Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 2, NO. 3 / JUNE 1983


Small-Scale Systems

By Ken Harms

Five data base management systems for the ATARI don't permit large numbers of fields or are otherwise more limited than the full-scale DBMSs reviewed elsewhere. Formerly, the smaller programs were considered easier to use. However, outstanding large-scale systems have erased that advantage and left only two significant niches for the small programs--price and special applications.

The small systems deliver on price, running from $23 to $50, compared to at least $100 for their bigger sisters. Although most of these systems are designed to accept nearly all kinds of data, Atari's Home Filing Manager is a very simple system which handles very simple data very well indeed. Needing only 16K of memory, it's an outstanding example of a beautiful, friendly program to fill a specific need--in this case, the automated card file.

You should go through the normal steps of designing a few data bases on paper (see article on full-scale systems) to see whether a limited system will fit your needs. If you're looking primarily for labels, also consider the mailing list products not surveyed here.

The comparison chart for the small scale systems includes only the most important variables. The text covers most of the unusual features and specific faults of each program. Terms not defined in this articlse are explained in the "full-scale" article.


Although some systems claim to run in small memory spaces, they won't hold very many records unless a full 48K RAM is available. The exception is Home File Manager, which stores only keys in memory and isn't quite so memory-bound. The need for a second disk drive increases as the need to swap diskettes increases. MMG, File It and APX20134 require you to load data after changing sections of the program. This is a bother in its own right, and is even worse if you must constantly switch diskettes in a single drive system. The best way to beat this delay is to copy the program on one side of a diskette and keep your data on the other side of that same diskette. MMG's copy protection scheme, however, won't let you do this.


Note that File It 2 + comes with predefined, 80 character records and that each of its prepared systems presents a different file structure which cannot be altered. The maximum number of records was not easily determined for each of the systems. It appears to be at least 300 records, which was the maximum for File It in a 48K machine. Home File Manager, however, uses variable length records so the maximum number of records available depends on your data. Unfortunately, the program gives no indication of percentage full.


The two APX and File It systems are written in user modifiable BASIC. File It 2+ is particularly open to change since it's a collection of running programs with code modified for specific purposes. You'll need to be an accomplished programmer to change more than the rudiments in any of these systems, and you may have to modify the programs. Several, particularly APX 20134, failed due to program errors.

MMG's documentation is too short to be fully useful. File It is long because it's really covering several systems. Although I reviewed a preliminary copy, an index in the final version will make it easier to use.


Since Home File Manager and File It records are predefined, you can't change their file definitions. The rest of the systems prompt you to define a file based on stacked questions such as "Enter name?". The function to reorganize the data base allows you to change fields in a file without retyping the data. File It will rearrange zip code fields in a predetermined way, hardly a file reorganization. APX20134 allows addition of a field to the end of a record but no field insertion or reordering.

None of the programs support computed fields. Since the Home File Manager is primarily a text card, it doesn't provide numeric-only fields. But, then neither do two of the others.


Only Home File Manager's "card" is a form for data entry. The rest obtain data by your responses to field-by-field questions. APX 20134 doesn't give you field names or any other prompt. When it says "enter field 2", you have to remember what field 2 is supposed to contain. Most do not enable you to edit a prior field without either saving the record and going to a different module, or by retyping the entire record. MMG does allow editing entry data, a strong plus. APX 20134 and File It let you see only one field at a time--awkward.


Some of the systems make it easy to find a record and edit it, others not so easy. APX 20134 is unique in that it will change a field in all records in a file and write out a new file so your old file is not damaged. The Home File Manager's search routine responds to either upper or lower case matches-- convenient for a text-oriented system. APX 20134's review is particularly inconvenient since you see only a part of the record at a time. APX 20059 and MMG let you find a record and change it in one operation.


All sorts seemed fast. APX 20134 actually writes out a new file but then proceeds to delete the old file. Therefore, although there may be different physical files, there is only one logical file. It's handy to keep a file sorted in different orders, a feature found only in File It.


These systems produce only the simplest reports. Some offer only a standard layout; others can produce simple columnar listings with the fields listed in the order you choose. You can't control column spacing, take subtotals, insert text (except a short title) or compute fields. All of these systems will print at full printer speed (see restrictions in the chart).


All of the system disks except Home File Manager and MMG can be backed up. (You can make a nice copy of MMG but starting the program initializes the disk and wipes it clean. Worse, their protection scheme messes around with memory so that you have to cold boot whenever the program dies. ) Data files are best backed up using DOS. APX 20134 provides a backup command, but it deletes the original file if used to back up a file to the same disk. One outstanding feature is the demonstration file provided on APX 20134 and APX 25059.


All of the systems except Home File Manager suffered from generally poor error recovery. The APX systems didn't restart after a printer halt unless the printer could be made ready. Recovery from disk errors (such as a write-protected diskette) was problematic at best. Because the two APX programs and File It write only part of a record during data entry, a power failure would lose all records since the last save. MMG also waits until all records are entered to save the "pointer file" It builds a new pointer file upon startup and, therefore, didn't lose records.


Don't purchase one of these products until you determine that it can handle your "must have" requirements for number of fields, record size, field size, etc.

Although it's the simplest of the systems, the Home File Manager is also the best implemented by far. If you can use a simple index-card system, searchable on any field, but without numeric or columnar reporting, I'd recommend it highly.

APX 20134, Data Base/Report Systems, offers a reasonable degree of flexibility in its ten fields, generates totals for numeric fields, reviews and prints values in any one of its ten fields, and has global change / delete-- powerful features not matched by the other systems. It showed a disturbing tendency to fail on some rarely-used operations, however, and data entry is difficult because you see only part of an untitled record. Yet, if you need arithmetic features, it's your choice.

APX 20059 Data Management System handled data entry a bit easier than APX 20134, but offered lower capacities and fewer features. Although APX 20059 is not quite as good as MMG at reviewing and editing records, it offers a better report writer.

MMG File Manager is the only system that attempts to do mailing labels. It removes "trailing blanks" and generally did well on them. It seemed to be a "smoother" program and offered easier record entry and updating. Lack of numeric operations and the inability to print columns as you need them make it less useful than APX 20134 for many applications.

File It 2 + is an enigma. The package includes a program to print diskette labels, a menu program suitable for user disks which could be very useful. Although the author has presented an interesting set of related programs, the data base seems too restricted for most users. For instance, with only six fields, the record format doesn't even include a telephone number field. The author suggests keeping two files, one for ZlPs and one for phone, with all sorts of manipulations to update and move records around. On the other hand, the disk also includes a handy looking financial recording program and a graph generator.

Leaving aside Home File Manager (unless it fits your purposes) and File It (unless you'd like some of the extra programs), the choice is between the APX systems and MMG. If you need arithmetic totals or long fields, but don't need labels and can endure awkward data entry, stick with APX 20134. If you want better input screens, labels, and easy editing, but don't need fancy reports, MMG is a well implemented system. Somewhere in the middle is APX 20059. It won't produce labels, however.

Now, how's that for a decision tree?


APX--Data Management System (APX-20059)
Atari Program Exchange
P.O. Box 3705
Santa Clara, CA 95058
800-672-1850 (Calif.)
List Price: $22.95 each

Swifty Software, Inc.
64 Broad Hollow Road
Melville, N.Y. 11747
List Price: $49.95

Atari, Inc.
P.O. Box 427
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
List Price: $49.95

MMG Micro Software
P.O. Box 131
Marlboro, N. J. 07746
List Price: $49.95

                                  SMALL DMBS
                APX-DATA        APX-DATA
                BASE REPORT     MANAGEMENT  FILE        HOME FILE       MMG FILE
                20134           20059       IT 2+       MANAGER         MANAGER
VERSION         20134           20059       2 +         CX415           Not Given
Memory          40K             32K         24K         16K             40K
Need for
second drive    High            Low         High        None            High
Number of 
fields          10              8           6(a)        18              10
Record size 
(characters)    255             140         80(a)                       270
Field size
(characters)    100             30          N/A(a)      38              27
Single load     No              Yes(b)      No          Yes             No
acts            Good            Fair        No          Good            Yes
modifications   Yes(c)          Yes(c)      Yes(c)      No              No
Ease of         Poor--                                  No 
defining files  no names        Good        N/A(a)      definition      Good
Print out file
definitions     Yes             No          No(a)       N/A             No
data base       Yes(e)          No          No          N/A             No
positions       Yes             $/¢         No          No              No
Excess field                                            Auto    
length warning  Yes             Yes         No          wrap            No
Numeric         Yes             Yes         No          No              No
Date            No              Yes(f)      No          No              No
Input form      No              No          No          Yes             No
Input editing 
ease            Poor            Poor        Poor        Excellent       Good
Update ease     Fair            Good        Good        Excellent(g)    Good
Prompts         Good            Good        Fair        Excellent!      Good
Find and change No              Yes         No          Yes             Yes
Review by how
many fields     All keys        1           0           All             3(h)
Review by range Yes             Yes         No          No(i)           Yes
Wild cards,
part of field   No(j)           Part        No          Part            Part
Print reviewed
record          No              No(k)       No          Yes             Yes
Global change/
delete          Yes             No          No(l)       No              No
Number of sort
levels          10              8           6(m)        Key only        3
decending, both Both            Both        Ascending   Both            Both
different file  No              No          Yes         N/A             No
Report layout
ease            Good            Good        Standard(p) Standard(q)     Good
Printer set up
strings         No(n,o)         No(n)       Yes(o)      No(p)           Yes(o)
Number of total
fields          10              0           0           0               0
Maximum report
width           115             119         80          38              132
Auto page
number          Yes(q)          Yes         Not tested  No              No
User definable
column headings Yes             Yes         No(r)       No(s)           No(r)
Label program   No(t)           No          Yes         No              Yes(u)


Programs are listed alphabetically. Refer to full-scale article for definitions of terms.

(a) All field names and sizes fixed.

(b) Except sort loaded separately.

(c) Source code not well commented.

(d) Reorganize only to move zip code fields, etc., as specified in program.

(e) Cannot delete field, adds new fields only at end of record. On some tests, failed with destruction of data base.

(f) Checks for valid date; i.e., 13 . . . would reject as there is no month 13.

(g) Includes undo and insert line.

(h) All fields eligible for searching, three per pass. First 5 characters only.

(i) Finds upper and lower case "hits."

(j) Part field allowed for last field in search criteria.

(k) Cannot see on screen, then print. Instead, will go directly to printer.

(l) Deletes require entering * in field one, then saving file.

(m) Must enter field positions rather than field numbers.

(n) Requires modification of code to support EPSON.

(o) Graphic characters in title can be used for some printer setups.

(p) Prints in italic on EPSON w/Graftrax.

(q) Also allows starting page number to be input.

(r) Prints 1 record per line with all fields in original order.

(s) Prints only record by record, one field per line.

(t) Allows "verticalformat report" which prints one field per line. If properly set up, could be used as a label.

(u) According to manual, cannot place two fields on the same line if used as labels.