Massive database uses ST colors
Reviewed by JIM DEARNER
The Manager ($149) is a feast of full-powered relational database software for the ST. It delivers excellent flexibility and scope in creating, searching and editing databases, as well as outstanding online help and error handling. The Manager can handle small, simple files or extremely complex applications such as a complete business accounting system. BMB Compuscience Software obviously understands what database users really need.
The Manager sorts files, links databases, or redesigns databases already containing information. It can also fix a damaged database and reconstruct indexes. It has a full set of utility programs for copying, deleting, listing and renaming the files and folders on your disks.
However, its [CONTROL], [ALTERNATE] and Function key commands make it complex to learn. Also, the program does not make use of GEM'S drop-down menus, windows, or the mouse. But it does let you use the ST's color potential. The Manager is an alternative--not a clone--to the widely used dBase II/III family of relational database programs.
With The Manager, you construct a database by laying out the screen format to fit the information you want to store. A screen can be designed in any four of the ST's colors. Each screen can be 23 lines long and is composed of individual categories of information called "fields." Fields can contain as many as 1,840 characters.
A set of screens is called a "record" and can have up to 32,000 fields. A database can handle a maximum of 32 different screens. However, the number of records making up a database is limited only by disk space.
The Manager is massive, from the five program disks to the 400-plus pages of documentation. The larger of the two manuals is both a reference and a tutorial on using the set of prognms. The other manual teaches the user to find, change, or add records and obtain reports using the included sample database. Strangely the book contains nothing about creating your own database. That is left to the reference manual.
The hefty documentation is excellent in some places and poor in others. Some sections leave the reader hanging, describing many steps with specific examples and then being too general in the final step. For example, in the section explaining Manager Math, you're guided through rewriting a math file so that data is extracted from one database and sent to another. But once you have finished that modification, the instructions for actually using the new math program or writing data to the second file are too vague.
The documentation should be reorganized. It has detailed program instructions, but they're not all that clear. Sometimes you must flip back and forth between sections of the book--some of which you may not have read yet. A set of quick reference cards for each of the major options would help.
The five disks are not copy-protected. They contain the main system program and programs for database file creation, report setup, report generation and a sample database. While The Manager will run on a 520ST with one single-sided drive and a monochrome monitor, BMB recommends a hard disk, color monitor and printer. The Manager can use of all the ST's colors to design the database screens.
You receive a sixth disk, the Documentator, only after mailing in your warranty card--an effective ploy to get users to return their cards. This disk contains the programs that let you create help screens for providing your own hints to those who will use your database.
The dicusssion of directory, path names, etc. is clearly foreign to the GEM-based ST. The program even redefines the numeric keypad on the ST to act like the keypad on IBM-type computers, thus rendering it useless for numeric data entry.
The Manager uses both menus and commands, and you don't need to know programming until you use the advanced options. Online help is excellent. The help screens are keyed to both the option in use and to the command phase of that option.
FASTER THAN DBASE
I created a sample student database containing biographical information and high school and college grades. Selecting the option to create/revise took me to an editor that makes up screen versions of the forms containing the information to be stored. One screen was composed of the biographical information and the other had the grades.
The screen editor has over 50 commands for controlling the construction of a screen, most of which involve [CONTROL] or [ALTERNATE] key combinations. This is easier than it sounds. After defining your screens, you then define the kind of information to be stored in each field (text, integer, or decimal). You can then further define a field as Read Only, Display Only, Index, or Hidden. You can also redefine the order in which the cursor moves from field to field on data entry or editing.
It took me four or five times as long to construct this same student database in dBase II as in The Manager!
The Manager has an extensive report generation facility with several special features, including a separate main menu for report setup and generation. Reports can be as long as 250 pages in 80-column lines, or 151 pages in 132 character lines. However, it took me about two hours to discover something as simple as how to add the word "subtotal" to my subtotals and the words "grand total" to the grand totals for my report.
The Manager can read and write files as ASCII text files, as fill files (fixed format files used to modify a database or change the length of one or more fields), as DIF files and as dump files (for modifying a database without changing any field lengths).
You can also write files to be read by Multimate, a popular word processor for the PC. You can produce subfiles of your information--for example, all students with grade point averages above 3.5 --which can be used to produce reports or build a new databastt.
The package contains a solid structured programming language with a compiler and editor. Called Manager Math and Report Math, it is actually a database/file manipulation language somewhat similar to the one in dBase II. The differences, however are enough to make programs written for dBase II files unusable by The Manager.
The language can he used in searches, in creation of subfiles and for reporting. It includes commands for opening and reading to files, for adding records and for altering data. It can also perform data entry checking and verification while the data is being entered or edited.
The only major features missing were trigonometric functions such as SIN or TAN, and statistical functions such as SUM or AVERAGE.
I didn't have many problems with The Manager, but I confused the program, and myself, when switching between different databases with the same name on different disks. The Manager worked fine on a single-drive system, although I had to swap disks twice as often. The routines to back up and recover files from the hard disks are not implemented in this version. I also couldn't use one of the Print Screen Revise/Edit options.
Some of the program's actions seem slow. For instance, it took 12 minutes to reload my 900-record database after I made changes in the screens. The editor for creating database screens certainly would benefit from the GEM interface, but it still is much easier to use and more powerful than ZIP, which is used in dBase II. And you can take advantage of the ST's character set and color spectrum.
The "PC feel" of the program has one benefit. Many people work with IBMs or clones at the office, and programs like The Manager or dBMAN (reviewed in Antic, August 1986) maintain continuity between home and office. Such software makes the Atari ST an attractive purchase for the professional who wants the power and style of the ST in a personal computer, but who must use other computers at work.
Overall, I like The Manager. It's extremly powerful. If you want a full-featured database program that makes use of all GEM has to offer, or if your database needs are simple, then The Manager is not the program for you. If you are comfortable with PC-style database programs and are willing to plow through the documentation and invest time to learn the commands, I believe The Manager would be a solid choice for your database software.
BMB Compuscience Software
500 Steeles Avenue
L9T 3P7, Canada