Base Two

Reviewed by Matthew Jones

 

Issue 31

Jan/Feb 88

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Published by Antic Publishing,

Distributed by Electric Software

59.95

 

 

 

'simple to use but also powerful'

 

Base Two is, according to the press release, an 'elegantly powerful, but easy to use ... database for the Atari ST.' It is intended to be a powerful database without all the complication of a program like Superbase Personal and to this end, it succeeds very successfully.


IN OPERATION - TWOMAKE

 

The American version of Base Two, which is the version received for review, comes in a standard A5 ring binder which contains a 65 page manual. A disk in the package contains the software, which includes a database creator program, TWOMAKE, and the database manager program, TWOUSE. A shell program, TWO SHELL, allows switching between the two programs.


Before you can use a database, you must design the layout of the input screen using TWOMAKE. This is done in a very flexible manner, which is becoming standard amongst GEM databases. You are given a blank screen, and can position the fields (for definitions of terms see my previous SuperBase review) by clicking at the desired position with the mouse. Base Two then allows you to give a title of up to 65 characters to each field. You can then use 'sizers' on the data portion of the field, so that it can be up to 99 lines deep, or 73 characters wide (with no title), up to a maximum of 3000 characters per field. A field can also be used without a data area, i.e. just as a text box for its title.

 

The data type in the fields can be 'implicit' (assumed numeric until a date or text is input), 'alpha', 'numeric' (with number of decimal digits setting) and 'date'. A formula can be added to the field, which is generated in a very logical fashion. A separate window opens for the formula, and you can either type directly in, or you can click on a field in the main design window to reference a field. Thus you could generate a formula for 'total' by choosing Set Formula, then clicking on the 'cost' field, typing "", then clicking on 'VAT'. Perfectly simple. The drawback is that the only operations that are available are +,-,*,/, and S for square root but these should be adequate for most purposes.


Also configureable are the height, colour and style of the characters in either the label or data parts of each field. A point of note here is that the standard size character on a monochrome screen will be twice the size when a colour monitor is used. Standard size on a colour monitor will be small on monochrome. To me, this is a drawback, because I frequently switch monitors, and so would suffer from this problem. I understand why the problem occurs, but it can be programmed around so I consider this a fault.

 

The maximum number of characters any record can hold is 3000 characters, the maximum number of fields is 100. Base Two keeps all the records in memory at once, so the maximum number of records depends on how much memory you have, and how full your records are (Base Two compacts the data internally).


An option that has been carried over from the previous version (DB Master One) is the Splat option, which gives standard layouts for mailing lists, checkbooks (sic), collections, and recipes. I do not consider these very useful, except as a learning aid.

 

A nice part of the new program is that if you decide that you wish to alter the layout of the record, by adding or deleting a new field, or changing a size, is not fatal to the whole file. The data will be rearranged next time you load the file. Another good factor is the use of keyboard alternatives to the most common menus, something that will make it usable in the long term.

 

THE DATABASE MANAGER - TWOUSE

 

The actual database manager, TWOUSE, takes a record definition created by TWOMAKE, and allows you to put data in it. Entering data is very simple. You start by clicking in the field you want to start at, then type the data in. Text data is fully word wrapped (on multiple line fields) and cut, copy and paste of blocks are available. Press Return and you move to the next field. When you have gone all the way round, the fields start to invert to indicate that you have been there before (but does not stop you editing further). When you are satisfied, the Control-A key (Add) is pressed (or a menu used) to enter it into the database. You then start again with the next record. As all the data is held in RAM, you should save the data to disk frequently to ensure its safety.


Having added all the record data, you will then want to retrieve it according to certain criteria. Base Two allows you to retrieve data in two basic forms, record format (and edit) and report format. Find All and Find Some allow you to examine the data one record at a time. Find Some allows up to three conditions to be set. These are a set with a window based dialog. You select a field to test with the mouse, then select the condition type one of 'equals', 'between' and 'contains' then type the appropriate test data. These are not complicated by wildcards or case dependencies, if you want all records between 'Jones' and 'Smith', you just type them in and that's what you get. Simplicity is gained at the cost of complete flexibility, but again, this is as much as most people need (and it is still quite flexible), so it is not a drawback. Once you have made the selection, you are shown the first match. The next match is displayed after the Control-N key is pressed, and going backwards is achieved with the Control-B key (but you cannot loop round).


 

REPORTS

 

Reports are altogether more flexible. Each Base Two data file can have a selection of reports (up to ten) stored with it (to save redefining them every time they are needed). Base Two reports are all done via one report design sheet. I looked at DB Master One at this point, as I remembered it had more options. Those options were column, page, record and 'mailing list'; all are still possible with the new Base Two report designer because it is now totally free format. After selecting Design New Report, a small window opens with column and line numbers along the top and sides, and you click within it to place a field. You can the select the actual field to appear at that point by clicking in the main record window. Alternatively you can enter text, to provide static comments. Also available are two header lines in which the current page number, time and date can be placed. A separate Report Options dialog allows setting of the record length, paper length and width, margin, printer initialisation string, soft field sides, bottoms and page lengths (allows Base Two to avoid leaving large amounts of white space on the page when an address has only two lines used of seven, the next field can start on the fourth line), summary only and continuous paper.


Also selectable is the order in which the records will be produced. Up to three sort fields can be specified, with selectable subtotals and new page, and the order can be ascending or descending. Last, but not least, the search parameters are set using the same technique as Find Some. When as much of the definition has been specified as desired, you select Report Print. You will be asked to name the report that you just created (up to 25 characters), and asked to select the device to send it to. The report can be sent either to the screen (a nice windowed display with small characters), the printer, or to disk (suitable for word-processing).

 

An extra facility is the DIF (Data Interchange Format) output. This is similar to the Report selection, but much more limited. This allows you to send data to another database or spreadsheet, but does not allow importing, so the flow is one way only.

 

DB MASTER ONE

 

Base Two has grown from DB Master One, the 'bundled' database that came with early STs. The authors have also written databases on the Macintosh and IBM PC, apparently very powerful ones. I was interested to compare the two ST programs, and amazed by the basic similarity. Only two new menu titles have appeared, one for DIF, and one for HELP (which used to be at the bottom of the menus anyway). The principles of operation are basically the same, but they have been improved all over. Selection dialogs have been tidied up, and I have come across no bugs while I have been using it (DB Master One had many). A new feature is a menu option to set the date and time useful if you do not have the control panel resident.


THE MANUAL

 

The manual is very well produced, and while not massive, covers the functions of the program well. If you had the original DB Master One manual you may remember the rather patronising introduction about the Happy Valley School library fire, causing the loss of the catalogue. Fortunately this has been dropped, and the manual is very much more professional. Sections include a tutorial, references for each program, and general information about the database. The only criticism I have is the lack of an index.


PROBLEMS

 

Base Two is not without problems, but they are minor. During my period of use, I kept accidentally creating fields in reports just at the right hand edge while going for the slider bar and missing. Because they were at the edge of the window they were then hard to spot until they appeared on the reports. This is not major, and may just happen to me, but the ease of creating new items makes it susceptible to this sort of thing.


As mentioned above, the format created is resolution dependent, and this could be a problem for some people. A minor niggle is that the Escape key does not clear the field you are entering, as I would expect a GEM program to do.


CONCLUSION


My first impression of Base Two was that it was incredibly simple as a database simple to use and simple in functionality. As I have become more familiar, I know this is wrong: it is simple to use, but also powerful in functionality. Not as powerful as a grogram like Superbase, but providing everything the average user needs. The only limitation on database size is RAM, and this has to be considered. If you are investigating databases, but believe that others may be too complicated, scrutinise Base Two. It may well be worth it.

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