John S Davison takes a look at
the latest version of one of the most original computer databases
innovative database program for the ST, first appeared over a year
ago. Its flexibility and unique visual interface based on the idea
of cards in racks (like those used by employees for clocking in and
out at work) made it very easy to use. Now Microdeal are marketing a
Mk II version offering even more facilities. They've also launched a
companion series of 'Starter Kits' designed to get either version of
Zoomracks into productive use in double quick time.
Zoomracks II is supplied in a substantial A5 ring
binder containing a command reference card, a function key template,
a single sided disk, and a fully indexed 150 page User Guide. The
Guide's tutorial style is designed to get you using the package
quickly, and the disk contains online tutorial and help facilities
for use if you get stuck later.
The program is driven mainly by menus appearing
across the bottom of the screen. Selections operate as `toggles'
making a given selection a second time reverses the action of the
original, returning you to your starting point. Selections may be
made with keystrokes or by positioning the cursor over the required
item with cursor keys or mouse. Certain features are implemented via
function keys, which can be a little confusing until you're familiar
with the program.
A card holds up to 27 data fields, each up to 250
lines by 80 characters long. Each card is held in a slot in a rack
with just the top line showing, so you can see what it contains. A
rack can hold thousands of cards, with actual capacity depending on
the amount of data on each card and your ST's memory size, as a rack
has to fit completely into memory. A gauge at the bottom of the
screen shows how much free memory remains at any time.
A rack may be named and stored on disk just like any
other file, but with an extender of ZRX. When requested, Zoomracks
displays the rack names in a rack, of course! So the overall
Zoomracks database structure is as follows: a disk is a rack of ZRX
files, a ZRX file is a rack of card records, and a card is a rack of
is created by defining a `template', which names and positions the
card's data fields. Field type and length don't have to be
specified, as all data is ASCII, and the length is.... well, as long
as you want it! The template generates blank cards into which you
simply key the data (of any length) when prompted by fieldname. This
is repeated until all required cards have been set up. It's
Zoomracks II's editor has a number of wordprocessor-like
facilities to help you enter and edit data. In fact, you can use it
like a simple wordprocessor for producing notes and letters. Input
mode is switchable between insert and overtype; you can delete data
by character, word or line; there are cut, copy, paste and replace
facilities at rack, card, field or line level; margins can be
adjusted and text reformatted to fit; lines can be split and joined
at any point and tabs can be set. Also, there's a facility for
pasting current date and time into a field.
RETRIEVAL AND UPDATE
Data retrieval is where the 'zoom' part of the
program's name becomes evident. You use the program rather like a
zoom lens on a camera, in this case to get closer and show more
detail of your subject data. After loading a disk you select a rack
from the displayed disk rack. This rack then loads and zooms you
into rack level detail, showing the top line of each card in the
rack. If you then select a card the program zooms you into card
level detail, showing individual data fields. Finally, if the field
holds more data than actually shown on the screen, you can zoom in
again to display the whole field.
If a rack, card or field is too big to fit on one
screen you can scroll up and down to find the part you want.
Unfortunately, Zoomracks isn't GEM based so there are no scroll
bars. Scrolling is performed by different methods depending on the
current zoom level very annoying in practice.
With many database programs, making changes to an
existing database can be a painful experience. Not so with Zoomracks.
You have complete flexibility to change field positions, add/delete
fields, and alter the amount of data displayed for each field, as
well as altering its length or content. And if you mess up the
format changes there's an 'Undo' command to put everything back as
it was. Cards may be added and deleted easily, too.
Up to nine racks may be loaded into memory at any one
time. You can quickly switch between them, or even display multiple
racks on the screen simultaneously, with Zoomracks automatically
compressing the data to make this easier, if required.
MATHS AND MACROS
Zoomracks II's mathematical capability is restricted
to the four basic arithmetic functions. You can use it like a
calculator, with numeric data input from the keyboard or picked up
from any field on the card. A semi-automatic mode permits the
summing of all numbers in a field or the same field across cards.
Results may be put back into the card if required. Further
automation may be obtained using the macro facilities described
macro is a collection of commands or frequently used text which can
be set up in a special macro rack and invoked by a two key
abbreviation. The rack holds up to 27 macros, and may be saved for
future use. A disk may hold multiple macro racks, but only one may
be loaded in at any given time. Creating macros is very easy the
first one I tried (admittedly a simple totalling operation) took
about 30 seconds, and it worked first time.
Macros operate on single cards or a specified number
of cards from a given starting point you don't have to process the
whole rack in one go. Zoomracks can also automatically load a
default macro rack and even execute a specific macro at boot-up
time. A simple macro language is included to help you produce quite
slick macro procedures, as demonstrated convincingly by the online
Zoomracks can print to a screen for checking layouts, a printer for
hard copy, disk (in ASCII format) for input to other programs such
as a wordprocessor, or internal field buffer for pasting elsewhere
in the database.
Print layout is specified by the use of 'forms',
allowing you to customise the printout's appearance. A default form
(same as the card layout) is automatically provided, and this may be
edited to produce your own customised version. Page layout
parameters such as page length, margins, offset, headers, footers,
page numbering, and datestamp may be specified as well as
positioning of fields anywhere on a page. Data may be printed one
card per page or as a continuous report. It's not quite as
sophisticated as some database programs, but adequate for most
Zoomracks II represents a refreshingly different
approach to ST database applications. Once you've mastered its
quirky mix of keyboard, function key and mouse input it becomes
simple to create, use, and maintain many basic home or business
applications. A quick look at the contents of the Starter Kits
should give a good idea of what's possible.
For more advanced applications its limitations in the
search, sort and arithmetic areas could cause problems. Also, I
found the lack of disk utilities a pain. You can't even list a
complete disk directory from within Zoomracks the disk rack
facility shows only Zoomracks files! But having said that there's
still an awful lot it CAN do. In fact, it could well be the only
database program you ever need.
ZOOMRACKS STARTER KITS
If you're a Zoomracks user and can't spare the
time to set up your own database applications, then these
inexpensive starter kits from Microdeal at £9.95 each could be
just what you need. Basically, they're sets of Zoomracks
templates, sample data, macros, output forms and hints files
which you can load and use straight away. They're designed to
work with Zoomracks I or II.
Each disk holds a large number of different
application racks, with each rack being pre-loaded with a few
sample data cards for that application. You build on these to
form your own customised databases.
Each rack includes a comments card describing
each field in the supplied template for that rack. If a template
doesn't quite fit your requirements, the amazing flexibility of
Zoomracks allows you to immediately add to, delete from, or
otherwise modify it even though it already contains data.
Having a database doesn't necessarily mean you've
got a usable application. You need to be able to rapidly
manipulate the data, produce reports from it and maintain it.
This is where the supplied macros and output forms come in. Once
again these may be modified and your own added until the
applications are exactly as you want.
If you put all the home applications on your ST
you'd spend all your waking hours updating them! Still, they
give ideas of what can be done, and all of them are probably
useful to someone, somewhere, sometime. The ones of interest to
me seemed to work OK, and were adequate for their purposes. In
addition to the templates there are 43 output forms provided for
producing reports and listings from the different racks, but
only three macros.
There's a lot in the Business Starter Kit also
with most of it looking suitable for general office use or at
least providing the basis for developing your own applications.
Some areas (such as Invoicing, for instance) would probably
require considerable modification to meet individual needs. The
kit also includes 47 output forms and 10 macros, the latter
handling such tasks as adding items and calculating the
remaining balance on an invoice.
Overall, I think the Starter Kit concept is
excellent. Not only does it provide ready made applications for
your ST, but it could also give you ideas for using your ST in
ways you'd never previously dreamed of. At £9.95 each the kits
are great value and I'm sure all Zoomracks owners will find
something in the series to interest them.
HOME STARTER KIT
Contains templates for:
BUSINESS STARTER KIT
This one includes templates for:
Computer Disk Index
Cookery Recipe Index
Credit Card Details
Family Health Records
Fruit Canning Records
Items Loaned Log
Names and Addresses
Newspaper Clipping Index
Pets and Vets Log
Phone Call Log
Area Codes (USA)
Names and Addresses
Office Files Index
Office Forms Catalogue
Things To Do List
Vendor Quote Details