How to pick the right system in a new era of multiple choices

THE DATA-BASE DERBY

June 15, 1992|By Phillip Robinson | Phillip Robinson,Knight-Ridder News Service

Ashton-Tate's dBASE has withstood a lot of challenges. It was the data-base manager standard for a long time, pretty much from when it was introduced in the early 1980s.

It was both a data-base management program and a data-base programming language. You could use it to search through, sort and report upon information stored on disk.

Or you could use the programming language part to customize your data-base work, dictating how information would be entered, arranged and reported on. You even could use a dBASE "compiler" from some other company to convert your dBASE stuff into an independent program that could run on any PC, with or without the main dBASE.

In fact, the dBASE language became such a standard, and so many competing and compatible data-base managers appeared, that people began speaking of an "xBASE" language, a central standard that would not be protected by any copyrights or other possessions of Ashton-Tate.

Yet the market evolved. FoxPro, Clipper, dBXL and other programs challenged dBASE and stayed true to its programming language. Finally, Borland wrestled away a big chunk of the market with Paradox, which was powerful and easier to use than dBASE, but not directly dBASE-compatible.

That's all changed.

Borland bought Ashton-Tate and dismantled it. Now Borland is selling an improved version of dBASE, dBASE IV 1.5. Meanwhile, Borland is still selling Paradox (and will soon introduce a Windows version). Microsoft bought FoxPro and will probably offer its own xBASE program soon. And Computer Associates, the world's second-largest software company, bought Clipper.

dBASE IV 1.5 (Borland, $795, 800-331-0877) isn't much of a change from the previous version. It does offer thorough mouse support now -- you can operate the "Control Center" menus with the mouse to design forms, reports or labels, to create applications and to search through the data base. The Control Center is also able to work with substitute report and form utilities now, if you have some utilities you like better than those that come with dBASE.

Indexing has been improved. (That's the process of assigning codes to the pieces of information in the data base to make searches and sorts faster.) Some limits have been stretched, too, such as the ability to handle up to 40 tables of information at once, instead of only 10.

But the biggest change is the Borland label. And Borland's assurance that it will continue to improve dBASE for all platforms it runs on: DOS, Unix and VAX-VMS.

It's too bad this new version doesn't have a compiler. Borland is working on one, but for now you still have to turn to competitors for that application development tool.

Arago Professional version 2.0 (WordTech, $1,199, 510-254-0900) combines the xBASE- (and dBASE-) compatible dBXL data-base manager with the QuickSilver compiler. Separately they cost $699 and $799 respectively, so dBXL is just a bit less expensive than dBASE.

Arago has been competing with dBASE for years and has been an early contestant with both dBASE compilers and other dBASE technology improvements, such as SQL (Structured Query Language) for grabbing information from minicomputer data bases.

dBXL has its own set of menus for easy use, which I find simpler than dBASE's Control Center. For example, relating two tables takes just a few commands and a few seconds.

Which data-base manager do you buy? For immediate and easy use, if you're doing more than the small, simple tasks that Microsoft Works or Q&A can handle, I still say Paradox is best.

But if you're interested in developing big, custom applications, or you have dBASE programs already at hand, both dBASE IV 1.5 and Arago are good programs. So is FoxPro.

dBASE clearly has a future, with Borland's support assured by this new release.

dBASE is better if you need local area network operation now and if you want your applications to work on PCs, work stations and minicomputers. Arago is better if you need a compiler (to make more compact, faster applications).

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