dBase II workalike
4055 W. Show, #108
Fresno, CA 93711
(800) 641-1441-Out of State
H&D Base, a powerful database program from Mirage Concepts for Atari ST computers, is a "work-alike" of Ashton-Tate's dBaseII, possibly the most popular database for the IBM PC and compatibles.
The major difference between H&D Base and simpler "home filer" programs available for 8-bit computers is that H&D Base is a "relational" database. A relational database can manipulate and access related information stored in two or more data files. For example, you could maintain a data file with a list of people, their ages and the clubs they belong to. A second file could contain a list of clubs and their addresses. You could then instruct H&D Base to produce a report listing each club's address and its membership grouped by age.
This sort of feat is possible because H&D Base has a large repertoire of commands, plus the ability to store and calculate intermediate values and totals. The program can also execute "command" files containing a series of instructions. Thus, you could create a command file that uses both data files from the previous example and then prints the membership report.
When H&D Base is opened from the desktop, it enters
either high resolution (monochrome monitor) or medium resolution (color
monitor). The user interface mimics dBaseII
was described as "bug
ridden," but H&D Base
has relatively few bugs
for a program of this
faithfully, so no use is made of the GEM menus, window graphics, or mouse. Moving around the screen and editing requires use of the arrow keys and codes like [CONTROL] [W].
When the cursor appears in the upper left corner of the screen, H&D Base is in "command mode." Anything typed is interpreted as a command and an attempt is made to execute the command immediately. The program returns either an "ok" prompt for successful execution, or an error message.
While in the command mode, you can create a new database, append or edit records in a database, sort or index a database, or create formats for printed reports, including totals and subtotals.
When you create or edit a command file, H&D Base puts you in a simple text processor and the commands are typed in, one per line. It is also possible to create command files using your own word processor. You simply save the document as a text file and execute it within H&D Base.
Records can be added in any sequence but are still accessed alphabetically by using an index. It is possible to maintain several indexes for one data file. For example, a mailing list could be indexed separately by last name, ZIP code and last mailing date. You can also index on a function of a key field.
Several commands have been added to accomodate the Atari ST environment, including "create folder" and "set folder to ..." commands for manipulating disk folders. Other new commands are "set color" (for color monitors) "set decimal to n" (default decimal places in a report), "set forth" (turn Forth interpreter on/off) and the "blank string" command, which fills a string variable with spaces.
The one difference I found irksome is that you cannot abbreviate the first command word on a line. dBaseII requires only the first four letters of any command key word. For example, in dBaseII it is legal to shorten the command "display structure" to "disp stru." In H&D Base you must type "display stru" or "display structure." However, it is possible to customize the command names by using the Forth interpreter. The following series of commands will create a new command "d" that is an alternate to "display":
set forth on
: d display ;
set forth off
This can be stored permanently by entering "turnkey start," which stores the modified H&D Base program to disk. With this technique, users can customize the command set to their personal preference.
H&D Base can read in files using the dBaseII formats of "SDF" or "DELIMITED." This includes command files, which are always in SDF format. Therefore it should be possible to transport database applications written for dBaseII to H&DBase. Transmitting the files by modem from another machine would not be difficult. Both SDF and DELIMITED formats can be transmitted as text files. Many powerful dBaseII applications should thus become available for H&D Base on the ST.
The documentation is well written and includes instructions for backing-up and starting the program, a series of tutorials, a reference section, several appendices and an index. Each command is described in alphabetical order, along with numerous examples. I only wish Mirage included an appendix summarizing the different disk file extensions used by H&D Base for various file types.
H&D Base is written in the Forth computer language, and the publishers have generously included a Forth interpreter on the disk. Programmers familiar with Forth will be able to access the interpreter inside H&D Base and add new commands to the vocabulary.
Using the Forth interpreter, it is possible to create database applications that use the GEM interface. I received a demonstration disk from Mirage that used menus and a window. They plan to include the GEM demo on future copies of the program, so all purchasers will have a working example. However, this option requires competence with both Forth and the ST GEM function calls.
H&D Base has relatively few bugs
but advanced users will
find the potential of
H&D Base very
for a new release of this complexity. In contrast, the first release of dBaseII was frequently described as "bugridden" and early users had to work around the problems. The most serious problem that can appear in a database program is one that causes a loss of data. In the current version of H&D Base, this disaster can occur if you change the default drive or default folder immediately after appending records to a file.
New records are initially stored in RAM, and changing the disk drive or folder will make H&D Base unable to update the data file. To avoid this problem, always use the "clear" command before changing the default drive or folder. It is also necessary to enter "set folder to /" whenever you change the default drive to make sure you access the root directory of the new disk drive. Finally, the "list files on x:" command resets the default drive. (For example "list files on c:" sets the default drive to c:) This could be dangerous when appending records.
Mirage is committed to supporting H&D Base. They are actively correcting problems and were interested in the bugs noted above. As Mirage finds and fixes problems, they send out update sheets to registered users, describing the problem and how to fix it. Purchasers can patch their own copies of the program using the Forth interpreter by typing in several lines included with the update sheet. This mechanism assures registered users that they can easily maintain their software without the hassle of mailing in disks or paying for updates. Mirage also plans to start a modem bulletin board for H&D Base users.
H&D Base is not copy protected, an important consideration to advanced users who legitimately need to maintam backups of the product.
H&D Base is not for the novice computer user. Intermediate users will be able to create and update databases conveniently Advanced users will find the potential of H&D Base very attractive. Overall, I am impressed by the program and by Mirage Concepts' apparent commitment to technical support.
H&D Base is the second product in Mirage's Holmes & Duckworth
Micronomists line of ST software. It is written in the H&D Forth programming
language reviewed in June, 1986 ST Resource, page 90. -ST RESOURCE.