Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 155 / AUGUST 1993 / PAGE 16

Test lab. (database management system software for Windows)(includes related articles and glossary) (Software Review ) (Evaluation)
by Tom Campbell

This is an exciting time in the Windows database arena. And it's no wonder: Database applications are, depending on whom you believe, the most popular or the second-most-popular use for computers.

The arena wasn't always this interesting. When Windows 1.0 came out in 1984, there was nothing. A few vertical market applications appeared with 2.0, as well as a couple of failed Mac ports. Microsoft was curiously silent all this time, developing, we now know, Access. Microsoft was also well behind the market curve, for by version 3.1, Windows had a downright respectable selection of database managers. Approach Software released Approach 1.0 to great acclaim; it's at version 2.0 now and shows Windows at its best.

SPC's Superbase had a commanding lead of the market before Access sold nearly a million copies at the loss-leading price of $100; with its intelligent implementation of a database-oriented BASIC, Superbase is still a premier development environment. Fox Software, now subsumed by Microsoft, had done a great job porting its FoxBase dBase clone to the Macintosh and was reversing the process when Microsoft bought Fox for a cool $175 million. The reversal was complete this year when FoxPro appeared on Windows, DOS, Mac, and UNIX--a desktop computer grand slam. Borland was hardly idle. It was developing a DBASE clone for Windows and reengineering Paradox, its flagship database. After more than a year's delay, Paradox emerged from the chrysalis just in time to battle with FileMaker Pro, from that insanely great software company called Apple.

As interesting as the market soap opera is, the products are much more so. These full-featured database managers can all be used to create mousing, windowing, push-button database applications. With some of them it stops there; you can add push buttons, but not list boxes, combo boxes, or radio buttons. All of them import dBASE files--a great relief from times past when compatibility wasn't even mentioned by database publishers. Some of them provide macro languages and ways to replace the standard menus with your own; some don't. All have some form of network support, and many speak SQL; both of these features are left unexplored in these reviews because the typical COMPUTE reader is a hobbyist or small-business person on a single-user system.

Access, FoxPro, Paradox, and Superbase all have programming languages of their own. Every one of them is expensive, and every one of them is a stunning achievement. At list price they're bargains; at the competitive upgrade prices, they're steals. You can't go wrong with any of them.

The middle tier is less predictable. Its products range wildly in feature combinations; among them, Approach and Filemaker Pro are out-and-out winners.

If your needs are simpler, you'll want to take a look at the sidebar describing Instant Database from Asymetrix, Data Manager from Timeworks, and FormWorx from PowerUp. They taste great, and they're less filling pricewise. Another sidebar covers CA-dBFast 2.0, a product that shipped too late for coverage in the Test Lab regular reviews.

Some of the products covered in this Test Lab support an image data type for fields, but OLE gets extra credit because it can handle any data type, at no cost to the DBMS. Interestingly, few use the common file open dialog Microsoft began promoting with Windows 3.0, and too few support data entry masks to restrict input to, say, a phone number or Social Security number style. All trends point upward; this is a healthy and impressive bunch. installation programs are all competent at the very least, although some are called INSTALL.EXE instead of the more standard SETUP.EXE and some don't show available and required disk space. A goodly number offer something besides a full, default installation: sometimes a minimal installation and sometimes a custom installation.

All can print a report to a text file if you install the Windows Generic print driver, but that's a pain. I looked for plain text output without Generic. All of them have calculated fields, and all but one employ the standard Windows help system. Paradox uses the help system most effectively, with a number of well-thought-out visual metaphors that show we are only now beginning to understand the efficacy of hypermedia.

If you've been thinking about graduating from Cardfile, go for it. The game has begun.


AceFile is a midrange product with a broad, shallow feature set. in addition to using dBASE Ill PLUS data files as its native format, AceFile boasts graphing, a dialer, and a rudimentary mail-merge facility with a text editor.

Because of its shallow feat re set, AceFile is pretty easy to learn. Some things are a little awkward, such as its handling of index files, but if AceFile is your first database, these considerations are small and shouldn't affect your enjoyment. I find AceFile fairly snappy, and it would be an even better performer were it not for bad handling of screen redraws. There's way too much flicker when AceFile launches, when you quit, and when you enter data or scroll through records in a multiwindow application.

AceFile's idea of a complete database application is a "view set," a file containing the arrangement of windows, databases, and relationships in the application. Nowhere nearly as cohesive as, say, the equivalent application in Access or Superbase, but it gets the job done.

While there's no programming language, AceFile has a wide variety of very useful functions you can embed in forms and reports; reports are especially flexible. It also has a macro facility, so putting together a view set as a turnkey application is straightforward with only a little study.

The graph module is flexible and has a number of charts. It's not quite as visual as I'd like, taking a fill-in-the-forms approach when direct manipulation would be more desirable. For example, you type in numbers for the angle and tilt of a 3-D pie chart, rather than rotating a model of the chart in realtime.

Somehow I feel that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. I probably wouldn't have noticed this had I not dealt with such seamlessly integrated masterworks as Access and Superbase. For example, you can't have parts of several related files show up in the same window. Each must occupy its own window, leading to rather creative use of tiling in the sample applications.

The manual is pretty good, although, despite a longish index, I was stymied when I tried to find out whether the program has memo fields. I couldn't find memo or field types in the index. AceFile does indeed support memo fields, by the way, because it uses DBASE files as its native format.

If you need a broad range of features in one box with a moderate price, AceFile is a good choice.

Circle Reader Service Number 371


Of all the "easy" Windows database managers in this roundup, Approach and FileMaker Pro seem the best to me. While Approach lacks a programming language, it lets you create impressive turnkey applications very quickly.

Approach impressed me right from the start. Its toolbar contains only the most-used features, so I found it the easiest to learn. Its menus are perhaps the best designed of any in the products I used, leaving the toolbar for what it's supposed to do--provide quick access to the actions that you'll perform most frequently. And let's face it: Icons are helpful if you already know what they mean; however, having to learn 30 or 40 of them can slow you down, even if you're the most determined power user.

I found the manuals elegant and useful, with a well-written tutorial. Unlike, say, Fox-Pro's big tutorial, which targets experienced Xbase programmers who want to learn FoxPro's special features, the Approach tutorial teaches you both the product and database management at the same time.

The Approach user's guide is equally good, making its few omissions stand out. According to the box, Approach allows you to "become productive instantly by providing turnkey business templates," but I couldn't find templates in the index.

This product's online help is fine, but what it calls an index is actually a table of contents. My biggest complaint about help is that you usually can't get it from inside a dialog, such as when you're adding a field to the database structure. The documentation on importing and exporting data is the best I saw with any DBMS. The few complaints I have are minor ones about an otherwise superb product.

Approach was one of the first significant database managers for Windows 3.x, and it shows. I found the drawing tools particularly good, and they have a Group/ Ungroup feature, which lets you fuse objects together to form a single selectable unit. Need form letters? With Approach they're easy, and they're built right into the product. Creating a macro is a snap, although macros are somewhat limited and don't run very fast. The query mechanism is so simple that it doesn't even have a separate name; it's just an extension of the Find dialog you'll see in most Windows applications. While Access makes a big deal about its dynasets, Approach has had a similar feature for a long time. With Approach, when you create a report, you can edit the records output by the report. They aren't called dynasets, but the effect is similar.

An Approach application is held together by a "view" file, and view files do some amazing things. For example, Approach can use both Paradox and DBASE as native file formats without translation. Neither has a counter data type, yet you can have them in any Approach database, because the view file manages them--an ingenious strategy. The README file is an Approach view file, giving a hypertext twist to the usual last-minute documentation along with a showy but useful illustration of Approach's assets.

One truly non-Windows feature is that Approach is pleasingly fast, allowing you to scroll through records at a satisfying clip. All in all, Approach is probably the best of the nonprogrammable Windows databases in this Test Lab roundup.

Circle Reader Service Number 372


DataEase is a powerful development environment for nonprogrammers, though it has significant flaws. Designed more for corporations than for individuals, t' built on a rock-solid data en with numerous connections to minicomputer and mainframe database managers.

While I found it more complicated than the other nonprogrammable database managers, I also found that it can do substantially more in certain areas: queries, viewing the data in different form configurations, and mainframe queries. Another feature geared more toward the corporate user, its use of style sheets on forms, allows you to standardize on one or more visual themes.

Some things just didn't sit well with me. For example, to create a table (database file), you have to choose File/New/Form and choose in the Select a Database Table column. It never occurred to me to look there because most DBMSs keep the form and table separate.

While most of the packages in this Test Lab offer a good number of sample applications, DataEase wins for real-life usability. You can modify the Club ParaDease and project manager sample apps for use in your own business, whereas the sample applications that come with other products would be better thought of as starting points. The DataEase sample apps show a weakness of the overall package, a cluttered design and overenthusiastic use of color that I found somewhat confusing. Compounding this, the sample apps seem to have been created for a Super VGA system, so the text label Appointment became Appointment and DayMinder PersonalPlanner was truncated to DayMinder Personal Pla. Also, the sample application uses teensy fonts in some areas that users with less than perfect vision will find impossible to read.

DataEase employs my favorite catalog approach of the bunch, giving it the edge for team projects. The main window of the catalog is collapsible, like an outliner, and you can double-click on its elements to go directly to them. Its support of graphics is a little iffy, requiring you to enter a filename for each graphic; you can't just paste it in from the Windows Clipboard. On the other hand, it supports all major graphics file types: Windows bitmap, Encapsulated Postscript, CompuServe GIF, Paintbrush PCX, Targa, TIFF, and Windows Metafile.

DataEase wouldn't be my first choice for home or small business use. It's sufficiently eccentric and complex to learn that I'd rather go all the way and learn Access or Paradox.

Circle Reader Service Number 373 From the manual to the sample applications to the software itself, this version of FileMaker Pro oozes quality.

It's one of the first Windows products released by Claris, a wholly owned subsidiary of . . . Apple! Yes, the people who created the Macintosh finally wised up and started cashing in on the Windows market, which they indirectly helped to create. FileMaker Pro has attracted a lot of attention and deserves it. While you can exchange files between the Macintosh and Windows versions of FileMaker Pro, this does not feel like a soulless ripoff. FileMaker Pro is one of the best examples around of how to create a great Windows product.

Miscues are few and far between. One of them is that there are two kinds of scroll bars, the standard Windows variety and a homegrown one. The radio buttons aren't factory issue, either. This is no doubt an artifact of the common code base the program shares with the Macintosh version, but these features jumped out at me. And you can't get help from within dialogs, a feature I missed greatly but was able to do without because of the program's amazing design. The help system is a model for Windows applications--another surprise given its ancestry.

With FileMaker Pro, creating a database is easier than with any other product in this Test Lab. An Options dialog for each field type allows you to override the sensibly chosen defaults, and it makes such tasks as defining the field as unique or uppercase downright simple. I missed logical field types, but you can get the same effect by making the field a check box--arguably a better solution. Choosing a font brings up a visual representation of all the fonts on your system; I've never seen this in a Windows product, and it's a godsend.

The Find dialog is secretly also a query mechanism, used to select records for reports. This is so subtly integrated into the program that there isn't even a section on reports in the manual.

There is a macro facility that's limited but easy to use. As a programmer, I found it limiting, but as a user in need of slapping together a database application fast, I found it agreeable. File Maker Pro reads all the major graphics file types and then some, probably more than any other DBMS in this roundup. The sample applications have their own manual, so you don't have to document or create them from start.

Its price puts Filemaker Pro up with the high-end programmable database managers, but I think it's justified by the sheer elegance of its implementation. It adds up to a brief learning curve married to an ample feature set--two qualities that appear often in Windows products but seldom in the same one.

Circle Reader service Number 374


Access typifies the worst and the best of Windows. It's big, slow even on a four-meg 486SX machine, and complicated. It's also a masterpiece, an instant classic of Windows design.

What makes Access special is the depth, richness, and integration of its features. You can save a form as a report. You can edit the results of a query exactly as if you were using the data itself. Windows drag-and-drop features are used extensively. And often, a feature is so obvious that you'll use it without thinking about it because you're simply not accustomed to such an intensely visual environment. The manuals and sample applications look fine and do an amazingly good job for a 1.0 product.

Rough edges in this package are evident but few: The manual slips and calls the program Cirrus, its code name under development; I noticed a page reference of ??? where the writer had neglected to fill in the number; and some simple tasks require a dip into the Access Basic programming language.

I don't see this as an easy database manager, but the program's incredible power yields more per hour of learning than any Windows product I've ever seen. After a few serious months learning Access, you could create very sophisticated Windows applications in very few billable hours. It has the best macro facility of any of the databases reviewed in this Test Lab roundup, and when I checked CompuServe, I noticed that a fair number of nonprogrammers are doing the job of programmers using macros alone.

Access Basic is a strong, capable language, but you won't learn it fast. It looks a lot like Visual Basic, but the two aren't compatible. If you've never used Visual Basic, Access Basic will be a real stretch. There's an extensive, well-written tutorial to help you bridge the gap.

Not only can Access import data from a respectable variety of sources, but it can also "attach" DBASE and Paradox files and indexes. Attached files are left in their original formats, but they act just like they're native to Access. It's faster if you import them, but if you're not willing to entrust your current data exclusively to Access, you can have it both ways. Keep in mind, however, that importing has a hidden price. Access stores everything--forms, data, program code, reports, macros, queries--in a single file. So if you're developing Access applications for clients off-site, there's no comfortable way to update the code portion of a database without destroying the existing data.

I must admit that my Windows system wasn't comfortable with only four megabytes of memory. Microsoft optimistically lists two megs as the minimum working configuration, but don't even think about it. Be willing to accept the reality that Access is a resource hog.

Access is a thrilling first release. Some features, such as data entry validation, aren't as polished as they could be. Most others, such as its macro facility, drag-and-drop user interface, and Basic language implementation, have already made it to the head of the class. If you're willing to spend some time with the manual, Access will handle any database management task throw at it.

Circle Reader Service Number 375


FoxPro is the one product in this roundup that you must be a database expert to use. Users who don't already know an Xbase language need not apply. If you do know DBASE and want to move to Windows, this is quite simply a product without peer. If you want source compatibility among DOS, Mac, and UNIX versions of a serious database manager, it's the only game in town.

FoxPro is an unabashed power user's tool. While it will laugh in your face if you feed it a machine with less than a 386 and two megs, it gets more performance out of that machine than any other Windows DBMS. (However, all of the products in this Test Lab will do just fine for the typical COMPUTE reader, who usually has fewer than 20,000 records in a database.) Typical FoxPro developers either are porting a DOS Xbase application to Windows or need its screaming performance on data sets with 100,000 or more records.

If you already know dBASE or Clipper, you can't go wrong with FoxPro. The dBASE language was already becoming Byzantine with version III PLUS, and the trend has continued to the behemoth FoxPro is today. As a programmer, I'm particularly fond of FoxPro because the entire application can be represented in simple ASCII program listing. This makes team development of programs a realistic goal in a GUI world where maintaining source code for visual application environments is uncharted territory.

While the ads proclaim FoxPro has an applications generator that will let you create programs without coding, don't be misled. The applications generator is weaker than those of Access and Paradox, and you'll have to dip into the source it generates pretty quickly. Also, FoxPro is oriented to the creation of stand-alone EXE programs (with the purchase of the FoxPro Distribution Kit) that can use the Windows API directly, so language shortcomings can always be patched up with C.

If you know a variant of the dBASE language already or are willing to learn it from third-party materials in order to make use of FoxPro's unique portability to DOS and UNIX, you'll be well served by FoxPro. If you need an easy-to-learn, easy-to-use Windows DBMS that holds your hand, look elsewhere.

Circle Reader Service Number 376


Paradox gives you the best of both worlds: the assured maturity of a product created by an experienced design and documentation team and the freshness of a 1.0 version. Although Paradox for DOS has been around for years now, the Windows version is a complete rewrite with only data compatibility. Paradox is an awesome development environment.

Paradox, like Access, is billed as being easy enough for an end user but powerful enough for the most experienced developer. I don't believe the former, but the latter is true in spades. If you want to make full use of Paradox, you'll have to learn at least some of its ObjectPAL language, but your efforts will be rewarded handsomely.

Paradox, long famous for its query mechanism, is even better as a Windows product, allowing you to edit the data set returned by a query. Excellent under DOS, the form designer has no equal in Windows. Paradox thinks of everything in a database application as an object, and you can bring up an object's properties by selecting the object and then clicking the right mouse button. This brings up a submenu, and from that submenu you choose an item that brings up a property dialog for font or color or behavior at print time or whatever. Explaining this takes a lot longer than doing it, and I found it much easier to use than the property sheet Access brings up. While Access lets you see all the properties at once, they appear in a tiny system font that often doesn't fit completely in the box The Paradox way was

much more comfortable to me.

Paradox has an industrial-strength report generator. It does the best job of all the databases surveyed here when creating a default report or form that's based on several tables at once.

ObjectPAL is a killer language. Borland made the right choice in creating a new language that can't use programs created for its DOS predecessor, despite the pain it will cause those with a big investment in DOS Paradox code. ObjectPAL is documented brilliantly; its reference manual is by far the best of the bunch. You can learn ObjectPAL from the ground up through this manual and never have to purchase a third-party book. The ObjectPAL debugger outdistances all other debuggers for database languages.

Paradox is a major achievement and a product of staggering proportions. Among the programmable databases, Access and Superbase are its only competition in this group, and Paradox meets the challenge.

Circle Reader Service Number 377


Scandinavian PC Systems' PrimaBase is the least full featured of any database in this Test Lab roundup, yet it happens to be the only one guaranteed to pay for itself. That's because PrimaBase's main claim to fame is its ability to print all popular bar code types and then some: POSTNET, UPC-A, UPC-E, and others.

Who cares? Anyone whose business or club sends out a lot of bulk mail. Applying bar codes to the labels as the postal service requires is tricky without computerized help, but it can result in massive savings when you convert from first class to third class with machine-readable POSTNET markings.

Without the bar codes, PrimaBase would be better positioned as an inexpensive shareware database manager. Forms are sharply limited. For example, you can add push buttons, but their size, function, and captions are fixed-17 varieties such as New, Edit, Search Next, and so forth. Reports are fairly good, but queries are little more than advanced Find dialogs and can't be saved.

A handy little mail merge that you can use with Windows Write allows you to include text formatting in the form letters that you create. This is certainly a novel and very appropriate use of existing tools.

If you need to print bar codes, PrimaBase is well worth its $349.95 price. If not, you should probably look elsewhere.

Circle Reader Service Number 378


Let's get one thing clear about Superbase from the start. You must know BASIC to use it properly. If you know BASIC, good, because the Superbase dialect is a good one. Superbase is a mature product that's gotten rave reviews, and it deserves them. It's fast, easy to program, and wonderfully documented, and it comes with some bonus development tools that will make you even more productive.

Superbase has all the bells and whistles you expect from a high-end Windows database manager: easy forms design, a complete and well-integrated query-by-examples mechanism, default creation of several different kinds of reports, a dialog editor, and a macro recorder. The macro recorder is ingenious in that it generates code in SBL, Superbase's version of BASIC.

Creating applications with Superbase is even easier than with Access. For example, you can attach SBL code directly to a button (or list box or whatever), whereas in Access you must attach the code to a macro and then run the macro from the button. I also like SBL better than Access Basic because it's far closer to the spirit of BASIC. Software Publishing intimates in its literature that it will begin to make SBL more like Access Basic, but I hope the plans don't pan out. While Access is quite powerful, it's harder to learn than Superbase. If you've been developing applications in, say, POWERBASIC or QUICKBASIC as opposed to Visual Basic, Superbase will make more sense to you. There's also a big library of canned SBL routines, so you could well put together a complete app with nothing more than those and some glue code.

Superbase is very fast, too--one of the fastest of the DBMSs in this group. You can scroll through complicated forms even faster than with some DOS data managers.

I do have a few complaints, though. I found that dBASE memo fields don't import properly (they become ten-character text fields), and L could find no documentation addressing the issue. The SBL reference manual, chock-full of useful example code, isn't indexed. And I began to realize that the reason (Superbase relies so heavily on what it calls validation formulas (which check to see whether you've entered information into a field properly) is that it doesn't have data entry masks, also known as picture fields.

But you can't go wrong with Superbase, especially if you have experience as a BASIC programmer. Like dBASE in its heyday, Superbase is a full data management system with an easy-to-learn, state-of-the-art script language.

Circle Reader Service Number 379


A few months ago, I questioned Computer Associates' purchase of both Clipper, a DOS Xbase compiler, and dBFast, a Windows compiler. Since they had different extensions to the dBASE language, I implied that perhaps. CA had gotten in over its head.

I'm happy to be proved wrong by release 2.0 of CA-dBFast--gloriously wrong. (Release 2.0 arrived too late for regular coverage. This preliminary look is based on just one day of examination, so bear in mind that it's not an exhaustive look. The dBASE compatibility helped me in this regard, because I was able to run a goodly amount of vanilla III PLUS code through.)

Like Clipper, dBFast is an implementation of the dBASE III PLUS language. Wisely, CA has given dBFast a complete development environment with a multiwindow editor, a debugger, and visual report and form designers. The extensions to dBASE III PLUS are numerous--more than 350 of them, by my count. Many of them echo similar extensions to Clipper (array-handling routines, conditional compilation, binary file I/O), making it clear that CA is heading in the same direction with both products.

Like FoxPro, CA-dBFast lets you create true Windows applications in dBASE style. Unlike FoxPro, CA-dBFast gives you true EXE file creation at a price that competes favorably with those of Borland and Microsoft language products: $550, versus about $1,500 with FoxPro. The EXEs require some frightening overhead--a simple one was 500K--but the productivity gains are worth it.

Version 1.0 was beset with problems and was so delicate that it often couldn't run even generic dBASE code. Happily, this seems to be a thing of the past. CA-dBFast 2.0 has some incredible language extensions, a terrific language reference that's chock-full of examples, and a good debugger at a very competitive price. It has a bright future.

CA-dBFast 2.0 lists for $550. For more information about this product, contact Computer Associates at 1 Computer Associates Plaza, Islandia, New York 11788 (900-225-5224 or 516-342-5224).

Circle Reader Service Number 380


calculated field. A field that displays the result of some computation, usually based on other fields. Calculated fields require no space in a file because their values aren't stored, only displayed.

catalog. An idea gaining currency in the last few years, the catalog is a way to store information about a single database application--the files it uses, the way data is stored, the program code, and the visual attributes of the application's user interface.

counter data type. A number that increments automatically when a record is added; normally, counter fields can't be edited. Useful for generating serial numbers and, more important, for guaranteeing that no record in the database is identical to another record.

DBMS. DataBase Management System, such as the programs reviewed here. This is different from a database, which is usually information that can be stored in categories, such as names, addresses, and phone numbers. Lately, databases are being called tables, to emphasize the theoretical view of data as rows and columns.

field. A single "unit" or category of information: last name, first name, area code, phone number, and so on. Also called a row in a table.

filter. A quick way to select records meeting certain criteria from the database. By convention, a filter can't be saved and a query can, but they are otherwise similar.

form. The user interface into which data is entered. Usually, the form is separated from the structure of the table (a.k.a. database), and there can, in fact, be several forms per table.

function (in forms and reports). All of the database managers in this roundup allow the use of built-in numeric and text manipulators such as SUM(), UPPERCASE(), and AVERAGE(); these are called functions. Sometimes the functions can be used only in forms, sometimes only in reports, but usually in both. Functions work just like spreadsheet functions and can usually be similarly built up into complex expressions.

index. Database records are stored on disk and copied into faster RAM only one at a time, while a record is being edited. An index contains a copy of a selected field from all the records in the database in RAM, making it possible to navigate through the database in an ordered fashion without sorting the database.

macro. A macro contains one or more memorized actions, such as positioning to the next record or choosing an item from a menu. Less complicated than a programming language but also less useful, macros allow the creation of turnkey applications by nonexperts.

memo field. Most fields in a database are of fixed size--a 30-character last name, an eight-byte numeric field, a two-byte time field, and so on. Memo fields let you store arbitrary amounts of information, usually textual, without wasting space on the disk for records that don't have such information. Useful for recording patient histories, special directions, and sometimes more exotic values like images or sound.

query. A way of finding records that meet selected criteria so a report can be printed. Queries are like filters except that they can be saved and quickly retrieved for later use. Sometimes called filters.

table. Information stored in row-and-column format, sometimes called a database. Columns are sometimes called fields. The rows are called records. The old term for table is database, but that's slowly going out of style.

turnkey application. A program written using the database manager that anyone, not just the programmer, can use. Normally, it has its own menu, help system, prompts, tables, data entry forms, queries, and reports, typically activated by push buttons or menu picks.

Xbase. The most popular database language in the word is dBASE, so influential that it has inspired a horde of similar-but-not-identical counterparts: Clipper, Arago, FoxPro, and so forth. Xbase encompasses all these entities.


FormWorx 2.0 for Windows

It would be wrong to call these products full-featured database managers, but they're handy tools in the fight against data glut.

FormWorx 2.0 for Windows (there's a nearly identical, compatible DOS version) is an intriguing package designed specifically for the creation of printed forms such as purchase orders, past-due notices, credit card applications, fax cover sheets, sales reports, and so forth. It also comes with a companion product named Fill & File, which effectively turns FormWorx into an indexed database manager, complete with table lookups, default data entry values, calculated fields, search and replace, and customized prompts.

As you might imagine, FormWorx is heavy on border patterns, variable units of measurement, alignment tools, and so on. You can create libraries of form objects or use the supplied ones. Hidden in the back of the book is an invaluable discussion of how to use LaserJet output and manipulate the files from other languages (you can send the form out as an HP macro, a customized set of commands processed directly by the laser printer).

To ease form creation, there's a palette of "data objects," which constrain data entry to the formats for American currency, numbers, dates, times, five- and nine-digit ZIP codes, and seven- and ten-digit phone numbers. You can create custom input masks for those that aren't covered--for example, Social Security numbers, foreign telephone numbers, or European date styles. In all, FormWorx is a bargain and, with a library of 600 forms, may be less expensive than hiring an artist to rustle up even one simple form.

To order FormWorx ($99.95), call (800) 826-0706 (in London, call 44-81742-7222) or write Power Up, A Subsidiary of Spinnaker, 201 Broadway, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02021.

Circle Reader Service Number 381

Instant Database 2.0

Instant Database 2.0 comes from Asymetrix, the company that brought you ToolBook. Written in ToolBook, Instant Database exhibits some of that products' slowness, but not unbearably so. Instant Database has an 80-page manual that managers to cover most issues, but it leaves a few of them, such as the dialer, woefully short of full coverage.

Instant Database is just that; you can create a database structure in a very few minutes just by drawing the fields onto a blank form. You don't bother with giving the fields types, such as number or text, and you don't even type in a maximum length, as is customary with most other database managers. The result is a database that runs plenty fast with up to a few thousand records but then bogs down quickly. The report mechanism is quite limited, but it has a few useful options such as one to four columns, rudimentary mailing lable support, and conditional expressions. This last option appears to be quite powerful.

If you're interested in multimedia computing, take note: With Instant Database, you can add animation, graphics, Asymetrix MediaBlitz scores, Wave audio, MIDI audio, and digital video files to the record fields. The product also supports Microsoft Video for Windows.

If flexibility is less important to you than convenience, Instant Database, with 14 gorgeous but limited sample applications, may be for you.

To order Instant Database ($95, $25 upgrade for users of Instant Database 1.0), call (800) 448-6543, or with Asymetrix at 110 110th Ave. NE, Ste. 700, Bellevue, Washington 98004.

Circle Reader Service Number 382

Timeworks Data Manager 1.0 for Windows

Timeworks Data Manager 1.0 for Windows wins the sweepstakes for best price-to-performance ratio in the non-programmable database category. For $60, you get a DBMS that competes favorably with AceFile and PrimaBase in most features, at a fraction of the price.

While it's not possible for you to create forms with custom buttons or to replace the standard menus with menus of your own, Data Manager does its job just fine, thank you. It has a toolbar with 12 icons and--miracle of miracles--they're actually labeled! While this may not seem to be a great leap forward in user interface technology, it typifies what Data Manager is so good at: getting the job done.

Timeworks' forms don't support data entry masks such as [A.sup.*] to force the input to uppercase in a text field. While I'd like that feature because of the flexibility it adds, Data Manager instead lets you bring up a Field Formatting dialog box, and here's where you see some of the program's flexibility. It allows you to force text to uppercase, lowercase, or initial capital (very handy for entering names, unless it's one like deForest); round numbers up or down or truncate them; limit numeric and date values to a certain range; and set the precision for numbers. Sure, it does mean that I can;t create a data entry mask for, say, Social Security numbers, but it lets me do the most common tasks easily.

Calculated fields and reports make use of a expression builder that works in an easy, visual Windows fashion. Reports have all the standard features and, while there are no presets for Avery labels, the instruction for creating labels are crystal-clear. Tech support was not hard to reach--amazing for such an inexpensive product.

At $60, Data Manager is a steal and quite good enough for most applications.

For more information or to order the product, call (708) 559-1300, or write Timeworks at 625 Academy Drive, Northbrook, Illinois 60062.

Circle Reader Service Number 383