Apr 98 Viewpoint
Volume Number: 14 (1998)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Viewpoint
Apr 97 - Viewpoint
by Ed Ringel
MacTech Magazine's Database Project
With the focus of this issue on database engines, I've asked Ed Ringel, MacTech's Contributing Editor for product reviews, to tell us a little bit about why he thinks database technologies are crucial to all Macintosh developers. Ed has been working for many months to bring us information about many of the database engines available for use in Macintosh programs. The results of some of his work appear in this issue; he also is responsible for bringing us several database articles over the past year and a half, and yet more will appear in future issues. I hope you enjoy his guest editorial. - Eric Gundrum, Editor Emeritus
If you riffle through the last year's or so issues of MacTech, you will note several database related articles, such as those about PowerBuilder for Macintosh and B-Tree Helper. This issue is a continuation of our attempt to address one of the basic issues of computer programming and software development, the management of large amounts of data.
Certainly, many off the shelf products do not deal with data that is managed in a database - graphics and word processing programs come to mind almost immediately. However, such diverse functions as investing our mutual funds and querying our bank accounts, managing our health care, the management of corporate America, and our right to vote depend on the ability to manipulate formatted information in a predictable, easy, and useful manner. Those of you who do contract programming almost certainly have undertaken a database or information management product at some time or another. Sadly, the Mac OS often has not been chosen as the platform for management of this kind of information. This is partially because of the artificial ascendancy of the Wintel platform, but it also is partially because of the perception of many IS professionals that the Mac has inadequate tools for the task. We want to put the latter misperception, at least, to rest.
In this issue we present articles on two high end products dtF and NeoAccess, for your evaluation, and an additional article on a rather interesting find, Jovis. dtF and NeoAccess are powerful databases with inherent cross platform capabilities. Jovis, although inherently not as versatile as the other two because of its confinement to the XCMD (and thus the Mac OS) world, nonetheless does what it does very well. All three of these products can do a fine job of managing complex information for many users.
All three of these products also support the developer in the development of static knowledge bases with the capability to handle large, arbitrary blocks of binary data. Although a departure from "traditional" information management, this is a growth area for the use of database engines. This should be an area of particular interest to the Mac developer. The Mac's beautiful graphics, excellent printing, and ease of programming multimedia make the platform a natural for static knowledge bases.
What am I talking about? As I browse the catalogues and particularly browse the store shelves, much of the software sold at the retail level simply is not a new way of manipulating data. Rather, the purchaser is buying the information on the CD, not the program that presents it. Sadly, it is very hard to come up with a new program that genuinely is a better mousetrap, and many talented developers spend much time and treasure trying to write the next PageMaker or Excel. Face it guys, for most of us, that ain't in the cards. Additionally, the reality is that the programs out there that do most computational tasks are pretty good; the competition is pretty stiff. Reflecting this fact, and reflecting the public's hunger for consumable stuff, concentrating on information rather than software, may be a better tack for many developers. Many interactive games (short of arcade games) use a relatively simple shell that really is a multimedia display with decision points and programmed responses. Teaching CD's, information CD's, and my movies CD from my local video store don't sell the information player, they sell the information.
Arguably then, content development is pretty darn important. Good quality, easy to use tools such as those we've reviewed here give the developer breathing room to think about content, structure, and esthetic appeal of the presentation. Certainly, we will continue to want high-quality code programmers to flower and prosper, but many of us can create significant works with our good understanding of communication and esthetics and by collaborating with our colleagues who are content experts. This may be more important to professional success than shaving another microsecond from a rendering routine. Think about it.
Our reviews of this important area are not complete. We invite vendors and readers to let us know about their favorite engines, and we'll try to evaluate them. Be careful, though, you might get tapped to be the author of the review!
Ed Ringel is Contributing Editor for product reviews for MacTech Magazine. When he's not working at the computer or enjoying the Maine lakes and woods, he's a respiratory and critical care physician in Waterville, Maine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org