Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 7, NO. 4 / AUGUST 1988


dBMan 4.0, OmniRes


Application programs that let you build independent applications are among the most powerful software around. On IBM PC compatibles, a prime example is Ashton-Tate's dBase III Plus, which enables you to create highly powerful standalone databases that can run without dBase. On the Atari ST, dBMan software is command compatible with dBase III Plus and reads dBase files directly. In fact, dBMan applications can easily be migrated to just about any major operating system, from Macintosh to Unix.

When Antic reviewed the first version of dBMan in the August 1986 issue, we already called it "an important dBase III workalike." But two years later, dBMan 4.0 is much smoother and delivers even more power.

The main power of dBMan is in its application language, which has many characteristics of a programming language, such as decision words (IF, FOR, CASE), loop structures (LOOP DO, WHILE), procedures and advanced mathematical functions. However, it also includes special keywords for working with data and databases. You can CREATE databases, create and use REPORT FORMs, specify FIELDs, FIELDSPECs, FIELDTYPEs and FILEs, MODIFY STRUCTUREs of files, etc.

The dBMan interactive mode is a mostly blank screen where you can type almost any command. Commands are executed immediately, not unlike the immediate mode in a language like ST BASIC. Of course, some commands don't work properly from this mode.

You can also operate dBMan from the menu-driven Assist shell, which lets you get at some of the program's power without actually programming. You can create a database, enter data, sort and more in Assist mode – which is actually an application written in dBMan's application language.

The most powerful way to work with dBMan is to use the built-in text editor to create a script (program) using the commands and functions available in the application language. These scripts can be linked and even call one another to form a complete standalone application that's indistinguishable from a program written in C or assembly language. In fact, several standalone programs on the market today were written in dBMan's application language.

Commands include display or print data, change data from the keyboard, get data from the keyboard, manipulate a data file, sort the data, move the record pointer, plus the programming structure commands discussed above.

The specialized programming language provides tools and commands you don't see in a normal programming language, such as BROWSE, which provides all the records and fields in a table on the screen. Then you can scroll through the data and make changes that will be reflected in the data when you're done editing. You can also LOCATE or DELETE a record, SORT or INDEX a file, create a new file, APPEND records, and SET FILTER to look only at records which meet the given criteria. Other commands let you build a database interactively and design a report.

dBMan is a fully relational database. That is, by establishing the relationship between two files (a field which contains the same unique data in each file), you can get the contents of any fields in the other file by reference to the relation field in the first file. let's say one of your files contains customer number, name, address and phone number and the other contains customer number and amount owed. Because both files contain the customer number, you can create a report that lists customer names, addresses and amounts owed, even though this data is in two different files.

There are a number of interesting differences between dBMan and the PC's dBase III Plus. dBMan's Assist mode is more oriented toward using it as a standard database, while dBase's Assist is better for building relational database structures. Also, dBMan doesn't let you design custom screen layouts, and you can't use CATALOG or SET VIEW to establish a set of files to load automatically.

On the other hand, dBMan includes commands for specifying dropdown menus and reading which menu item was selected in order to design applications that look like standard GEM programs on the ST. Also dBMan doesn't suffer from the dBase III Plus limitation of only having a single relation for any given file – dbMan files can be related to several other files through one or more relational fields. Unfortunately, dBMan duplicates dBase's lack of arrays, making some operations quite difficult.

The dBMan manual is quite good. It includes a tutorial and large sections detailing the commands and functions, as well as quick reference cards for commands and functions. It's not well-organized – some sections that are too technical would have been easy to understand had they appeared later. The built-in text editor does not use the mouse and can handle only a limited amount of text. For larger dBMan programs, you may need to use a word processor and save the text as an ASCII file.

Overall, dBMan is a powerful tool for building applications, and is virtually the only such program for the Atari ST. A runtime package is available, so users can run the final application without owning a copy of dBMan. Contact VersaSoft for information on licensing the runtime package. Now also shipping from the manufacturer is the Greased Lightning Compiler ($249.95), which is claimed to make make dBMan applications run four to 20 times faster.

Technical support by telephone costs $25 for six calls, which seems a little steep for a product of this complexity. But if you want to build and sell standalone applications that manipulate data on the Atari ST you must give serious consideration to dBMan. – DAVID PLOTKIN

4340 Almaden Expressway, Suite 250
San Jose, CA 95118
(408) 723-9044


;If you own only the SC1224 monochrome monitor for your ST you've undoubtedly found yourself locked out of tons of color-only software. And it's almost as bad the other way around. Well, you've got two choices – buy the monitor you don't have (expensive), or buy OmniRes software (not expensive at all) which lets you run monochrome-only programs on color monitors and vice versa.

Of course you won't get color images on a monochrome screen and you won't get true high-resolution detail on a color screen. OmniRes is really eight separate programs, allowing four different options for going in either direction. The different conversion options yield varying results.

There are also a couple of side effects. First, mouse movements and response rates slow down. Second, various program elements also slow down in different ways. For example, when I run SSI's President Elect on a real color monitor, a couple of bars of "Hail to the Chief" are played at the begirming, and the quick play option runs through the nine weeks of campaign screens faster than I can see. But with OmniRes and a monochrome monitor, "Hail to the Chief" sounds like a dirge and the flash through the campaign screens is slow enough for me to read.

With OmniRes installed, color-only software programs run with varying success. Heavily protected games may not run at all. Unless you copy the OmniRes program to Accolade's Hard-Ball! program disk (which is not recommended), there's no way to run it in monochrome.

Putting monochrome-only software on a color screen works much better. There isn't much monochrome-only software around, but I tried the public domain JIL CAD program. When I ran it with Monoware, another public domain program that displays mono-only software on a color screen, it left a fuzzy, muddy impression. The OmniRes display was significantly clearer.

Should you buy OmniRes? Yes, if you own a monochrome monitor and want to run color-only programs such as unprotected games or database files created using dBMaster or BaseTwo. However, if you want to run a color-only game which has a protection scheme that makes the guys at Fort Knox look careless, you'll get unpredictable results. However, the package comes with a list of successfully converted software. And you could phone E. Arthur Brown for updates before you buy. – MARTIN BROWN

E. Arthur Brown Company
3404 Pawnee Drive
Alexandria, MN 56308
(612) 762-8847
(612) 763-6393