Rollbase Wants to Make Programmers Obsolete


Platform-as-a-service provider Rollbase launched today, marketing its offerings as web-based software geared toward small- and medium-sized businesses. While the PaaS terminology conjures up images of Rollbase competing with something like or Bungee Labs, Rollbase is gunning for the same users as Coghead.

Rollbase allows business users to upload their data to its servers (which are hosted by OpSource) and then “build” applications to make that data useful. The process of building basically consists of dragging and dropping forms and tools on the page, but tech-savvy users can also add their own code for more customization.

What’s amazing to me is the rapid evolution from hosted applications such as and hosted computing services such as’s Cloud Computing and S3 to hosted development environments such as Bungee Labs. And now here comes services such as those of Rollbase and Coghead, which obviate the need for programmers altogether. At least in smaller offices and internal business units. I don’t see Oracle or SAP giving up the ghost anytime soon.

Much like easy blogging tools have allowed anyone to be a publisher, I’ll be curious to see how tools like Rollbase and Coghead change the business of building code. It may no longer be enough to deliver software as a service, it may have to be infinitely customizable as well.



I really doubt that any program can make programmer “obsolete”. Though the idea the user can develop the system all by himself deserves a praise.
When I decided to start with Quickbase (, my expectations were just to synchronize the data and store it at one place. Initially everything starts with more or less simple form, which gains value step-by-step. At the same time because of some system limitations I had to look for an alternative solution.
Now I’ve made up my mind to stick to TeamDesk ( The reason is simple: if you get the better functionality for less money, it’s just dumb not to use it.
Being a TeamDesk user for like 2 years I implemented a lot of stuff by myself. But still, there were moments of app evolution, which saw the light of the day only thank to programmer guys.
Really, the 90% of all operations can be accomplished all by yourself.
But in spite of this, some issues still require a professional approach. Sometimes you are just stuck and only with a hand of support staff we could break the deadlock.
I think, there will always be such kind of tasks.
James C.


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I don’t think this makes programmers obsolete. If anything, Rollbase and Heroku represent a healthy upward & outward expansion of the population that (wants) needs to develop customized applications. Just think what it means for the hundreds of thousand of semi-skilled ‘coders’ on the rolls of Infosys, Wipro, TCS, IBM, Cognizant,… We may be in for a massive increase in the number and quality of applications around for everybody (SMBs, mid-size Enterprises, Large Enterprise, consumer facing mid/long tail) as these platforms and toolsets mature. I sense a lot of ‘real programmers need no stinkin framework’ sort of responses to these announcements that miss the longer term big picture changes underway.


Stacey: Of course you wouldn’t. :)

Having worked at the intersection of business process and technology for 14 years, time and again I have seen small and medium business reject complex applications in favor of familiar ways of doing things. I suspect that the business automation app with the largest installed base by far is Excel. But I also would argue that automation in Excel is more often about process than programming.

Which brings me back to UI. I just cannot see a SMB manager, comfortable with technology but not a developer, taking the time to build an app in one of these environments. For one, like any programming language they require an understanding of the API, even if the API is visual. Second, the finished apps are complicated by the constraints of the UI and the visual API (which I suspect is even more limited than a programmatic API because it needs to operate within the constraints of the usability affordances familiar to users). It follows that apps built in Rollbase et al. are unlikely to survive in the Darwinian workplace because net user productivity, initially and ongoing, is lower than other more familiar options.

The corollary to this argument is that a well-designed online spreadsheet that closely mimics the familiar Excel UI might be a winner. The challenge is to incrementally expose new features — those enabled by the centralized hosting of the app — without complicating it to the point of declining utility. Google/Zoho may achieve some success here; options like Smartsheet have not, because the functionality upgrades available to a hosted app are offset by the hassles of a UI that deviates from traditional spreadsheet norms.

So I remain extremely skeptical about this market, though there are no doubt some exceptional cases out there (medium-sized business with forward thinking IT staffs that want to train users to control some of their own data and workflow, perhaps?). But how big a business are exceptions?

Stacey Higginbotham

Adam, I agree with you. A good programmer is someone who has a certain way of looking at the world, plus a set of skills that allows them to implement their vision. I’m not trying to reduce programmers to only those who churn out lines of code, much like I wouldn’t limit the term journalist to only those who work at actual newspapers :)


I foresee problems with the “businesses can just upload all their data” and then attempt to drag-and-drop canned components to try to make use of it model. While this might work for organizations that only need to store and retrieve non-sensitive/non-essential data, any business that requires real processing of the information will have to retain the services of living, breathing software developers.

peter caputa

I’d have to agree with Adam. Writing applications isn’t just about being able to use a development environment. That said, there’s Saas/Paas applications like Trackvia (a client), HubSpot (employer), zoho db, ning that make it easy for non technical people to do things typically done by webmasters.

Don Wilson

There is no innovation here. I’ve been using Caspio Bridge ( for the past two years doing everything these newcomers have to offer. For developers Caspio even offers APIs.

Don Wilson


As a smart programmer I know said recently, “people are wrong to think that ‘programming’ just means typing out lines of code.” Services like Coghead, Dabble, and Rollbase can only be used by programmers — that is, people who can organize and break down a complex business problem into its logical components. That’s a skill that most folks don’t have, so I don’t see how any of these services will gain real traction with end users. Engineers and analysts aren’t valuable only for their understanding of C# syntax and the waterfall model.

I would add that the frankly lousy usability of all of these products makes it that much less likely that they’ll find broad-market success.

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