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Web tools lead unorthodox charge in Linux migration

John Horn, the CEO of Independence, Mo.-based Interstate Software, talked with about how certain Web development tools that run on Windows could be part of an unorthodox step for companies that are interested in the idea of moving from a proprietary database environment to an open one.

The applications, with names like CodeCharge and MyDBPal, are designed to transfer various bits of the database, like forms, from applications like [Microsoft] Access to open source alternatives in MySQL.

According to Horn, training is relatively light, as is the impact of running these applications on the wallets of the enterprise.

Horn is also the co-author of MySQL Essential Skills, which aims to help beginners set up a MySQL database on Windows or Linux.

CodeCharge and MyDBPal are not billed as migration tools in the literal sense, so how would you classify these kinds of tools?
People that use [CodeCharge] consider it to be a development tool for Web site development [as well as for] form development for building database-driven applications. So really, it's not necessarily a migration tool for [Microsoft to Linux] or anything else, but it does Microsoft stuff and open source in [environments like] Pearl and ColdFusion. It's really meant to build forms, be it application forms or on Web pages.

The more people who know about this, the more it would make migration that much faster.
John Horn
CEOInterstate Software

The drawback to it is that the open source [creation] only runs on Windows, but the code it generates is outside of Windows.

However, the code can be compared side by side … you can actually hook up to an existing Microsoft Access database and build forms based right out of Access and build new forms in ASP or JSP, C+, Visual Basic or even ColdFusion.

It's not defined as a migration tool, so how could a company use it to do just that -- migrate a database or Web server from proprietary (Windows) to Linux or open source?
One thing some users who are currently comfortable in Windows want to use is MySQL. In this case they download a Windows version of MySQL [and] use a tool like SQLyog to pull data from Access to MySQL. Then they can load up CodeCharge and start building the pages [in open source].

We'll pretend they have XP Professional. They load and install ISS and literally have MySQL, ISS and PHP on a local machine, and can then build apps right then and there, test them and then if they feel like deploying them, it's a matter of moving MySQL database to a MySQL server, then PHP to Apache and then it's done.

You have said very few developers have had any training, so they're using these development tools in a primitive way. In your opinion, why has there been a lack of training?
In North America if you want training [in this field], you have to come to here in Kentucky to train, otherwise there's really nothing. Remember that our instructors had to sit down and write this training program in couple of weeks, and we don't consider ourselves a courseware company.

There is also a really nice 300-page tutorial available for download for free with [CodeCharge] but that's really a very self-taught approach. It features a lot of screenshots and takes you through the steps, but what several of our students said is it really doesn't give a good plan of how to execute.

Imagine I give you a hammer, nails and wood, then a plan and told you to build a house. What we do is explain what each tool is and then begin to say, 'now this is how we build houses.' That's the difference between training and going through the materials and learning wizards.

How long is the training? Is it difficult to master?
We believe from the time you walk in, to the time you walk out, you should have all the knowledge you'll need in just about five days. As for difficulty, we had two Kentucky National Guardsmen come in -- who were not programmers -- who when they walked out after the five-day program were building database-driven Web sites and were able to get work done.

In another instance, I'll go back to my office this afternoon and sit down with a credit card page with 20 forms -- shipping address, billing address. Just setting down all the text fields in place, taking the fields through wizards in CodeCharge and using a style sheet to make it look like rest of Web site, I can have the whole thing done in five minutes. Any further fixes, double click and do something like type a different first name and save, that's it.

If more people were trained properly on these development tools and were more aware of their capabilities, how would that affect migration?
If there were big flashing signs on every corner that said we can transform Access applications to Web-driven systems for 1/10th the cost then, yeah, there would be huge numbers of people jumping all over it.

Think about it -- as a user you're to a point where Access and the database isn't big enough. One of our clients was a Missouri power company that had asked for help with their database applications. We said for the $2,500 it costs to train and cost of the tool, we can give you an infinitely scalable open source database in MySQL, and you're not going to pay a five-person user license for Microsoft SQL Server.

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The more people who know about this, the more it would make migration that much faster … people would see an easy way to get away from Oracle tables … from Access, in a more cost-effective environment.

What other similar tools to CodeCharge are available?
There's Borland Kylix, which is Delphi-only on Linux. It takes Delphi programs on Windows and makes them for Linux. That one is more expensive and requires a much higher level of knowledge, however.

Other potential tools to migrate data could be MyDBPal for MySQL users, as it's a free download. That one allows users to pull forms from just about any other database and onto MySQL. It's a very nice program, a full program that 'goes both ways, but for the MySQL to Oracle version of the tool, it will cost you $1,000.

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