Q&A takes the pain out of databases – Symantec’s Q&A for Windows 4.0 data base management system – Software Review – Evaluation

Stephen W. Plain

Rating: ***

Q&A for Windows

Version Reviewed: 4.0

List Price: $250

Average Street Price: $169

Publisher: Symantec, (408) 253-9600, (800) 441-7234

If you’ve ever considered using a database program to organize your information but were discouraged by its complexity, Q&A 4.0 for Windows is what you need. Carrying a list price of $250, the long-awaited Windows version of Q&A breathes new life into an already successful DOS product that makes database work delightfully easy. Q&A is aimed at the smallbusiness person who is not a database expert. Although not appropriate for very complex database tasks, the program is perfect for organizing contacts, mailing lists, and simple inventory.

The early versions of Q&A for DOS were known for their ease of use, but the interface was simplistic and rather boring. This version adds a bit of sparkle to the product while remaining just as intuitive. Creating a new database is not nearly as painful as in other products–a simple dialog box lets you name each field and specify its data type from Q&A’s list of eight that include text, money, yes/no, and picture formats. Picture fields can be used to associate a bitmapped graphic image with database records. When viewing or adding data, you can choose from either the Form View or the Spreadsheet View, which resembles poF ular spreadsheet programs like Microsoft Excel. Q&A builds a master form each time you create a new database, but you can make as many custom data entry forms as you like and choose among them at any time from the toolbar. Custom forms are created in a freeform designer, where you visually lay out the fields, text, and graphics using various drawing tools. The Spreadsheet View is the most natural way to work, since it lets you view many records at once. The columns, representing the various fields in your database, can be resized and reordered easily with the mouse. In both views, a toolbar above provides you with most of the common operations you’ll be looking to do. A VCR-like control panel lets you quickly move around the database.

If you require someone to guide you through the process of building complex queries to your database, have no fear–DAVE comes in every box. DAVE isn’t a person; it stands for Do Anything Very Easily, a technology built upon the natural English language query feature that made Q&A famous many years ago. DAVE also has a split personality–the Intelligent Assistant and the Scripting Assistant. With the Intelligent Assistant, you can easily create the most complex queries to your database by simply clicking English language phrases presented in lists. For example, a completed query statement might read: “Find the records where orders are greater than 30,000 and the order date is before 1/1/90, sorted by last name.” DAVE is always available from the program’s toolbar, recognizable by the icon of his face. The Scripting Assistant lets you build macros of common operations in a similar manner. For example, you might write a script to move to a particular record or automatically perform calculations on data.

Q&A allows you to create three different types or reports–columnar, free form, and labels. The columnar format is the traditional gridlike report. The various attributes of the columnar report are set through a spreadsheet template that gives you easy control over the sort order, alignment, format, and summary settings for each field in the report. Q&A supports multiple-pass totaling, which means you can print calculated figures in the report based on information compiled from the entire report. Free-form reports are created visually in draw mode and allow you to define various repeating bands like headers, summaries, and footers. While designing a report, you can access the Intelligent Assistant to define a linked query to the report. The label report is a handy feature for creating mailing labels, and you can select from a list of common Avery labels or design your own.

A major portion of Q&A 4.0for Windows’s value is in Symantec’s word processor–Q&A Write for Windows–bundled with the database. Although not an industrial-strength application like Word for Windows or Ami Pro, Q&A Write is a good basic word processor. It can be launched from within Q&A or used separately. Q&A Write offers many features found in high-end word processors, such as a spellchecker, thesaurus, numerous formatting options, and support for graphic images. If your requirements of a word processor are basic, Q&A Write will probably serve well as your primary tool.

Users of the DOS version of the product will be happy to know that Q&Afor Windows is fully compatible. Data, reports, forms, and even programming statements can be used unchanged. In fact, the Windows and DOS versions can access the same data on a network simultaneously. The program also offers record-level locking, which prevents two users from changing the same record at the same time, and it will refresh data on your screen that has been changed by another user. Q&A 4.0for Windows is a major step forward for the product, and it’s an excellent choice for modest database work. Q&A Write for Windows has considerable appeal for those who routinely work with mailings and correspondence.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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