Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 4 NO. 1 / AUGUST 1989



VersaSoft's dBASE Ill + Clone


When I purchased my first ST three years ago I bought a simple database to keep track of addresses, audio tapes and software. Almost any database is sufficient for sorting this type of information.

But as I used my computer more, I found that I was changing databases repeatedly: one database had an unacceptable file size limit, another couldn't perform multiple sorts simultaneously, some couldn't import files from other formats- the list of shortcomings went on and on. When I finally did find a database I was happy with, the manufacturer left the Atari market and I was stranded. As I stretched my database's capabilities to its limits I ran into programming bugs and problems that eventually left me looking for another manufacturer that provided ongoing support.

There are currently seven or eight good database packages on the market. I've used about half of these with mixed results. This month I finally examined dBMAN V, VersaSoft Corp.'s solution to the database maze.

The ST implementation manual for dBMAN V
is as slender as the screen display is simple, but
don't worry: any good manual for dBASE III+
will tell you all you need to know.

While dBMAN is not a new product on the ST. it is certainly improved. From the early days-when the only products on the ST were non-GEM programs ported over from the IBM - to the current version, VersaSoft has continued to support a fine product that promises flexibility few can match.

dBMAN V Basics
The dBMAN V package includes three single-sided disks containing the program, sample files, help templates, and a program that will actually generate simple database source codes so you can manipulate your work.

Two paperbound manuals cover the extensive capabilities of the program and its advanced programming language. The first manual, an ST-specific description of the interface used by dBMAN V. includes a tutorial for creating simple databases. The second manual details advanced features available with all versions of dBMAN V regardless of the operating system used. It explains the programming language and provides examples of use, describes the functions of the Report Writer, lists error messages, and cross references related commands. Both manuals are well-written and carefully indexed.

dBMAN V runs on any ST or Mega in color or monochrome. At least 480K of RAM must be available to use dBMAN. If you own a 520ST, forget about using desk accessories or auto-load programs. You can use floppy drives, but the manufacturer recommends using a hard drive.

Although I found dBMAN V to be GEM-like, it does not truly use all the GEM functions familiar to ST users. When working with the interpreter you are mainly limited to keyboard input. When using some of the associated programs, such as the database generator, you can use the mouse and drop-down menus. The working screen is not contained within a resizable window like most GEM programs. However, you can access more than one database at a time.

The interpreter uses a split-screen format that allows the input of commands while results are displayed in the data window below. You can input commands directly in this way or write database source codes using your favorite word processor or the built-in text editor. The operating environment can be tailored according to your individual system requirements, so many of your selections only need to be made when you first run the program. By editing an ASCII file you can define the configuration of parameters such as memory variables, picture and file buffers, file paths and more.

The interpreter provides a versatile, extremely powerful programming language that lets you expand your databases into application programs that can be quite complex. (For example, SBT's excellent accounting software is compiled dBMAN code.) Once database formats are established you can perform simple sorting functions for lists and reports. If you need more power you can establish advanced relationships between pieces of data and automate virtually any procedure or series of commands.

dBMAN V lets you enter up to 254 characters in each field and can store up to 2 billion records per database. You can define five different types of fields including character, numeric, logical, and memo. The memo fields can be quite extensive with up to 65,000 characters. While I find it difficult to envision a situation where a user will need 2 billion records in a single database, the message is that dBMAN V is built to meet the needs of the business user as well as the home user.

The dBMAN V Interpreter uses 320 extended commands that give you power over your data and the computer operating system. While it was impossible for me to test all of the program functions, you should know that dBMAN V includes a programmable GEM interface, scrollable windows, creation of pull-down menus, a multi-user interface, debugging and help functions, password protection and data encryption, unlimited file indexing, free-form page layout for generating reports and an integrated report generator.

dBMAN V lets you process accounts receivable information, control inventories, create billing systems, and automate payrolls. Once you have created a database, you can save it as a standalone program using the optional Greased Lightning! Compiler. Compiled databases and applications can run up to 16 times faster than those created with dBASE III Plus on the IBM.

I found the Interpreter a little intimidating at first. I am not a programmer, and I feared that dBMAN V might get the best of me. However, this wasn't the case. Using the tutorial from the manual I created my first database within half an hour. The second and third databases came within minutes.

There is nothing that says you must use all the power and versatility available with dBMAN V your first time out. It's like owning a sports car: There's more power under the hood than you need, but it's nice knowing that it's there.

If you wish to access files generated on IBM computers, you can import data from dBASE II, dBASE III Plus, VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, and similar programs. Since many applications are created using these formats, dBMAN breaks down a barrier that has kept many users from shifting to STs.

Report Writer
VersaSoft describes the Report Writer as a "fully relational multi-level report generator." In simple English, this means you can create complex report formats with little or no programming.

A report can be defined as any output of sorted or collated data. A report may consist of mailing labels, a disk file, pages of lists, form letters, invoices or any other form of output you desire. dBMAN V's Report Writer is flexible enough to allow all of these.

You can relate and report data from up to nine databases at once, freely adjust the format of output, control the output device, use up to nine grouping levels in a report and more.

Assist is a powerful program that allows rapid creation or modification of databases and their associated files. Assist lets you perform many of the basic operations necessary in creating a database without having to start from scratch. The program was actually written using dBMAN and is a powerful example of its capabilities.

Assist will generate program source codes and comment them so that you can make changes more easily. It lets you set up indexes and define relationships among files, simply by selecting them with the cursor. It acts as a tutorial for the new user and allows modification of files with fewer commands.

Whether you are a seasoned computer user or a novice, dBMAN V will fulfill your needs. If you currently have specialized accounting or record-keeping requirements, dBMAN V has plenty of power to get the job done.

Dan Fruchey is START'S desktop publishing columnist. He works as a paramedic in Santa Rosa, California and runs a small clip-art business on the side


dBMAN V, $249.95. VersaSoft Corp., 4340 Almaden Expressway. Suite 250, San Jose, CA 95118, (408) 723-9044.