Zoomracks II

By John S Davison


Issue 30

Nov/Dec 87

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John S Davison takes a look at the latest version of one of the most original computer databases

Zoomracks, the 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 data fields.


A rack 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 unbelievably easy!

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.


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.


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 below.

A 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 tutorial supplied.


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 purposes.


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.


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.




Contains templates for:




This one includes templates for:


Appliance Records

Appointment Calendar/Diary

Book Catalogue

Checkbook Balancing

Clothes Sizes
Computer Disk Index

Cookery Recipes

Cookery Recipe Index

Correspondence Log

Credit Card Details

Family Contracts

Family Health Records

Freezer Inventory

Fruit Canning Records
Gift Log
Home Inventory

Information Sources

Items Loaned Log

Names and Addresses

Newspaper Clipping Index

Pets and Vets Log

Phone Call Log

Prescription Log

Record Catalogue

Restaurant Log

Sewing Index
Shopping Lists
Special Offer

Coupon Log

Storage Log
Subscription Log

Videotape Catalogue

Appointment Calendar/Diary

Area Codes (USA)

Company Details


Customer Details

Customer Orders

Employee Records

Investor List
Meeting Agendas

Names and Addresses

Office Files Index

Office Forms Catalogue
Office Procedures

Payroll Details

Phone Log
Price Lists
Prospect List
Purchase Orders

Shipping Log
Things To Do List

Vendor Quote Details