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    I just finished about a week-long evaluation of ThinkDB and HanDBase as my Visor's database. My goal: a Palm database app that would let me view (and occasionally edit, using a Stowaway keyboard when possible) a ~1000 record relational database on the Palm, which is currently on my PC in Access 2000.

    Given the work I'd put into this, I thought I'd jot down a couple of my impressions of both apps. This isn't a review -- I don't want to swamp those reading with the detail I went into. (And it's still pretty damn long.)

    Apologies if any of this appears cursory -- I'm attempting brevity rather than breadth. And a disclaimer: I judged the two apps on how well they solved my use case, based on my wants, needs and personal criteria. Your mileage will vary.


    THE APPLICATIONS THEMSELVES

    Both apps, on the Visor, were sufficient for what I wanted to do. Both are good applications and reasonably solid (HanDBase 2.74 moreso than ThinkDB 2.0.4, but not significantly). On the down side, both lack almost any keyboard navigation capabilities, and both cannot store NULL/Empty values (i.e., integers and strings always store a default value (0, or an empty string) instead of NULL/Empty). This is annoying (though workaround-able) if you're doing data validation.

    The major feature ThinkDB has over HanDBase is the ability to create and save multiple List Views. When you're dealing with records with 20 fields on your Palm screen, having 2 or 3 views that lets you quickly view different parts of the data (in different orders and with different filters) is important.


    PC SOFTWARE CAPABILITIES

    Much of my testing turned to evaluating the products integration with my PC, since I need to be able to view, edit and print information in the database from Windows.

    The primary PC questions I asked were:

    #1) Is the accompanying PC "Desktop" software good enough to justify moving my database to ThinkDB or HanDBase, and drop-kicking Access? (Never a bad thing to dump a Microsoft product!) Specifically, does the Desktop app allow me to:
    • Search and view the data easily?
    • Print out the data with enough formatting for my reporting needs?


    Answer: In a word, no, for both products. Neither the ThinkDB or the HanDBase desktop provided me with enough printing capabilities to prepare the types of reports I wanted. (Font capabilities, specific text wrapping, headers and footer features, etc.)

    Beyond printing, HanDBase isn't bad for viewing, and is also good for defining HanDBase databases on the PC. The ThinkDB Desktop (2.01) is, well, unpleasant -- extremely unintuitive and difficult to navigate. It's also still buggy, though improving.

    This left me with printing the data via Access -- which led to question #2: Is there an easy method for moving data back and forth between ThinkDB or HanDBase and Access?

    Two possible solutions here:
    • Import and Export. Import and export the databases from Access (sometimes via CSV format) via the ThinkDB or HanDbase desktop applications. This could be done, and was fairly effective for my purposes (I would do it infrequently); but it was a tedious (and in the case of the ThinkDB desktop, painful) process.
    • ThinkDB DBSync ThinkDB has a special conduit called DBSync which compares linked Access and ThinkDB databases and updates them by record. This means you don't have to convert the entire databases back and forth -- changes to either are transfered to the other during hotsync.


    I spent a weekend using DBSync (version 2.1 release candidate), and found that it worked very well -- after you figure out how to get it working. DBSync's generally sturdier and more intuitive than ThinkDB Desktop, but you need to understand how relational databases are designed. More importantly, there are some issues regarding who should control your tables' key fields, Access or ThinkDB, depending on how you'll use the product. Several hours perusing articles on the ThinkDB Yahoo group were necessary for me to be able to use DBSync effectively. I want to emphasize this: this is not a task for a database newbie (and won't be until ThinkDB gets better documentation out for DBSync.)

    DBSync is fast enough in synching up a 650 record table (as long as the Primary Key is the first field in your ThinkDB database -- another important trivia item) -- about 65 seconds. Even then, I usually switch off dBSync until I've made changes in either database.


    CONCLUSION

    I went with ThinkDB 2.04 with DBSync for the following reasons:
    • ThinkDB's multiple customized List Views
    • Convenience moving records between Access and ThinkDB databases via DBSync



    PS I have since heard about IBM's DB Everywhere product -- sounds interesting (and affordable), though I'm not sure if I'm missing some key product that you have to buy to get it to work. (I have no idea if it works with Access.) This is definitely designed an Enterprise solution; but there's a "Personal edition" for ~$45 that looks like what I'd be aiming for.
    Last edited by bookrats; 06/10/2001 at 05:10 PM.
    Jeff Meyer

    "And he died like he lived: with his mouth wide open."

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