree of control
>you, the developer and the implementor, have over the client-side
>environment.  

I have the luxury of choosing the tools and rewriting the app from
scratch... so I don't really care. I'd just rather use open-source
tools if possible, since I really don't want to get into the .Net
stuff and end up being taken for another ride by MS.

Quote:
>Another important issue is the choice of the database back-end.  

I spent some time playing with VB and MySQL recently, and was
surprised at the performance. All it took is a small DLL on the client
side and a few Declare's. I'll have to dig deeper before choosing an
open-source DBMS, but that part is not worrying me. It's the client
interface that's an issue right now.

Thx for your help
JD.



Sat, 21 May 2005 18:12:29 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:

>if written in VB then I would consider using ASP as it supports VBscript and
>laungage conversion would be small effort.

Can I develop scripts in VBScript when using other web servers, or am
I restricted to IIS? I'd rather use open-source stuff as much as
possible.

Thx
JD.



Sat, 21 May 2005 18:14:00 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:

> That's exactly what I'm worried about. Even the best web apps come
> nowhere as good as a dedicated app, in terms of ease of use, speed,
> and ease for the developper. Even drop-down menus through DHTML don't
> work with all browsers. I know that I could make the assumption that
> they all run Internet Exploder, but occasionnaly, I'm sure I'll have
> to customize the code because such and such feature is only available
> in release 6 and no older versions, and since the whole point is not
> having to deploy anything on the client side...

I wrote a drop-down menu that works on IE5+ and NS 6+ by starting from
the standards documentation (W3C/CSS).  I think the older menus "IE-only
menus" (such as on the Microsoft website) you refer to were coded
specifically to the IE-only "document.all" interface.

Do you need to support old (written before 1999), non-standards
compliant browsers with perhaps 2% market share (and dropping) with your
new business application?  I know some web developers like to worry
about support of these old browsers with negligible market share because
it makes the billable development time increase by 5-10 times.  (It also
makes what they generate a terrible mess, written to a Netscape 2.0
level interface using modern features of each browser conditionally).
Since standards-compliant browsers are available on every platform for
free download, it's time to push the problem of "it doesn't work on the
XYZ browser" back onto the developer of the XYZ browser, who can have 0%
market share as far as I'm concerned if they cannot read the standards
documents and make it compliant.

Phil



Sat, 21 May 2005 20:30:58 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:


>>if written in VB then I would consider using ASP as it supports VBscript and
>>laungage conversion would be small effort.

> Can I develop scripts in VBScript when using other web servers, or am
> I restricted to IIS? I'd rather use open-source stuff as much as
> possible.

> Thx
> JD.

VBScript is IIS/MS only.

Michael Kimsal
http://www.phpappserver.com
734-480-9961



Sat, 21 May 2005 21:49:38 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:
> It's the client interface that's an issue right now.

Consider building on the Mozilla framework.

http://www.mozilla.org/

Learn XUL and you can build some pretty amazing applications.
http://www.xulplanet.com/tutorials/

regards,
reggie.



Sun, 22 May 2005 01:30:50 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:
> Business apps like accounting and payroll for small organizations
> don't require much bandwidth, but I'm really concerned about the
> poverty of the web browser as client interface. One simple thing that
> I find missing is a spreadsheet tool, which is a must-have for that
> kind of apps. Some such objects are beginning to be available, but I'm
> concerned about using proprietary solutions. My brother is heavily
> into ASP.Net, while I'd rather use cross-platform, open-source
> solutions to keep my options open.

Have you tried going the ActiveX control route?

If the clients have MS Office available, you can load the MS Office
components as an ActiveX control. I know for a fact I can manipulate Excel
files that way.

If you run PHP on a Windows box, you can take advantage of the COM framework
just like ASP does. So you can access server-side components as an end-user
can.

Alternatively, implementing client-side Excel-like interface is not that
difficult (imagine telling that to Lotus in the 80s :). A little javascript
magic involving calculations on loss of focus on input field is all it
takes. Draw a grid of input boxes in a table. Assign Excel-like handles to
them (input type="text" id="A1"), calculate values based on variables.Take
string input and parse it for formulas. Duplicate missing functions.

Use something like jpgraph (or if you are so inclined, use the GD or even
SWF library directly) to generate the charts. Use DHTML to layer
information.

Chances are that you do not need all that functionality, but it's less
complicated than it sounds.

Leonid



Sun, 22 May 2005 03:56:59 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?

Quote:

> Can I develop scripts in VBScript when using other web servers,
> or am I restricted to IIS? I'd rather use open-source stuff
> as much as possible.

Yes and no.  You can use VBscript on Apache under either Windows
or Linux, but you will need Chili (now called Sun ONE ASP), which
is a proprietary product with a list price of $495 per server.

Cheers,
NC



Sun, 22 May 2005 05:26:23 GMT  
 Rewriting dedicated business apps as web apps?


Quote:

> Actually, I doubt any of our customers will choose to have the
> server part located on the Net, but will rather have it
> installed on a host on their premises.

This is understandable.  I would also guess most of your clients
would prefer that the host machine run on Windows.  So you might
want to check into phpdev:

http://www.firepages.com.au/

As I mentioned before, it includes Windows versions of Apache,
PHP, and MySQL, as well as phpMyAdmin.

Quote:
> I have the luxury of choosing the tools and rewriting the app
> from scratch... so I don't really care.

Lucky you... :)

Quote:
> I'd just rather use open-source tools if possible, since I
> really don't want to get into the .Net stuff and end up being
> taken for another ride by MS.

OK, then go with Apache/PHP/MySQL.

Quote:
> I spent some time playing with VB and MySQL recently, and was
> surprised at the performance.

MySQL has pretty good performance when the number of simultaneous
connections is small.  Be aware, however, that its performance
deteriorates as the number of simultaneous connections increases.
It is difficult to give any numbers, since so much depends on
hardware, configuration, and available bandwidth, but it seems
safe to say that 10 simultaneous connections are very unlikely to
present a problem, while 100 most likely will.  Also, MySQL has
limited transactions support (but, then, you might not be using
transactions, so this could be a moot point).

Quote:
> I'll have to dig deeper before choosing an open-source DBMS,

Well, it seems that if you want to stay with Windows servers,
your choices are limited to MySQL and SAP DB.  You could try
PostgreSQL, but you have to have Cygwin for that...

Quote:
> It's the client interface that's an issue right now.

I agree.  A few suggestions:

1. Thoughtful use of frames and rational input-output screen
   design will help you minimize network traffic and improve
   performance.
2. Making user's life easier with JavaScript-based menus is a
   distinct possibility (be sure to test the menus in several
   browsers though -- internal object hierarchies are different
   in MSIE, NN 4, and NN 6; I have no idea where NN 7 stands in
   that regard)
3. There may be ways to improve performance by allowing users
   prepare input on the client side and then load data in large
   chunks.

Quote:
> Thx for your help

No problem.  Anything else, just let me know.

Cheers,
NC



Sun, 22 May 2005 05:27:24 GMT  
 
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