App Independence

AppForge offers more flexibility; Syclo builds in greater versatility.

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.