|★ APPLICATIONS ★ DIVERS ★ ATLAST : DATABASE MANAGER|Amstrad Action) ★|
|Atlast : Database Manager||Applications Divers|
What is a database? What use is a database? Does the word database send a tremor down your spine? Does the Database Manager live up to its claims? AtLast the truth!
Consider your telephone book. It has indexed page labels running from A to Z. If you wished to find Marcel Marceau's phone number you would go straight to M, bypassing the letters A to L completely. A consequence of this is saved time. Just think how long you would spend scanning each page until you came to Mr Marceau's phone number. A database performs the same operation as you would when searching for a phone number - just much faster. It is an electronic index book.
If you wish to search through only 50 phone numbers then a database won't be of much use.
If on the other hand you need to store several thousand addresses (which will include postcode, name and telephone number) or the titles of all your records (including band name, songs on the alburn and so on) then a database wins hands-down: a database is extremely good at searching rapidly for an item, sorting data and producing printed lists and summaries.
AtLast, available only for the 6128, runs within the CPM Plus operating system. This can be off-putting as CPM is not the most helpful or even most user-friendly system known to man. However, flicking through the first few pages of the 80-page manual puts you at ease. Its friendly, chatty style will soon remove any fear of the CPM environment (BDOSophobia?). Everything from inserting your system disk into drive A to creating a work disk is explained concisely and in layman's terms.
To use AtLast for a particular task entails designing at least one form. You will also have to specify the type of information that is to be held - whether strings of characters or numeric data. Consider an address book. It will have headings for Name. Address, Telephone Number and so on. AtLast cannot be used until you have decided how to arrange the information you are going to store.
Databases such as AtLast are split into records which can be thought of as a screenful of information analogous to a single card in the conventional card index box. A Field is akin to one line on the card, for example the postcode of an address or the author in a library catalogue system.
AtLasts specification list is impressive: A record may contain up to 20 fields, but each field can have up to 99 elements. For example, a five-line address could be stored in a single field using only five elements. Each field (or element) may hold up to 79 characters. You can create as many forms as you desire. The capacity of each form is roughly 1000 characters or 140 field markers. As you can see, very large amounts of data can be held - in fact, file size is limited only by free space on the disk.
Options are normally chosen from a menu, with single keystrokes. This greatly speeds up movement through the database and makes life much easier. When defining a file you can choose from nine types of field - fancy effects applied to the usual character or numeric data. For example, characters can be automatically converted to upper-case and numerals can have fixed decimal points.
An index has two purposes. First, it provides a means to search, and obtain rapid access to, an individual record according to its indexed fields. Second, it provides an ordering for scanning or listing records. At Last can have up to five indices other than the standard record number. The record number is not really practical for searching because, except in a very small Hie, you could never remember all the record numbers.
The indexing systems can be alphabetical or numerical and can act on any item within the file. Surnames, for example, could be sorted alphabetically or, if your entries are dated, numerically. Some databases require files to be re-sorted whenever the index needs updating not so with AtLast, which always keeps its own indices up to date.
To browse through or edit any data within your file is simple. You will be asked which form needs to be attacked. Then you must choose the index type and enter a single character. AtLast will rapidly display the first record containing the selected character. From here you can edit the data, print it, or move backwards or forwards searching other records.
Once all the records are entered to your satisfaction, you'll probably want some form of printed list. To produce a list you will need to define a new layout suitable to send to the printer and this need be done only once. While defining the new format you can select which fields you want on your list and the order in which they are to appear.
For £30 you wont find a more powerful database; AtLast boasts powerful functions normally found on £100+ databases. If you're new to the world of files, fields and records ther. AtLast is the ideal way to be introduced. The manual is light reading for the beginner, but rather a chore if you're an advanced user wanting reference material - a handy summary card could have been provided.
AtLast can store and manipulate large amounts of data with ease and present results equally impressively. All the operations you would expect on a database are present. The only, major, missing feature is calculated fields.