SUPERBASE PROFESSIONAL by Richard Karsmakers
Long expected and finally there: The famous 'sequel' to
"Superbase Personal": "Superbase Professional". On a nice and
sunny spring afternoon (with an early summer's breeze blowing
gently through my attic window) I put on some good music (Iron
Maiden and Rush) and supplied myself with some coke'n'crisps.
Next thing I did was fetching the "Superbase" manuals and I
booted up the program. What I found out on that afternoon, I have
tried to capture in this article. Most sincere are my hopes that
I have achieved in this goal, as I am usually more experienced at
reviewing entertainment software. After my "Word Perfect"
experience, however, I considered "Superbase Professional" to be
quite a challenge, too.
The name "Superbase" has for a long time already been a synonym
of THE database. Even on the Commodore 64 (in the good ol' times)
I can remember working with "Superbase" as a pleasant experience
of userfriendlyness and power. So I was very enthusiastic when I
finally got an ST version of "Superbase", and that I could now
start putting all kinds of things in this new and versatile
program - yes, "Superbase Professional" surely is a program that
makes one WANT to make inventories of everything one has:
Records, CDs, stamps....you name it.
The manuals (two) are each about 200 pages thick. The first one
is dedicated to the database program and the built in text
editor, whereas the second one is dedicated to subjects that make
the difference with "Superbase Personal": The Forms Editor and
the Programming Language.
The software comes supplied on four disks, of which the program
disk is copy-protected (?!). After registering the purchase, the
user gets one program backup disk sent to him (with the latest
version, which was 2.02 in my case). Still, I think that utility
programs should not be copy-protected as this decreases the
userfriendlyness quite a bit.
Everything is packaged into an IBM-style box. Very neat, and
"Made in Britain" is proudly stuck to one of its sides. Right
"Superbase Professional" (from now on to be called "Superbase"
by me) is what one calls a 'relational database system'. This
means that many operations can be performed a lot faster by means
of indexing, such as establishing relations between different
files. However, this establishing has to be redone after file
editing and is not actually done WHILE editing, so "Superbase" is
not really relational when one looks at this.
But I did not really want to plunge deep into the technicalities
and I decided to start making a database right away. While doing
that, I would surely learn the necessary things and I would also
be able to review the program to quite an extend.
The first steps
Something that struck me immediately after startup was the
enormous amount of options apparently included in this program.
For all the data-beasts, "Superbase" just had to be IT.
After entering the name of my new database file, I was requested
to type in a password. Up to three passwords could be specified,
separated by semicolons - each of these passwords would have
different privileges: The first one has all privileges, the
second one could read and write but not delete, and the third one
could only read.
Next came the fields in the document.
Fields can be any of five types (text, numeric, date/time or
external), and the field text can be up to 256 characters long.
Text fields can be upper case, lower case or capitalized; numeric
fields can be completely defined with regard to currency symbol,
format and +/- sign; date/time fields can have different formats
(Day-Month-Year, Month-Day-Year, Year-Month-Day) and the clock
can be set to AM/PM, and even to seconds or maybe milliseconds;
external fields can contain file names of text or picture files
that contain extra information belonging to that record. Picture
files can be either .IMG, Neochrome or Degas (both crunched and
But this is not the only thing you can do with a field. No! You
can also set 'flags' for each field, like "Required" (the field
HAS to be given a content in each record) and "Read Only". It is
also possible to specify a validation formula for each field
(check if the input is valid or not), as well as a calculation
formula (so that "Superbase" calculates values of one field out
of the contents of other fields). There's even a special kind of
the latter: Constant. This means that it is only calculated once
- on record initiation.
Fields can later be re-arranged and re-edited. This all happens
in the same program (unlike "DB Master One" from the ancient
times on the ST).
Each and very selection is done through "Superbase"'s customized
GEM, with dialog boxes that are very easy to work with.
One of those dialog boxes that you will no doubt meet all the
time when working with "Superbase" is the so-called 'filter
Using this filter, it is possible to let a certain function only
operate on specified records. This condition will then be
contained in the filter command line.
In the filter box, the following options are at the user's
= <> < > <= >= ( ) AND OR NOT LIKE
The regular mathmetical characters can also be used (+,-,*,/).
When using an address database that contains the fields TITLE,
NAME, ADDRESS, CITY, TELEPHONE, COUNTRY and NOTE, it is for
example possible to display only those living in the USA and with
a NOTE saying: "No notes". This can be done by entering the
following sentence in the filter command line:
Country LIKE "USA" AND Note LIKE "No notes"
With numeric fields, it is for example possible to display only
those subjects that owe you more than a certain amount of money.
The possibilities are virtually limitless, and all this can be
entered by clicking on field names and filter keywords only.
Really handy and yet powerful. Using wild cards and range
definitions is also possible. A more advanced example (only
displaying those who live in the USA and whose names start with
the letters K to M) is:
Country LIKE "USA" AND Name LIKE "[K-M]*"
Now you know what I mean when I say that this database program
is versatile. But do not stop reading, as this was only ONE facet
of "Superbase". There will be more to come.
"Superbase" allows the user to specify even the most basic
things, like printer setup and formats, currency format (with the
strangest currencies!), the scroll speed and seperator formats.
It is also possible to specify a particular format of the date as
well as system paths (directories where to get certain files).
"Superbase" now also allows function keys to have an assigned
string value (which can be SAVEd/LOADed to/from disk), which was
impossible in "Superbase Personal". Every function key (also
shifted function keys and the HELP key) can have a 255-byte
string attached to it. A string containing "SELECT FIRST : VIEW"
under function key 1 would assure the first record in a file to
be displayed when pressing F1 (which is the same as the "|<"
'video recorder' key on the bottom of the screen). More about the
programming language coming up in a segment about the Database
Text editor and mail merge
A feature that is definitely worth to be mentioned seperately is
the 'mail merge' facility that is implemented in "Superbase".
After having made a text (let's say a standard letter), it is
possible to use this text to write letters to all of your
customers contained in your database - this is called mail
For example, take the following letter in the case of the
database file that I mentioned earlier:
Negende Donk 4
5233 PJ Den Bosch
Den Bosch, May 16th 1988
Dear &TITLE& &NAME&
I have received your reaction to "ST NEWS" and would like to
extend my sincere thanks for reacting so positively to me taking
over "ST NEWS".
Hoping that "ST NEWS" will continue to live up to your highest
expectations, I remain
(Brandnew editor of "ST NEWS")
When having such a text in the text editor of "Superbase",
having a proper address database in memory and after selecting
"Mail Merge", you'll get letters on the screen or on the printer
in which the field names between &-signs are replaced by the
actual field contents of all the persons that have gone through
the filter (see earlier).
Most database programs do not have this option included in them,
although "DB Man Manager" is an extension that should do such for
"DB Man". But "Superbase" has it all in one. Simply great.
The Query option
One of "Superbase"'s most advanced options is the Query option,
that allows a database to be printed out using a specified format
in specified groups with specified filter settings. Since I have
no printer, I have had to use this option on the monitor screen
which seems to work fine.
Query works with four command lines rather than just one (as was
the case with the filter option); these are fields, report,
filter and order.
The 'fields' command line allows selection of fields to be
output (after all, not necessarily ALL fields need to be
printed), the 'report' command line controls output format and
other features like totals, the 'filter' command line controls
the selection of records from a file (not necessarily dependent
on the contents of but one file) and the 'order' command line
specifies the order in which records are to be sorted.
The Database Management Language
One of the two major differences with "Superbase Personal" is
the programming language DML that is now included.
For executing and editing programs that are programmed using
this language, "Superbase" has another edit buffer (next to the
text editor that I already mentioned). You can here develop your
program much a like you would do it using Basic or such. The
syntax of a line is checked after the line is left (just like
with GfA Basic) and all recognized commands are then put in
capitals. Spaces need to be put between the commands and
parameters, which I found a bit nasty at first.
DML can be compared with a Basic programming language, and
understands a wide variety of commands that can help to keep up a
good database (including lots of string manipulation functions
and functions for time, date, etc.). About all "Superbase"
program commands can be simulated using this programming language
(e.g. MERGE for MAIL MERGE, and SHOW simulates a 'camera icon'
press). Different text styles can be used, user input can be
asked (ASK, ENTER, GET, even REQUEST - a kind of alert box).
Maths are also possible, as functions like COS, TAN, LOG and EXP
are also included.
Most of the commands are clearly derived from Basic, like CHR$,
ABS, CLS, READ, DATA, DIM, END, FOR..NEXT, WHILE..WEND, GOTO,
GOSUB, RETURN, RIGHT$, MID$, SPACE$, INSTR and even RND. Even
menu bars can be made by yourself and used in your own programs.
Two seperately notable commands are PROTECT (that makes sure a
program is only executable after saving, so that it cannot be
edited or examined) and CALL (that can execute other .PRG files
provided that enough memory is available).
The Forms Editor
The second main difference with "Superbase Personal" is a
program called "Forms Editor". This program allows even more
flexible and professional use of "Superbase" data.
With the Forms Editor, it is possible to design your own form
around a specific file, allowing graphics to be used that is thus
really an enhancement of the "Superbase" 'Form View' option. It
is also possible to use data from several files at one time now.
For small-and medium business use, the Forms Editor comprises a
very useful addition to the "Superbase" concept.
"Superbase Professional" is a very complete and thoroughly
programmed piece of database software. In spite of the fact that
it's relational, many operations are still comparatively slow
because everything is managed on disk instead of in memory. With
very large files, however, this might be the only thing that
makes "Superbase" survive where memory-based database programs
have to quit.
The only real limitation I found was the fact that only 256
characters may be used in a field. But this disadvantage is
largely compensated by the fact that a text file can be used as
external file - which can store way over 256 bytes!
For its price, "Superbase Professional" offers very much. But
making use of aftersales services costs 75 a year and I think
that people buying such an expensive programs should be entitled
to some free help.
Most people will probably find "Superbase Personal" enough for
their needs (which is much cheaper). So I think that it's very
much worth while checking if you actually NEED the things that
this new version offers. If you do, "Superbase Professional" will
probably answer to all your wishes.
In an over 60 Kb READ_ME.DOC file on the data disk (in which all
kinds of changes to the manual were specified), Precision
Software announced some of the features that are said to be
present in a future "Superbase" update. These are:
- Communication possibilities
- Multi-line transaction handling on forms
- Improved form printing
- Data conversion utility
- Additional programming commands
- Further performance optimization
So there's still more to be expected!
A last note from the reviewer:
When receiving this package through the post, I suddenly
realised what it is to be 'in the picture' of software companies.
Together with the superb "Superbase Professional" package I got a
request from the Dutch tax-man to pay a somewhat hefty amount of
158.80 Dutch guilders (which is almost 50). I don't think the
quality of the context of this review would benefit from me
writing down all the words that came boiling up in my viciously
frustrated brain while gently stroking my viciously de-
voluminized wallet. If anyone of you, ST NEWS readers, might be
an employee of the Dutch tax service: .... you! (On the dots, a
four-lettered word needs to be placed) I never knew it would cost
that much to receive FREE samples from companies abroad. Regular
magazines might be able to afford this crap (they can even deduct
it from their tax), but ST NEWS can't!
A DEFINATE last note from the reviewer:
Please excuse me for my vulgar English, especially if you happen
to be one of the far too few females reading this. Yes, I will go
and wash my mouth now, mummy.
Where to get "Superbase Professional"
"Superbase Professional" is sold at £217.34 at Precision
Software in England, and is said to become available in Holland
at about 800 Dutch guilders.
Precision Software Ltd.
6 Park Terrace
Surrey KT4 7JZ
Many thanks go to whomever made sure that I got this program to
review. Although I phoned them myself, I didn't catch any names.
Thanks anyway! But next time, please do NOT state the correct
value on the customs leaflet (rather, a MUCH lower one)!