Two development platforms for handheld device applications, AppForge Inc.s AppForge Professional 2.0 and Syclo LLCs Agentry 3.0, enable companies to switch among or simultaneously support multiple platforms without facing time-consuming application rewrites as new hardware and software options emerge.
AppForge, which began shipping last month, is an add-on for Microsoft Corp.s Visual Basic 6.0 that enables companies to leverage existing know-how to begin developing applications for Palm OS- and Pocket PC-based devices.
Agentry, released last week, is a client/server framework that can be used to create sets of application behaviors, which can then run on Palm OS; Pocket PC; Handheld Windows CE; and full-size, Windows-based mobile devices using the Agentry run-time.
In eWeek Labs tests, both products proved their mettle in cross-platform handheld development tasks, but each product best serves different needs.
AppForge provides developers with more flexibility in developing applications than does Agentry but lacks Agentrys comprehensive framework for providing access to back-end enterprise data. This is particularly the case for AppForges Pocket PC support, which does not include the same ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) functionality as it does for Palm.
AppForge Professional comes in separate versions for Palm OS and Pocket PC, priced at $699 and $899, respectively. A combined Palm OS and Pocket PC version costs $1,299. Microsofts Visual Basic 6.0 costs $550 and is required for using any of the AppForge products.
Companies that wish to develop in Visual Basic for the Pocket PC alone should evaluate Microsofts freely downloadable Embedded Visual Basic 3.0 add-on before settling on AppForge for Pocket PC.
The Agentry server runs on Windows 4.0 (SP5 or higher) or Windows 2000 and requires that Perl 5.6 be installed on the server. Agentrys price is tied to the number of devices it serves and is set at $300 per device. Although the per-unit price is high compared with other handheld development tools, it buys you the full client/server Agentry framework.
The AppForge Booster run-time application supports Palm OS 3.5 and higher and Pocket PC for SH3 and StrongARM processors. Booster is free for Palm OS devices but costs $25 per copy for Pocket PC devices. The free run-time was one of our favorite parts of AppForge 1.1, which we reviewed earlier this year.
The Agentry run-time works with devices running Palm OS 3.5 and higher, as well as with Pocket PC devices, Windows CE 3.0 devices and Windows computers. Syclo plans to add support for Research In Motion Ltd. devices in a release later this year.
AppForge extends visual basic 6.0 with a new AppForge project type and with Palm OS and Pocket PC target platforms. In place of the standard Visual Basic controls, AppForge offers 25 handheld-optimized controls, called ingots.
We could create, compile and deploy applications for either Palm or Pocket PC and, via a menu bar control, recompile and deploy our applications to the opposite platform.
For Pocket PC, AppForge does not support the ODBC database synchronization or wireless Internet features that it does for Palm. AppForge developers can carry out TCP/IP connections with either platform using AppForges socket control, however.
Also missing from AppForges Pocket PC feature set is an analog to its Palm Extended Functions Library or Extensibility features, which give developers access to Palm OS for greater integration of AppForge programs with the operating system.
In tests of Agentry, we could define sets of instructions that corresponded to the behaviors of an application. To create an application that logged products to be reviewed, for example, we created objects that related to a product, with fields for relevant information such as vendor name and ship date.
We could then link these objects to a back-end database using SQL statements and create screen sets that described what wed see on the target device.
Our test devices running the Agentry client would then receive the instruction sets and the back-end enterprise data during synchronization with the Agentry server over TCP/IP or over a serial link to an intervening desktop.
The resulting applications could run on Palm and Pocket PC devices alike, in each case taking on the look and feel of their host platforms, while carrying out the tasks wed set for them.
During subsequent synchronizations, the Agentry client would exchange data updates with the server and check for new or modified instruction sets. Agentry thereby offers developers the flexibility of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), while shielding them from the network connectivity lapses that WAP is heir to.
: Appforge Professional Edition 2.0">
AppForge Professional Edition eases cross-platform handheld development by enabling companies to develop for Palm OS and Pocket PC-based devices simultaneously and in the common Visual Basic language.
SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // AppForge allows companies with in-house Visual Basic skills to begin handheld application development right away.
LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // AppForges cross-platform virtues will make it easier for companies to migrate among handheld types in the future.
Familiar Visual Basic interface; Palm and Pocket PC support.
Lacks out-of-the-box server synchronization features; Pocket PC side lacks full functionality of Palm-only version.
AppForge Inc., Atlanta; (678) 686-9000; www.appforge.com
: Agentry 3.0">
This Agentry update speeds development of handheld applications across platforms by providing developers with an intriguing means of creating Weblike applications that run offline and on Palm, Pocket PC and Windows CE platforms.
SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // The Agentry framework will allow companies to develop complex mobile applications with access to enterprise data in little time.
LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Agentrys development model makes simple what would be costly application changes in other application design schemes.
Simple interface; wide back-end database access; applications simple to modify; multiple platform support.
Less-than-precise control of application look and feel.
Syclo LLC, Barrington, Ill.; (800) 567-9256; www.syclo.com