PC File 6.5. (data base management system) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tom Campbell
PC File 6.5 has made a very successful move from shareware powerhouse to commercial contender, more than holding its own with other databases in its price range. Jostling for shelf space at Egghead demands a highly competitive product, but PC File fills the bill.
The best changes from its shareware predecessor are modern, mousing user interfaces and native support of dBASE III PLUS databases and index files (including memo files, which let you type in large amounts of free-form text). It also reads and writes the most popular data-interchange formats such as 1-2-3, WordPerfect merge, and DIF. There is no language as such, but you can select from a wide variety of built-in functions such as UPPER() and SOUNDEX() when creating indexes and reports.
Installation is automated but a little too smart for its own good: My Stacker drives weren't detected, so I had to call tech support for a work-around in order to install it on my hard disk. The documentation is a single typeset paperback with 600 beautifully written pages. This is one of the best manuals I've ever seen, somehow mixing beginning and advanced material with uncanny skill. Apart from a glossary, I could find nothing missing from the manual and everything was where I expected to find it. The online help is almost as good, with the glaring omission of context-sensitive help for each menu item. So, while the FilelOpen dialog has its own help screen, Open on the File menu doesn't.
PC File 6.5 is a good data manager, allowing you to create, maintain, and alter the structure of database files. What gives it an edge is the extras: bar code support, a somewhat complex but well-designed mail merge, autodialer, macros, global search, SOUNDEX matching, and a really cool calculator. The calculator not only does the usual arithmetic but also lets you include field names in calculations, an innovative and universally handy fillip. The mail-merge feature is unmatched by any other I've used and is equally good for mass mailings and the one-offs I find myself writing with surprising frequency. I found merge instantly useful and up to the most demanding tasks, but I suppose it might be a bit much for a beginner to grasp right away. Never fear, though, because the manual explains the merge feature superbly.
Two of PC File 6.5's most-touted features are its ability to run in graphics mode and its ability to do charts, but I found neither overly impressive. The GUI slowed performance to the point that I wouldn't have used PC File if full-time graphics mode were the only option. Fortunately, you can run in the much-snappier text mode and switch modes only when graphs are displayed. The graphs are no great shakes and only use a magnified system font.
PC File 6.5 can process large amounts of data fast. It indexed a 13,500-record DBF file in less than a minute on my 33-MHz 386 and took only a few minutes to export it to DIF. This was a real data set, not a toy file generated for review purposes.
The labeler was formerly a separate product. It will do just about anything that needs to be done but lacks the kind of integration that distinguishes other features, such as the calculator and autodialer. The user interface is outmoded and bears no resemblance to the rest of PC File 6.5. It prints to generic labels and lets you create your own configuration; a selection of Avery presets would make life much easier.
I thought the eclecticism of the new features would work against PC File 6.5, but it didn't. This feels very much like a product designed with the primary emphasis on user input, labeler excepted. It's a solid product and well worth its $149.95 price. Just be sure to get phone support fast-after 30 days, you must switch to a 900 extracharge number.
IBM PC or compatible, 450K available RAM, hard disk with 1 1/2MB free; supports graphics monitors--$149.95
P.O. Box 96508 Bellevue, WA 98009-9658 (206) 454-0479
Circle Reader Service Number 447