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BlueBox PHP 1.02
by BlueBox Sales Company Ltd

Review

Many of the Code Generators I've reviewed on this site have been around for 10 years or more, but BlueBox PHP appears to be a relative newcomer. It is on v1.02 at time of review and I believe first released in 2010. So will fresh ideas win out over maturity?

Installation

Installation was fairly straight forward. If you don’t have Version 4 of the .net framework already installed then you will have to install that too. Strangely it installs a single shortcut icon on the root of the Start menu, with no uninstall icon. Many programs create a folder and include links to purchase page etc – more of an observation than an issue. The full program takes around 8mb on disk.

Interface

When you start the program it prompts you to select your apache web folder. If you are using a standard installation of XAMMP it should be able to set it by default.

BlueBox PHP Main Screen

BlueBox PHP Main Screen

Once the program started I admit I was a little bit confused – I tend NOT to read user manuals preferring to click around until I get really stuck – I don’t believe that it’s that unusual.

Under “Recent Projects” there was an option “admin_example” which I assumed was a demo project so I clicked on it, and got an error saying that the database could not be found. If I read the manual I’m sure there would be a simple explanation, but I believe that programs should be as intuitive as possible without having to read the manual.

I figured the next course of action was to click “New Project”.

BlueBox PHP Connection Screen

BlueBox PHP Connection Screen

This looked a lot more promising! By default there are standard XAMPP connection strings, and you can easily add your own. If you get stuck there is even a video that SHOWS you how to do it – clicking the button takes you to BlueBox’s site with an embedded Youtube video. For me 4 minutes is a bit long for a video showing you how to connect to the database – but if you’re a complete newbie it could be a life saver – it’s certainly useful to have the option.

Ok, so I entered the connection details for the Sakila database – it connected and presented me with a fairly familiar treeview

BlueBox PHP Treeview

BlueBox PHP Treeview

It presents a treeview containing Tables Tab – for each table there are 3 sub-branches: DataBox, DetailBox and Add/EditBox. There is an empty tab for Queries, Menus and Sign In boxes. I have to admit I was a little bit confused again – I clicked on Website and it showed a blank page. Then came the eureka moment, right click on Website and you see the “Add Page” option.

BlueBox PHP Select Layout

BlueBox PHP Select Layout

Now things are getting a little more interesting and I start to suspect this isn’t just another CRUD application aimed at back end Admin systems where staff maintain data, this generator gives you some control over page layout – but how much? Well lets carry on and see.

I selected a page template and dragged my Film Table DataBox on to the content area, selected a style and previewed the page – looking good!

BlueBox PHP Preview Page

BlueBox PHP Preview Page

Great! Now I’m making some progress, but now I want to set my lookups. I’m surprised by how many Code Generators seem to ignore the fact that the sakila database contains foreign keys – and therefore lookups can be set by default (and cancelled by the user if they don’t want them).

Again I couldn’t quite figure out how to set a lookup so in the end I cheated and watched the video :) Here it is:

So in reality it was quite simple! Of course everyone is different and whilst I’m not finding this program particularly intuitive it could just be because I’ve looked at so many code generators and expect them to work a certain way. As I’ve said before, this one is different. I don’t think I’d like to use it to build a basic back end CRUD (Create, Read, Update and Delete) application but it does seem really well geared up for creating a shopping cart or something of that nature, which I believe is the publishers intention if you look at some of the template layouts:

BlueBox PHP Sample Layouts

BlueBox PHP Sample Layouts

Code / Application Structure

The main folder contains a page for each form. HTML comments separate the areas of the page. Subfolders contain the Ajax, Images, Javascript, CSS, Core functionality (includes) and a folder for uploading images.

In the Includes folder there appear to be 8 standard classes and additional scripts are generated for each page. e.g. FilmPage_core.class.php and FilmPage_app_top.inc.php in my sample application – I felt that these could do with some comments and I also noticed that the layout wasn’t tabbed properly with many generated lines appearing at the far left of the page despite being within a conditional block or loop for example. Then again, I’m not sure whether the target user would actually be interested in hand editing the PHP code, so perhaps these are moot points.

Like many code generators, it does not use PDO (which is more secure than the standard MySQL drivers if used correctly).

Summary

BlueBox PHP looks like a very interesting program – and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface here. It looks ideal for perhaps a web designer who doesn’t understand PHP but wants to create a shopping site for example.

I did personally find it a little bit unintuitive, and I believe that most users will need to study the program for a while to get the most out of it. Luckily there are currently 40 short videos covering every aspect of the program so you could be a BlueBox PHP Ninja in a fairly short period of time!

There is a free version of the program, but if you want to use features such as “Paypal add to cart button type” or the PayPal or Google Shopping cart then these are only available in the PRO version – which currently costs $99 with 60 days support, or $149 for 1 years support + upgrades.

Interestingly they also offer Dedicated Developer Services at $50 for 5 hours of a developers time to create your project for you. If you are in a hurry to get a project live this may be a good option and then study the IDE at your leisure.

Definitely worth checking out if you want to build a front-end shopping site.

Reviewed September 2011

BlueBoxPHP Publisher's Website


If you have used this product and have any comments about this review (perhaps we missed a killer feature, or missed some major hole that only manifests itself after prolonged use) then please comment below.

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