Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 4 / NOVEMBER 1988


The SBT Database Accounting Library

A Preview of a High-end Accounting Package

by Jeffrey DanieIs

The Atari ST, even with the advent of the Mega line, has thus far failed to appear in more than negligible numbers on the desktops of America's corporate movers and shakers. Yet as every ST user is aware, the machines absence in the business world cannot be blamed on hardware: as a pure computing engine the ST can certainly hold its own against comparisons with most mainstream personal computers.

Then why hasn't the ST won the hearts, minds and purchase orders of corporate managers? Allowing for the prevalence of IBM-itis in the corporate mindset doesn't explain enough. Heretofore the missing component has been high-quality, well-entrenched, well-supported business and financial software.

For this reason we at START were quite excited when we heard that the SBT Database Accounting Library--a powerful, sophisticated, high-end accounting package--was in development and in limited release for the ST. Though as of this writing (July 1988) it's still a beta product, prospects for an imminent SBT release are promising.

The SBT Database Accounting Library: a powerful, sophisticated,
high-end accounting package far the ST.

The SBT Database Accounting Library is real software for real businesses, not some dressed-up home package. This is the kind of software that helps run multi-million dollar corporations; the kind of software that makes slick, red-suspendered corporate CPA's look good. In short, the kind of systems accounting software than runs on serious machines in serious environments, outputting serious reports about serious sums of money.

What follows is a preview of the SBT package; in the sidebar accompanying this article is an interview with SBT Software's President, Robert H. Davies. Although I'm familiar with SBT on the IBM PC, I feel it's fair only to preview the product now. A full review will appear in START as soon as SBT is available on the ST.

What Is The SBT Database Accounting library?

Originally written for the IBM PC, the SBT Database Accounting Library is a dBASE-based application (on the ST, of course, it runs under dBMAN). Its fully integrated, modular design provides unparalleled power and flexibility. And because it's written in dBASE, the package is easily customized to a particular business's requirements.

Forming the heart of the SBT accounting solution are four SBT main modules: dredger, dInvoice/dStatements, dPayables and dPayroll. However, you can run any of the modules separately and add modules as the need arises. The software provides accounting for up to 99 separate companies with up to 999 departments. Preprinted forms (invoices, credit memos, statements, checks, etc.) tailored specifically to the various SBT programs are widely available from various third-party distributors.


dLedger provides complete general ledger and financial reporting with user-defined ledger accounts, consolidated and departmental income statements, comparative balance sheets and automatic distribution entries based on user-defined percentages. The module maintains period-to-date and year-to-date balances for two full fiscal years and offers automatic budget generation and maintenance. In addition, dLedger allows a user-specified printing sequence for income statements and balance sheets. It also supports non-profit accounting.


dInvoice/dStatements performs billing, inventory control and accounts receivable. The module provides high-speed look-up of customer and inventory code numbers. It reports aged receivables, cash receipts, deposits, inventory reorders and back orders, as well as sales and gross margin by item, customer and salesperson. dInvoice/dStatements allows multiple ship-to addresses, extensive free-form invoice and credit-memo comments and point-of-sale billing. It will print inventory reorder, aged inventory and dead-stock reports. It prints or displays customer ledger accounts on demand and prints or repents invoices and customer statements on request. Customer and inventory labels are printed at the touch of a few keys.


dPayables tracks accounts payables and writes checks. The module allows selection and payment of invoices by discount, due date, or invoice number. It provides detailed distribution reports by expense and cash accounts and allows automatic entry of recurring expenses. Checks are printed by pay priority, in user-defined order and the module allows for manual and voided checks, as well as partial payments of payables. dPayables displays total balance and total approved-to-pay status; it also automatically maintains records of handwritten and canceled checks.


dPayroll calculates and maintains payroll and labor distribution. The program automatically maintains employees' federal, state and local taxes and other payroll deductions. It calculates gross earnings for regular and overtime hours, salary and piece work. It will print vacation, supplemental and termination checks in user-defined formats. dPayroll supports pretax deductions for pension plans, IRAs, Keoghs and 401(k)s. Finally, the program automatically accrues and charges vacation and sick pay.

Additional Modules

The other SBT modules are: dOrders (creates, schedules and maintains sales orders and backlogs), dPurchase (writes purchase orders and handles receiving). dMaterials (provides bill of materials maintenance with up to 100 levels of subassemblies and extension to gross requirements based on orders entered), dProfessional (provides complete time and billing accounting with balance-forward accounts receivable), dProperty (provides accounts receivable for up to 999 properties with a maximum of 999,999 units for each property), dAssets (maintains records for each asset and calculates depreciation), dProject (offers fast and flexible budgeting and cost accounting for project and job cost management) and finally, dMenu/ dBackup (provides a central menu for all SBT program modules and any other dBASE [i.e., dBMAN] applications, as well as a comprehensive backup utility . for all database data files).

Access To Source Code

When you buy an uncompiled SBT module, you can buy the program's source code: with it in your hands, customization of the program becomes only a matter of some dBASE programming. You can then compile your customized version and thereby attain the speed of a compiled program yet retain the flexibility to make changes when needed.

Compiled versions of SBT modules are also available at lower cost than for the source code versions. While the compiled modules provide high execution speed without the necessity for compilation, they cannot be customized by you.

Customer Support And Documentation

SBT's customer support program is impressive and I was consistently pleased by the support group's knowledge and response time. Technical support is free to all registered users and the company offers the only five-year warranty in the industry. SBT training seminars are held throughout the country.

The SBT documentation is clear and concise. The technical reference manuals are wonderfully detailed and provide full disclosure of file structures and the relations between files. You can also purchase machine-readable versions of the SBT documentation from the company for a nominal fee.

In Sum. . .

I can say without hesitation or fear of exaggeration: there is no financial package for the ST or Mega computers--neither one extant, promised, nor otherwise dreamed of--that comes close to the SBT Database Accounting Library's completeness, power and flexibility.

Jeffrey Daniels is a freelance writer who specializes in stories about the computer industry. His last article for START was "3 Years With The ST, " which appeared in the Summer 1988 issue.

Products Mentioned

The SBT Database Accounting Library, $295 per main module (compiled), $395 per main module (source). Requires Atari ST (TOS in ROM) or Mega, hard disk, floppy drive and printer. SBT Corporation, One Harbor Drive, Suite 300, Sausalito, CA 94965, (415) 331-9900.

dBMAN 5.0, $249.95.Versasoft, 4340 Almaden Expressway #250, San Jose, CA 95118, (408) 723-9044.


Interview with Robert H. Davies, President of SBT Software

by Jeffrey Daniels

Robert H. Davies began developing and installing computerized accountng packages at IBM in 1963. He founded SBT in 1980. His company as gone on to become one of the leaders in financial accounting software for microcomputers, with over 50,000 users worldwide.

START: How did you begin your involvement with the Atari ST?

Davies: We have been very excited about the Atari market from the very beginning. Atari contacted us--at this point it's probably three years ago--because they saw an opportunity and we saw an opportunity. We went on to invest a lot of money in developing the Atari product. From a cash flow standpoint, it hasn't been a great success. But I'm still very excited about the potential market. We have learned a lot.

START: What's been holding you up?

Davies: The biggest problem has been convincing Versasoft [the developers of dBMAN] that while it's wonderful to have a product that's better [than dBASE], it would also be really nice if we didn't have to rewrite all of our programs. Versasoft agrees with that, but there have been a few things that have taken them longer than we ever thought they would, that seem trivial to them, but that cause us monumental problems because we have to go through about every fourth line and make a little syntax change and that in turn means that we have a whole different version of our program just for the Atari.

Believe me, when you show me a population of machines where I can be virtually the only complete integrated source code accounting package-- that's exciting! The problem is I'm not a C programmer and I cant write in that language. I can't afford to maintain a product that's totally different than our other products because it's not compatible. I'm a little frustrated.

START: Your frustration notwithstanding and, given your excitement about the Atari opportunity do you think you can soon iron out the incompatibilities with Versasoft?

Davies: We believe were coming together on this. Versasoft is a very small company. They do the best they can with the manpower they have. In fact, they're really terrific, brilliant people. It's just taken them much, much longer than we thought to get compatibility [with dBASE].

START: When do you think, all things considered, the SBT package will be available for the Atari ST and Mega Computers?

Davies: We're optimistic about the new version [6.2] for the Atari, though we aren't at this point actively marketing it. Were basically waiting for Versasoft to finish. However, we have run the new version in-house and we think we're pretty close. It's really fairly minor at this point. dBMAN has almost achieved the level of compatibility that will allow the SBT product to run without changes.

START: For the user contemplating the purchase of SBT, do you recommend SBT's compiled or source version?

Davies: As a practical matter, if you're running the source code version and you have a syntax error and you call us, we can tell you how to fix it. We can walk you through it even if you're a naive end user. We do it all the time in the IBM environment. Sometimes, of course, it's too complex for the end user and we have to suggest he get help from a professional dBASE programmer, or we have to suggest he wait and we'll mail him an update. But, believe me, you can be the most sophisticated user in the world and if you've got a problem in the compiled version and you don't have the source, there's nothing you can do except wait for an update. You have no alternative. There has to be a physical exchange of a diskette.

You can see, therefore, that having the source version available is to be highly preferred. Moreover, when you suddenly find, let us say, that you need some additional code in your inventory field or your part number has to be bigger, you don't have to throw away your entire accounting package and start over. For all intents and purposes, you cannot outgrow SBT.

START: What you give up with source is speed?

Davies: Well, what we recommend is that people have the source and then compile it. And then when they want to change something, they change the source and recompile. With dBMAN, you get the compiler. You therefore give up nothing. It's not a problem. It doesn't cost any more.

START: There are many dBASE programmers/consultants out there nowadays making very decent livings maintaining dBASE-based systems. What kind opportunities might come to the dBMAN programmer in conjunction with SBT?

Davies: If I were starting a new company and I wanted to choose the Atari environment, I would buy SBT software and compile it, then sell it to customers. I think it would be dynamite. I could easily fix bugs if they come up. The way I would look at it is that I just got somebody--us, SBT--to write $100,000 for $395 [the cost of an SBT module]. I could turn around and take responsibility and maintain it because it's in dBMAN--and dBMAN, my frustrations about compatibility aside, is truly a great product.

START: You're talking about customizing SBT for a particular business?

Davies: Well, just keeping it running, number one. And secondly, customizing it because every customer needs a little something different. If I were a reasonably adept systems computer person, I would not hesitate to sell SBT software for the Atari right now [in beta]. But I would not recommend the package--it's not ready and not released compiled--for the unsophisticated end user.

START: How does that work? Let's say I open up shop as a dBMAN systems programmer and I buy your whole package. Am I then free to sell customized, compiled versions without paying SBT something?

Davies: No. If you sell a compiled version, you must distribute the source code along with your compiled version, whether or not it's customized. And you buy a replacement copy from us.

START: I see. But what if I have written a substantial amount of new code for a particular customer? Or what if I've used only a portion of your code?

Davies: We have a number of programs in this area. But basically it comes down to this: You send us your code. We review it and we agree, let us say, that you've only used half of our code in your application. You then pay us a reduced royalty on compiled copies, whatever the proportion. But you can turn around and sell it for whatever price you want. These programs have been very successful in the Xenix and MS-DOS environments and they're catching on in the Macintosh environment. It's a tremendous business opportunity for the Atari systems person.

START: Sure sounds like it. Thanks for your time. Good luck.

Davies: Thank you.