Iceberg for students: developing made simple

This is a dual post written and posted simultaneously. For the enterprise side of Iceberg, check the post over at Enterprise Alley (that's right readers, I'm cheating on you).
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

iceberg-logo.pngThis is a dual post written and posted simultaneously. For the enterprise side of Iceberg, check the post over at Enterprise Alley (that's right readers, I'm cheating on you). Some bits are the same and used in both entries; ain't easy posting the same thing for different audiences.

A couple of weeks ago was my week off; funeral's make it hard to work properly. Having said that, I'm not one to sit around and grieve, so I took a deep breath in and distracted myself nicely by ploughing into my inbox.

My colleague from Enterprise Alley, Dennis Howlett emailed me about Iceberg, so naturally I took a look. The web pages look inviting, the idea seems good, and it seems too good to be true... wait a minute, this is the sort of thing where people say, "you never get anything for free". Cynicism's aside, I marched on and started to play around with it.

I spoke to Wayne Byrne, another guy I want to cuddle with his lustrous Irish accent. We spoke for the best part of 2 hours, drank virtual tea (me drinking a cup of tea whilst using VoIP) and him talking me through this software.

I was impressed; really impressed.

When installing something which requires a backend database and/or web server, I always feel dread and a sense of hopelessness. I can never get the settings right, I always screw something up, and quite honestly, it's too much of a pain-in-the-arse to even bother with. When you try to install Iceberg, it does all that for you. It installs the SQL Server components, it'll install Cassini Web Server for you, and you barely have to click a button. Even though you may not have the requisites for the software, it'll sort it all out for you.

Iceberg is basically a platform which takes on a similar look to SharePoint, without being SharePoint. It's a web platform which enables you to make custom, complicated workflow based, high-quality and dynamic; yet stable applications simply, without writing a single line of code.

The key to Iceberg is the "no written code" factor to it, enabling anybody to really use it. I've used it and I know a little of Java (courtesy of two fantastic lecturers for my first year at university) and some web languages, but nothing exciting. With Iceberg comes a huge back-end database, but in terms of database knowledge, you don't need to know anything. All you need to know about using this software is what you want to make, and not how to actually make it.

If you want to create applications, but either can't be arsed to learn or don't have the skill power to hand, read on. Your life could be about to get that little bit better.

Of course, with software as great as this, it's easy to package the whole thing as much as your right arm and your first born child. For academics, students and educational institutions, it's absolutely free to download.

Getting started is so easy. You login, it'll bring up a welcome screen, and it'll show you exactly what you need to get started. Without any complicated boxes or code needed, it'll describe what it wants from you, as the "lay person". With .NET and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 running behind the scenes on the computer or server you've installed it on, you start off making a database. The database can talk to pretty much any other legacy database out there making inter-collaboration better; it can even talk to cross-operating systems and platforms.

Because all the core databases are SQL, anything else you make in Iceberg can be mapped to objects. When "writing" the database, it's explained in non-programmer terms, therefore expanding databasing to ordinary folk, so:

"An object can have"  -> "many" -> "of some other object"

With this, it's clever enough to check to see you haven't doubled anything up, therefore saving time and eventually resources by not defining things twice. The Web 2.0 interface has drag-and-drop features, making the interface more streamlined, but also what is available to you, the current user. The security features make sure you can't tread on anyone else's turf, with read only, read-write and full access permissions available.

The Web 2.0 features don't stop there. When searching for something, a live search appears next to your search box so you can see the results as you type. The AJAX is all on the server, as this allows you to keep track of what you're doing in a "live feed".

One of the killer features is the Process Designer. If you do have a passion for coding, although not necessary with Iceberg, this is the place to do it... except you still don't write any code. You simple start dragging and dropping things into a Visio-style pane, all Flash based. This workflow viewing allows you to see the objects and manipulate them to how you want them to work.

If you opt for the third-party solution, you can use your Iceberg environment in the cloud as a hosted service. You can buy rack space which gives Amazon EC2 for .NET; after all, Iceberg is basically a website - a very clever website, but nonetheless, just a website.

You can currently customise and stylise how you want Iceberg to look, as it supports custom HTML, JavaScript and CSS comes with the next release in the coming weeks. You can put JavaScript and HTML into objects, allowing you to put popups in, inserting analysing tracking code and other enhancements. You can already to 98% of what you want with Iceberg, and if you want that other 2% you can throw in your own code.

The next release, coming very soon, includes a toolbox in the Process Designer, allowing you to create custom .NET code and upload it to the folder where it'll stay. It'll allow you to customise and include something that Iceberg may not have; a new document creating snap-in, or something FTP related should you wish.

For those who can't program or develop, this is a useful tool to get your head around. It's free, the chances of it coming to your university network is highly likely, considering it's too good to turn away. It is well and truly a feat of genius, and could make to be a nice earner for yourself should you master the easy skill of Iceberg application development.

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