A forms and database manager for Windows: FormBase – Microsoft Windows-compatible software from Ventura Software Inc – Software Review – evaluation

Jack Nimersheim

A Forms and Database Manager For Windows FormBase Rating: *** ATA GLANCE: High-quality data and forms manager for Windows. Designing a form creates your database structure automatically. DOCUMENTATION: Massive, but masterfully organized and well written. ERROR HANDLING: Performed flawlessly in all my tests. EASE OF USE: Excellent; transforms database management into intuitive procedures. VALUE: Weighed down by costly support. SUPPORT: Professional, but potentially pricey if you want support for longer than 60 days. Toll-free; no cost for 60 days. Individual support plan ($100 per year) includes toll-free support, Ventura Professional subscription, 10 percent discount on upgrade, 25 percent discount on training course. Corporate plan also available. VERSION REVIEWED: 1.1 PRICE: $495 SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: 640K IBM compatible; hard-disk drive; EGA, VGA, Hercules; mouse; DOS 3.1 or higher and Windows 2.1 or higher; 5.25- or 3.5-inch PUBLISHER: Ventura Software, Inc., 15175 Innovation Dr., San Diego, CA 92128; (619) 6730172, (800) 822-8221 Database management brings out the best and the worst in a personal computer. On the plus side, a computer is perfect for organizing and managing the large amounts of information contained in a typical database. The flip side, however, is that most database programs are difficult to learn, tedious to use, or some combination of the two. FormBase, a forms generator and database manager, preserves the power of traditional database programs. At the same time, FormBase is surprisingly easy to learn and use. Perhaps best of all, since FormBase runs under the graphics-based Windows operating environment, it even manages to bring an element of fun to the otherwise monotonous chore of data manipulation.

So, what is a forms generator? Although you can create forms-such as invoices or directories-with character-based database programs, the quality of the results are not as good as FormBase’s. Laying out a form in FormBase, on the other hand, resembles working at an artist’s pasteup board. Consequently, you can add visual panache to your forms, both on screen and in printed documents. Furthermore, as you design a form, FormBase transparently creates the database to store and manage the information that form contains-this is the key difference between FormBase and some other forms generators. Each time you create an on-screen input field, FormBase sets up a corresponding field within a database for actual data storage.

FormBase includes a Lookup feature, a common technique flat-file database programs use to simulate a key relational capability. Lookup lets you look up, retrieve, and use data from one database file within another database file.

I set up a pair of databases to track my various writing assignments. First I created a form to record information about the magazines I write for: each magazine’s name, address, telephone number, editor, and the like. FormBase lets me assign various design elements to each field that form contains-drawing a box around one, coloring in another, using a special font to emphasize a third, and so forth. One critical item on my magazine form was a field designed to record a unique code for each magazine-for example, I assigned the code HOC to HOME-OFFICE COMPUTING.

I then designed a second form, on which I record any assignments I receive from different magazines. This second form also contained a magazine code field. Now, whenever I get an assignment from HOMEOFFICE COMPUTING, for example, I call up my assignment form. As soon as I type HOC in the code field, FormBase uses its Lookup feature to automatically fill in several fields in the assignment file-the magazine’s address, an editor’s name, and any other related information I request-based on the information stored in my magazine file. Put simply, the FormBase Lookup feature saves time, a precious commodity for any home worker.

Setting up both databases, including Lookup links between the two, took about 30 minutes-and I had yet to crack open the FormBase manuals. As impressive as that sounds, praise must go to FormBase’s pull-down menus. Furthermore, whenever a menu item’s function is not obvious, the program’s comprehensive, context-sensitive, on-line help system is only a keystroke (or mouse click) away. Although all Windows-based applications share these two features, I found FormBase’s execution to be especially logical and, therefore, invaluable as I was laying out my initial forms and databases.

Windows also allows FormBase to incorporate graphic images easily into its forms and files-everything from custom-designed logos to scanned images. Also since FormBase takes full advantage of the Windows Clipboard, graphics from any Windows-based programs that also support Clipboard transfers can be incorporated into a FormBase database. This makes FormBase a natural choice for managing something like real estate records, where the ability to see a picture of the home or property may pique a potential buyer’s interest enough to schedule a tour-the first step to a successful sale.

Some may be put off by FormBase’s considerable hardware demands. Although the program will run in 640K of RAM, a larger memory pool is recommended, up to 4MB on a 386 computer. Be prepared to sacrifice a good chunk of your hard disk, too. Installing the entire FormBase package-which includes several popular typefaces from Bit-stream and numerous sample files used by the program’s comprehensive tutorial-consumes almost 5.5MB of disk space.

The documentation is well indexed and comprehensive; and should you encounter a question that isn’t covered in the manuals, the company provides excellent technical support. Xerox personnel know their products. Unfortunately, accessing this expertise is free for only 60 days following the company’s receipt of your FormBase registration card. After the grace period expires, you must purchase one of Xerox’s two available support plans if you anticipate needing additional technical help. The less expensive of these two plans, targeted at individual users, will set you back $100 a year. In my opinion, this verges on extortion, especially when you consider that FormBase itself costs just under $500. 1 expect a little more.

So, do I recommend FormBase? If you have the required hardware and are looking for a powerful yet easy-to-use database that allows you to incorporate graphics, the answer is yes. If this description doesn’t fit you, then you may be better served by a more traditional DOS database manager. Still, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, FormBase does manage to bring a certain element of fun to an otherwise tedious undertaking. This feature alone makes FormBase worth looking into.


COPYRIGHT 1991 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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