Appgen BAG: Application Generator for Linux
Appgen’s Business Applications Generator (BAG) is designed as an application generator for users who want to develop business applications under Linux without having to code in C, C++ or other high-level language. Application generators have been available for decades, but no real attempt to expand to the Linux market has happened until BAG. The focus of BAG is on business applications such as accounting and inventory packages, but it can be used for many other types of applications as well.
The BAG package is impressive considering the low price. Our review copy consisted of a single CD-ROM and two three-ring binders containing two volumes of the Development System user guide. A dot matrix printed set of perforated sheet-feed paper (didn’t they disappear years ago?) is included with release notes and installation instructions. The tacky dot-matrix output is a jarring contrast to the documentation, and should be replaced to lend a more professional air to the Appgen system. Appgen BAG has been tested on Caldera 2.4 with KDE and RedHat 6.2 with GNOME, but will likely work with many 2.4 kernel versions. We tested under both Caldera eDesktop 2.4 and RedHat 6.2.
Installing the package requires setting up a user and home directory, the loading a script from the CD-ROM which uses Java to install the package properly. The process is easy enough and takes a few minutes, with all screen prompts readable and easy to understand.
The BAG system consists of a number of a number of modules included with the basic package as well as several optional modules. The basic system includes the Appgen Development Environment which consists of screen and report design tools, a database engine and support utilities, a query language to access the database, a C API toolkit for integrating into other applications, and a set of source code for an accounting package (including accounts payable, accounts receivable, and general ledger). Appgen sells additional modules to complement the accounting basics included with BAG, such as payroll and billing packages, as well as job costing and others. As you can tell, the focus is on accounting and business packages that relate to accounting.
I’ve worked with many application generators on the market over the years, for different operating systems, and some are good, some are bad. Some are more work than coding in a native high-level language, and some allow even a seven-year old to generate decent application code. Appgen BAG falls in the middle. This is not for complete neophytes who can’t work with a high-level language, as the procedural language used by Appgen BAG must be mastered to allow applications to be created. On the other hand, the procedural language is not difficult to master if you have any programming in your background.
As mentioned earlier, the focus of the Appgen BAG system is business applications, and it can’t really be used for much else without compromise. There are lots of features that are handy for business applications, though, such as automatic formatting of user input, simple report and screen design, reference table lookups, and the ability to provide on-line help. There’s only a limited flexibility in the application generator when it comes to multiple database reports, fast database queries, and advanced math capabilities. The screen generator is good but doesn’t rival those found in tools available under other operating systems, nor has the tool palettes or drag-and-drop ease of some other environments.
Learning Appgen BAG properly will take a few days. We experimented with the package and worked our way through the lengthy two-volume documentation. The primary limitations for most programmers will be the limited look of the screens and database engine, as well as the lack of a real 4GL language. For those who are not programmers, the system is well suited to experimentation, but changes to databases can cause loss of data if care is not taken. The included accounting applications are good but not overwhelming, although the inclusion of source code does allow for customization by a knowledgeable programmer. In most of our test applications, we ended up using a lot of C routines that were linked in to the BAG-generated code, extending our applications beyond what BAG could provide. BAG did behave solidly throughout our testing, although we did have one anomalous crash under RedHat 6.2 and GNOME when the application simply froze in the middle of a database query. Killing the process and restarting was easy enough and the database file was intact.
Appgen BAG is a good solution for many uses, but not as talented and powerful as we would have liked to see. Still, it is one of the few tools of its type on the market, and as such is worth looking at in some detail. The competitive pricing certainly helps, too.
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Summary: Good but not outstanding business-oriented application generator for Linux. Good value for the money.