Alpha Four. (data base management system) (Evaluation)
by Charles Idol
Clumsy and complex--that's how many people describe the databases they use for creating, maintaining, and extracting information. To the rescue comes Alpha Four, which permits you to define the format of your database, enter the data, and recover what you need with a minimum of effort. And, as a relational database manager, Alpha Four allows you to include information from several specialized databases in a single report.
When you design a database, the program permits as many as 128 fields. There are five kinds of fields, and four of these (character, numeric, date, and logical) are traditional fixed-length format. A memo field points to a file that can contain 5000 characters of text. After defining your fields, you can define field rules--a powerful aid. The rules speed up data entry, ensure consistency, and help to prevent you from entering invalid data.
With the field rules, you can specify whether an entry is calculated from other fields or user entered. You can perform case conversion, design templates to speed up data entry, define masks to ensure typing accuracy, set maximum and minimum values for numeric and date fields, specify mandatory entries, automatically skip fields if specified conditions are met, and define many other features of data entry.
Of particular value, the lookup rule seeks information from another database or from a table. Use the rule to define a list of choices for a field as optional, mandatory, or unpermitted. These options appear in a lookup window in which the selection can be highlighted for easy entry into the record.
As part of its relational scope, Alpha Four offers sets that allow you to use multiple databases without needless duplication of information. To define a set, you specify separate databases and the fields of interest within them. The program links those databases and creates a virtual database. You can then call up this virtual database, or set, and use it just as if it were a single database. The key point of relational databases is that they allow you to eliminate data duplication. The set provides convenient and powerful implementation of this capability.
View records either one at a time (with multiple pages if there are too many fields for a single screen) or in a browse mode with 20 rows to a screen and each row a record. In either mode, an index you define determines the order of the records. Each database can have seven indices, and these can be simple, such as a single field, or complex, with primary and secondary indices, exclusions, conditions, and ranges. Changing from one index to another requires little effort.
Alpha Four provides two modes of searching a database. The faster mode searches only the index you've chosen, including only those records the index admits. Incomplete words are permissible; if you're searching on a name, for example, you can use only the first few letters as a search pattern. This mode, unfortunately, doesn't permit sequential search. The search stops with the first match and won't search further. The other mode, a string search throughout the database, uses the fields you specify and will do sequential searches. Since the memo field contains descriptive text, this mode can be very useful indeed.
The program accepts files from such spreadsheets as Lotus, dBASE, and VisiCalc, or from ASCII files. It can export files to those programs as well as to WordPerfect and MultiMate. Compatible with a large number of printers, Alpha Four provides excellent routines for printing form letters and mailing labels, and attractive customized reports.
The documentation more than sufficiently explains the use of the software. The program is menu driven, and I fault it on only two counts. It lacks mouse support and forces the user to conform to DOS conventions in naming files and fields.
Alpha Four provides a powerful database management tool capable of performing sophisticated tasks for the experienced user and, at the same time, offers an easy means of database upkeep and use for the novice.