|★ APPLICATIONS ★ BUREAUTIQUE ★ DATASTORE 2|8000Plus) ★|
|Datastore 2||Applications Bureautique|
Digita's DataStore has always been a competent, moderately priced database. Rob Ainsley discovers some pleasant surprises in the new version.
Databases are wonderful things. They take all the slog (well, almost all) out of the tedious business of filing, updating and organising information. However, the printed output from yer basic card index type of program is often rather unattractive; DataStore II. on the other hand, claims it can be used for applications which need good quality results - school reports, personnel details, invoices etc. and may tempt a lot of buyers with its reasonable price and professional database' tag.
Setting up Store
On starting up DataStore the program files are copied into the M drive; your data disc can then sit in the A drive eliminting tedious disc swapping on an 8256. The opening menu offers ten choices, zero being the 'design database layout' option. A series of questions asks you for the familiar details of your database: number of fields, length of each one. names of your key fields, length of keys, etc. You're allowed up to thirty-two fields, eight of them can be used as Key fields, and there are four types of field - character, date, numeric and money. Numeric fields will be printed out with decimal points aligned under 'tabulation mode' and money amounts are printed with commas in the right places, though they can't be used in calculations. A nice feature is that single-letter entries can be made to recognise only certain letters, so that a field Sex', for example, could be made to accept only 'M' or 'F' as inputs.
You are also asked to set a limit on the number of records you are going to use. The maximum is 32000. though it takes ages to set itself up for that number and takes up masses of space on the disc, so it's not a great idea to agree to the default suggestion of 32000 just because you haven't thought of any likely number yet.
Option 5 from the main menu lets you set up your calculated fields; you can assign to any numeric field the result of any expression involving constants or previous numeric fields combined by addition, subtraction, multiplication or division - very handy for having your bowling averages or VAT worked out painlessly. The calculations are automatically updated whenever data is entered or amended.
The prints and the paper
Back in the main menu you select 1 and start entering your new records. Before you can display any of the data you've entered on screen or printer though you have to define a printer template through option 3. These are the layouts your data will be output in, and you're only allowed to have two. so you may use one including all fields for detailed reports and another with just the name and address for printing labels.
On offer in the setup sequence is the option to print all data in italics, the headings being in plain text. This seems to work very well and gives a nice feel to the result. High quality print has to be selected in the printer control state by pressing [PTR].
You can put as many items on one line as you like, and repeat the same items as many times as you like. If one or more of your lines is longer than 80 characters long, the program obligingly switches the whole layout over to elite print to fit everything in, and further to condensed if it's longer than 96.
Sorting it out
Option 2 lets you search, delete, amend or print. DataStore I bogged you down here, forcing you to answer long series of questions about conditions on searches and embedded phrases to look for; version II thankfully just puts the whole list of options on one screen and you can move around with the cursor keys (albeit slowly) and define conditions only when required, making things much quicker.
The list includes the usual array of selection and indexing criteria: you can index on any keyed field from any given record to any other given record (index by name from A to K for example), search for an embedded phrase (all addresses including 'London' for instance) and set a condition on the selection (all accounts in credit or all dates since January 1st 1980 etc) all at the same time if required.
You can place selection conditions like this on as many fields as you like, enabling quite complex searches to be carried out. However, there doesn't seem to be any way of negative searching (ie selecting all addresses not including London') or of indexing in reverse order.
When you're entering the names of your fields, you only have to type in the first letter or two and the program will dig out all field names beginning with those letters and offer them to you on screen. You can then pick the correct one -this saves the frustration caused when you can't remember the exact name of the field (was it TEL, TELNO, or TELEPHONE?) or when you keep mistyping MISCELLANEOUS ACCOMMODATION.
You can also ask for a summary after your listing is complete which shows the total and average for every numeric field (but a rather inelegant 0 for other fields).
Indexing is fast thanks to the underlying efficient Jetsam commands of Mallard BASIC, but searching for embedded phrases isn't so fast, and flipping through records is very slow. Hence it's fine for look-up but not so convenient for browsing. Get your data printed out. though, and you'll be pleased with the results, thanks to the control over layout you have in the printer template setup.
There are a number of other features worth mentioning. You can assign phrases to the function keys, for example making [f1] print out the date. [f3] the name of your company or club or whatever. A good little time and temper saver if you have to write hundreds of school reports saying “Can do better" and "Must try harder”.
The program can work with two files in the memory at the same time. Handy for looking up something in one file while you're working on the other, but it takes a while and doing it for lots of records would get tedious.
Another very useful facility is the 'merge' option which lets you put data from one file into another. The thing about this is that if you want to redefine the structure of a database - say you realise that you have to add a new field after typing in six thousand entries under the old structure - you won't have to just define a completely new database and type in all your data again from scratch as with most programs. You just set up the new structure and merge in all the old data at a stroke.
At the time of writing the updated manual for DataStore II was not available. However, the first edition was helpful and generally clear, and since the new version of the program works in basically the same way it shouldn't necessitate too much rewriting.
The package generally is quite user-friendly, easy to use and seems pretty robust; and. like LocoScript 1. the sloth in the program won't be so irritating most first-time users, who haven't seen six thousand other packages to compare it with. There's still the occasional annoying quirk though; it's all too easy to get caught by mistake in a series of questions you can't leave until you've answered them all, however hard you press the [EXIT] key. There are also some idiosyncratic ways of doing things, for example, to exit to CP/M, you press the up' cursor on the ‘Enter File Name' command; the down cursor shows the directory!
DataStore II is a marked improvement on I. It's still not for people in a hurry to flip through records, and its tag of the ‘professional database' is still a bit grandiose, but it's nevertheless a good program. In fact, it's very good for uses where the emphasis is on printed output and not speed of operation, such as school reports, personnel records, membership details, archives and so on. And the calculation facility could be just the thing for your cricket club's end-of* season averages.