I have felt that the only really serious omission in the CPC Amstrad computer range was that they could not randomly access files on the disc storage area.
With more than just a passing interest in Databases I was pleasantly surprised to see Cardbox (from Caxton Software) advertised with the ability to have almost unlimited files on the disc. The only limitation being the storage size of the disc itself. As many applications require much larger storage capacity than has been available I looked forward to getting the program and putting it through its paces.
Cardbox has been around for some time on other computers running under PC-DOS, MS-DOS and CP/M. It has had little or no mention in the lower priced end of the market. At approximately $100.00 cheaper than a CPC464 tape system I am not surprised.
What can be done with Cardbox? A record of 26 fields (areas) can be produced with a total character count of 1404. This would enable about 150 records to be kept on a 3" disc. As most records average 100-150 characters this would enable over 1000 records to be kept in one file. Pretty impressive......As with all powerful programs there is a price to pay. In this case a complexity of operation because of the amount of different commands available to the user.
To speed up the operation of Cardbox only one or two characters need to be typed in and the rest of the word is displayed. Most commands are then executed by pressing . Pressing the escape key in most cases aborts the command. All very simple, but ........Why don't software writers take the extra time required to set the keys in the program to execute on the keys that most people are used to. Being a program produced for a variety of machines a lot of execution keys are still actioned by use of CTRL and one other. This is my only major gripe about Cardbox. When paying around three hundred dollars for a program I would expect the escape key to be ESC not CTRL [. (A note is made in the manual to this effect for 6128 owners. For PCW owners, the ESC key is called EXIT and the CTRL key is labelled ALT-Ed).
Other than that I found the onscreen prompts and messages to be very helpful. For example, if WAIT is displayed at the top of the screen no input will be accepted. READY indicates that input will be accepted. All very straightforward but very helpful especially if the program is updating the file on disc and you are not sure what is happening. All options selected are shown at the bottom of the screen and it does not take too long to get into the hang of things. If for any reason the screen becomes corrupt pressing CTRL 0 will re-display the screen. All functions of Cardbox are controlled from a main menu and it is important that you return to the menu before quitting the program as the program is continually writing to disc and exit from these areas could cause loss of data or, worse, j complete file. To set up a record'(CARD DESIGN)' you select from the main menu either Format Create or Format Edit This sets up the layout of the card. A total set of options is made available and cards of great complexity can be created. Practise is needed in this area but a few sessions was all that was needed to set up a couple of different types of cards. Any mistakes are easily corrected and old formats can be changed using the Format Edit. Having set up the card, data can be entered and saved. An unlimited range of indexed words are allowed and any particular file can be searched for by any or all indexed fields. Sufficient to say that the options are many and varied. Only practise is required to produce a very powerful indexed system that will allow retrieval of information from all or any of the fields.
One of the amazing parts of Cardbox is its ability to output records in a wide variety of ways. Cardbox will print on fanfold, tractor feed or single sheets. Files can be saved as ASCII, Wordstar, ASCII indexed or Cardbox format Options are also available for label formats. Accidents will happen and Cardbox allows a wide range of repairs to the files. A duplicate of the corrupted file should be made before repair is attempted and most minor accidents can be corrected. A chapter in the manual is devoted to using Cardbox files for your own applications. I felt that more could have been explained about this function but a little bit of detective work will uncover a large range of possibilities with the main function being personalising mail drops. Finally, an analyse function is provided to study formats and layouts of Cardbox. I found this area a little complex and difficult to understand. I am sure that a little more time spent would clarify this function. In summary Cardbox is a powerful database that will fulfill the needs of all but the most demanding user. Like all powerful programs the author of the manual assumes a lot of prior application knowledge and it would take the beginner some time to master the program. If you have the need for storage of a lot of records Cardbox is one answer. If you have a CPC464 or CPC664 Cardbox will run under CP/M Plus with the DKTRONICS memory expansion unit. Of course one then has to try to obtain the CP/M Plus utilities, but that's another story. At $295.001 feel that Cardbox is over priced. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the wealth of good programs that are available for the CPC range of computers at reasonable prices. As this program is designed more for the PCW range the price may be acceptable for business applications where the usage of the program is much higher and the price can then be justified.
Reviewed by Tony Blakemore, TAU