FoxPro. (FoxPro 2.0 data base management system) (Evaluation)
by Richard O. Mann
In fox hunts, the hounds nearly always catch up with the fleeing fox. With the arrival of FoxPro 2.0 in the database chase, however, things look good for the fox. Latest in a series of swift, powerful dBASE-compatible databases from Fox Software, FoxPro will stay well ahead of the pack of fully relational, programmable databases. Despite other attractive features, breathtaking speed alone will make it a bestseller.
Using new patent-pending Rushmore technology, FoxPro retrieves data as much as 20 to 30 times faster than its nearest competitor and, under certain conditions, hundreds of times faster than some slower products, such as dBASE IV. If you use a professional database with files containing thousands of records, you know all about thumb-twiddling waits of five and ten minutes (or hours for complex requests on larger files) while even the speediest modern computer grinds away at your request.
Consider what 30 times faster means: FoxPro would complete in 20 seconds a task that takes you current database ten minutes. Even at only 20 time faster, the calculations would take only 30 seconds. We're talking dramatic differences here.
While its speed must headline any story about FoxPro 2.0, many other outstanding features deserve attention. The user interface, for instance, takes a lot of the mystery out of working with a complex mass of capabilities. FoxPro is a text- or character-based product that runs under ordinary DOS. Even though it's not a Windows product, it has a window-based interface with familiar pull-down menus, dialog boxes, scroll bars, and even a simple way to move or size the onscreen windows. Because Fox designed the interface using IBM's common user access (CUA) standards, FoxPro works much like other CUA-compliant software (such as Microsoft Windows).
The interface works surprisingly well from the keyboard, but addig a mouse speeds up tasks significantly. Because so much of the work of designing and working with a database in FoxPro 2.0 involves choosing from lists of options, most of your work can be done with the mouse. Of course, you need the keyboard for actual data entry.
The tutorial--a separate 299-page book--patiently takes you through the basics up to the generation of your own simple application. I worked through the whole thing in about eight hours, but two of those hours were lost to a half dozen instances when the computer didn't do what the tutorial said it would, usually because of steps missing from the instructions.
FoxPro 2.0 allows you to build entire applications without typing a single line of command language. You make choices from menus and dialog boxes while FoxPro's artificial intelligence lurks in the background translating your choices into hundreds of lines of program code.
Any database can be quickly examined using the versatile Browse window, which instantly displays the database onscreen in a tabular format. This window scrolls across the screen at your command, giving you a window view of the whole table. You can immediately size or more fields within the table by merely dragging them with your mouse.
To select and display individual records from a series of related database files, use the remarkable RQBE (Relational Query By Example) window. Pick databases and fields from scrollable lists, specify how the various files link, create virtual fields, select sort order and grouping for subtotals, and set the filters you want applied to the data. You also specify the output form, which can include a brose screen, a screen report, a printed report, or one of several other forms.
If you've chosen the right options, FoxPro generates a Quick Report format for you. You spiff up the resulting bare-bones report in a report-design window where you can move fields, change field size, and move text elements such as headings and other labels by dragging them with the mouse. This expedient process also works in the screen-design function. Once you've used this, any other screen- or report-formatting system seems crude.
Professionals will appreciate other new features, including over 100 new or enhanced dBASE language commands, extensive printer driver customization, template generation using standard FoxPro language, the compressed index files, the project manager, and the optional-at-extra-cost compiler that creates stand-alone EXE file applications. You'll enjoy using the RQBE window to generate complex SQL code as well.
FoxPro 2.0 can run on a mixed bag of hardware. Its speed gives new life to old XT-class computers; older machines will now work at an acceptable speed when running this relational database manager. Be aware, though, that depending on how many of its optional features you install, FoxPro 2.0 takes from 8 to 16MB of hard disk space, plus space for the data you'll be adding.
High-end professional databases are exceedingly complex beasts, as attested by FoxPro 2.0's 6 1/2 inches of heavy (but well-written) manuals. Some databases acknowledge that they exist well out of the end-user class, limiting themselves to professional programmers. Others try to include enough easy-to-use features to allow end-users to do some of their own work. Others create a personal version for end-users.
FoxPro 2.0--perhaps the most powerful of them all--allows nonprogrammers to create simple database applications without programming. The more technically inclined among you will stretch your limits by learning more and more about database programming with FoxPro.
Nontechnical users should probably think twice before spending the money for FoxPro 2.0, though; you could get everything you need in a simpler, less expensive package. But if you have large databases and can't wait through seemingly endless data chases any longer, the blinding speed of FoxPro 2.0 could make it worth every penny of its price, even if you never touch its advanced programming features.