Classic Computer Magazine Archive ST-Log ISSUE 18 / APRIL 1988  / PAGE 58


Data Manager ST

444 Lake Cook Road
Deerfield, IL 60015
(312) 948-9208 (800) 323-9755
Medium resolution $79.95

by Scott Wasser

Scott Wasser has been a daily newspaper reporter and editor for the past eleven years, and has been interfacing with computers for the past three. He has written columns and feature stories about computer hardware, software and home electronics, and takes pride in writing fair and thorough evaluations of the software he tests for ST-Log.

Ever feel cheated by a software purchase that didn't live up to the claims on the packaging? Well, rest assured; you won't have to worry about that problem if you choose Data Manager ST to handle your database needs. Not only does it live up to its advance billing, it goes one step further.

Buyers of Data Manager ST—and all other Timeworks products, for that matter—have access to a toll-free technical support help line. Don't underestimate the importance of this service, especially when dealing with a productivity package. Even the most well written and detailed instruction manual is no guarantee that you won't have some questions about a program's operation.

It's comforting to know a software publisher is willing and able to answer those questions for you, particularly when you have just plunked down a sizeable chunk of money for their product. The folks at Timeworks seem well aware of this. Their technical help line adds new meaning to the term user support.

I called that help line with a few questions about Data Manager ST during the course of evaluating the program for this review. The technical staff person I spoke with seemed to be quite familiar with the program and answered my questions satisfactorily. But, when we began discussing a problem I was having with the setup of a somewhat complicated database, she offered to put me in touch with someone who had even more experience with the program.

When that person called me back, she had Data Manager ST booted up right in front of her. This made it possible for her to work out a solution to my problem while we spoke. Within minutes, she suggested a format for my database that was efficient and would do everything I wanted it to do.

That pretty much describes the program itself. Data Manager ST—which can be used by itself or interfaced with Timeworks' word processor and spreadsheet for the ST—is a simple to use, yet powerful information storage and retrieval system. It's capable of generating labels, customized reports and a variety of graphs from the information in your database. The program comes on one single-sided disk and can be used in a two-drive setup.

Data Manager ST falls into the hierarchical, rather than relational, category of databases. Hierarchical databases are easier to set up and use than relational ones, but they require fairly rigid and inflexible formats for data storage. These rigid structures limit a hierarchical database user's ability to create interfacing relationships between different fields or tables of information.

Data Manager ST, however, offers a feature that overcomes this shortcoming to an extent. You can create special calculated fields within your record, which take information contained in other fields and generate data based on them. These calculations can be simple mathematical formulas or logical statements. The whole process works in a fashion similar to a spreadsheet and can be very handy, depending on the type of database you need.

Another Data Manager ST feature that's usually found only in relational databases is the ability to display records in column form. With one keystroke or click of your ST's mouse, you can go from index card style to columnar display. The index card style display shows just one record at a time, while the alternative shows all records within a particular file (limited, of course, to screen size).

The third way in which Data Manager ST overcomes the traditional limitations of a hierarchical database is in the way it allows users to manipulate record formats. Fields and columns (the categories in which information is stored on a record) can easily be relocated or resized using the ST's mouse. They can also be selectively "hidden" or deleted if they contain information you don't want to appear in a printout, or that doesn't need to be seen every time a record is called up.

It is Data Manager ST's design that allows this flexibility. Unlike most other file managers, which constantly access the host computer's floppy or hard disk, Data Manager ST operates completely in RAM. This design is what makes it possible to manipulate records and forms so freely. Because it takes advantage of the ST's inherent speed, this database is faster than most when performing important database functions such as searches and sorts.

There are, however, some disadvantages to the design of Data Manager ST. For one thing, any database created with it can be no larger than the available RAM of the computer you're using. This means that someone using a 520ST won't be able to create a database as large as someone using a 1040ST. It also means that 520ST owners with double-sided drives won't be able to take full advantage of a disk's storage capacity. Also, since a database must be contained on one disk—even a double-sided disk is capable of storing only 720,000 bytes of information—1040ST owners won't be able to take full advantage of their machine's available RAM.

Data Manager ST's RAM-dependent design poses a couple of other potential problems. The larger a database, the longer it will take to load and save. This wasn't a real hardship with the relatively small sample databases I created for test purposes, but could prove to be a larger headache for someone wanting to store great quantities of information.

Data Manager ST users would be well advised to remember that the information in their database is also very volatile while it's in RAM. An hour's worth of editing could easily be wiped out by a microsecond power glitch. For this reason, it makes sense for Data Manager ST users to get in the habit of regularly saving their data to disk while working with the program. This is a simple task and should be only a minor inconvenience during most work sessions.

The creators of Data Manager ST did their best to make sure that those work sessions are pleasant ones. The program's full GEM interfacing and logical command structure make it simple and fun to use, even for serious business.

The 161-page manual, which features a tutorial that guides the user step-by-step through the creation of a sample database, is written in clear, concise and easy to understand English. It contains an extensive index and a quick reference section. The manual is excellent despite one shortcoming: it does skimp a bit on technical aspects of the program, in an effort to keep the reading simple and easy to follow.

The bottom line, however, is that it succeeds at its primary task of teaching one how to use Data Manager ST. Even a newcomer to computers—or the ST—should not need more than an hour or two to begin designing, creating and using a personal database.

Those with considerably more experience on an ST will probably be able to start using the program immediately. Data Manager ST's extensive use of prompting plays a major role in making it easy for new users to jump headfirst into the program. Operators are guided through most major tasks by screens that ask for specific responses.

And just in case you still manage to get stuck, you can bail yourself out by accessing one of the many detailed and easy-to-reach help screens that are always just a click of the mouse away.

Whether you're the type who'll scrutinize the manual before trying Data Manager ST, or who'll boot it up as soon as you open it, you'll soon discover a program that will deliver just about everything you need in a database.

The program will perform virtually all the tasks that make databases so valuable. It's capable of sorting alphabetically, numerically or chronologically, in increasing or decreasing order. You can search for information using any of the categories on a given record, and search by range or specification—while matching or not matching specific search criteria. I found all of these features easy to use and totally dependable.

Once your database is established, you will be able to generate customized reports and/or mailing labels and tags. You can even create pie charts, bar charts and other types of graphs, using Data Manager ST's built-in graphics capability. Again, these features performed exactly as the program's documentation indicated they would. I was particularly impressed with the black-and-white charts (the program won't print color charts) I generated with Data Manager ST and an Okimate 20 printer.

In fact, I was very impressed with Data Manager ST—which isn't copy protected—as a whole. Using it, I created a database comprised of rock'n'roll albums. Each record in my database contains—among other things—the album's name, the artist and one of the songs. By entering every song on every album, I've got a database that's perfect for a music nut. Using Data Manager ST's search functions, I can quickly locate the name of the album on which a certain song is contained, or I can find all of the albums made by a particular artist.

Granted, your database needs may not be as demanding or esoteric as mine, but Data Manager ST is so easy to use it's practical for even the simplest databases, yet powerful enough to handle more difficult tasks. When you factor in the reasonable price (it's regularly advertised for $55 or less) and the help that's available from a top-notch technical staff, you'll find yourself looking at a program that's just plain tough to beat.