At Home. (database manager) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Computers can be marvelous tools for tracking the parts and pieces of our daily lives. The programs themselves can make formerly tedious tasks such a breeze that the biggest difficulty now lies in keeping track of the disparate pieces of software you use to organize everything. That's the simple beauty of Ace Software's At Home household organizer for Windows. Everything you need to collect, sort, and store the important information in your life is here, smartly displayed in a series of integrated databases. Learn to use one, and you've mastered them all. [CHART OMITTED]
The package includes nine database categories, suitable for both household and home office use: Auto Maintenance, Trading Cards, Medical Records, Favorite Places, Personal Phone Book, Home Inventory, Video Collection, Music Collection, and generic user-defined collections. The only category without universal appeal is Trading Cards, but who knows? This may inspire you to start a collection.
Items common to each database module include a top pull-down menu and associated icon toolbar with such functions as print, save current record to disk, move forward or backward, add or delete a record, search, and sort. Record searches let you specify one or more fields, while sort options allow ascending or descending lists of up to three different fields. All modules offer online help, automatic data backup, and user-defined report printing. Although you switch instantly between database modules, only one can be open at a time.
Data entry is virtually identical in each module--simply a matter of supplying information in the predefined field boxes. In many cases where the requested information seldom varies from one record to the next, special drop-down lists appear to speed data entry. These predefined lists are simply text files which can be easily changed or expanded. Some modules, such as the excellent Medical Records, contain additional screens for more detailed information on topics such as allergies, vaccination history, medications, and emergency instructions. Another feature of selected modules is a scrolling name list, which functions as a hypertext index to related records. When new records are added, the lists are updated with appropriate keywords.
Of the various modules, highlights include Favorite Places, Personal Phone Book, Home Inventory, Video Collection, and Music Collection. An index for restaurants, hotels, parks, theaters, or any number of special places you like to go, Favorite Places lets you make a note of rates, phone numbers, contacts, descriptions, distance, and detailed travel directions. Personal Phone Book also performs well as a contact manager, although the lack of a built-in autodialer is an annoying omission. Home Inventory offers additional screens for maintenance and warrantly info. Video Collection provides ample space for long movie descriptions, while Music Collection lets you not only record song titles, but print rudimentary cassette labels; CD-audio support would have been nice.
Suggested improvements for future editions of the program would include the ability to view report results before printing and the ability to multitask modules. One of the advantages to the Windows environment is the ability to share and link data between different applications. This program won't even allow such freedom within itself. There's also no provision for importing or exporting data, either to a commonly used database format such as DBF or as delineated ASCII files. In fact, beyond wholesale deletion of records, there are no editing or Clipboard functions available. Finally, it would be nice for the designers to lift the hood on their database engine and incorporate a simple field editor for constructing more personalized modules.
At Home's strength lies in its effortless learning curve and its diversity of design. You can find more complex and expensive free-form database programs, but few that'll have you up and organized as quickly and efficiently.
Ace Software (408) 451-0100 $29.95
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