A decade ago you could whip together simple database-driven web applications using, among other things, classic ASP. If you were handy with Microsoft Access, or better yet SQL Server and you knew a little VBA or VB Script, it was a pretty trivial matter to build a relatively impressive database-enabled website.
Below is one page from a site I built for a non-profit organization that had a total budget of $1800. It includes 45 Classic ASP pages and is driven by a Microsoft Access database. I gave them my discounted rate of $50 per hour but probably realized less than $40 per hour since it was a fixed bid. It’s not pretty but they didn’t need pretty … they needed a Web database and this one continues to work fine for them.
Before long, ASP .Net came on the scene and I built a few Web apps, but I never got very comfortable with it. Nowadays my team builds MVC2 applications but try as I might, I can’t seem to find the time to get up to speed with the technology. I keep busy managing projects and building databases, but from time to time I get asked to build Web pages and the only skill I have is with classic ASP.
Well, not any more. I was recently asked to evaluate a product called Iron Speed Designer. This development tool will build your websites for you. Just point it at a database, check off a few options and let it run. The final product requires tweaking, but yes, it really is that simple.
Introducing Iron Speed Designer
To test out Iron Speed Designer, I pointed it at the Microsoft Access database used to build the classic ASP application described above. In about five minutes, the process was finished and I was informed that my ASP .Net / VB .Net application was ready to run. According to the report, 154 project files were created representing 459 hours of code time, which translates into $18,360 at my $40 per hour discounted non-profit rate.
Some may take exception with the hourly calculation, but I have to tell you that this tool generated a lot of code. I found the page that corresponds to my classic ASP page above and checked it out for usability. The Iron Speed Designer version is shown below and it’s remarkable. Sure, there are a few issues needing attention and some control sizes to modify, but there is also a lot of functionality that didn’t exist in my simple application. I am very impressed.
It should be noted that the issues I ran into were a direct result of my inconsistent database design. I had accidentally named the [StateID] field as simply [State] in the Participants table. That’s why it couldn’t figure out how to auto-populate the drop down box. Everywhere else that I correctly named ID fields to match their lookup tables, the drop down boxes were built correctly.
At this point I’m not sure what the Automatic Generated control is for, but it’s probably something that can be hidden or removed. Text boxes need to be resized and controls shifted around, but it should be noted that the better designed your database is, the cleaner will be the resulting pages.
Keep in mind that to get to this point I did virtually nothing. I didn’t read any help pages, didn’t watch their comprehensive demo and for the most part, didn’t even read the options. I accepted the wizard’s defaults wherever possible. The result for this “Participants” page includes:
- search function to load selected record
- correct style controls for all the fields
- correct representation of foreign key relationships
- nested sub-forms for related tables
- paging controls where appropriate
- new, edit, delete, save, refresh and filter action buttons
- complex navigation and full menu options
- export to Word, Excel, CSV and PDF
Note: This web site does business with IronSpeed.