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Alpha Five ver 4.5 Database

by Joe Madeira

Alpha Five is a general-purpose relational database manager, which means that lookups need not be on a one-to-one basis, but can be one-to-many. For example, a customer table and an invoice table can exist in the same database, and one customer may purchase products several times. Therefore, customer data can be accessed each time it is needed for the invoices.

Building a database involves creating a table or tables, assigning it a name, determining the fields that are to be used, the sizes of the fields, rules for the fields, input form, report form, etc. This can be somewhat daunting, so Alpha Five has some templates and Genies to help. For my application, I began with the template closest to my need and changed it as necessary. Field rules help in data entry so that names can be entered without pressing the shift key, and the first letter of each word in a name field will be capitalized, for an example. For another, all letters can be forced to upper case, or to lower case. Fields can also be a calculated value, or the data for a field can be a lookup from another table.

Alpha Five is general purpose, which means it allows for great flexibility, which also means there is a lot to learn. Menus that are displayed depend on what is selected. I was used to Alpha Four, which opened up on a screen that offered several choices, like saying "What do you want to do?" Alpha Five's menus depend on what you select, whether you are in Tables, Forms, Report, etc. and whether you are in design, new, or view. Menus can be displayed by right clicking, or from the top. For example, when in Form, Design, with a form selected, selecting a field, right clicking on it, then selecting Properties, the font size for the field may be specified. Who would have guessed?

Basically, a database design consists of an input form, a report form, possibly a browse form, and the data to acted upon. Alpha Five has default forms to use once the table has been defined. The names you can use for the forms can be anything you choose, but I recommend using names that describe the form being used and the database being used. More than one database can be set up, although only one database can be open at a time. Only the objects associated with the database that is open are displayed in the control panel. A database can consist of more than one table, a table can consist of many records, and a record can consist of several fields. Each field contains a piece of data, either a name, title, date, amount, an address, a birth date, social security number, phone number, etc. The possibilities are endless, but you get the idea.

One other thing needed is to determine an index. This is a field that will be used as the primary lookup. It can be a name, book title, an item name, an author's name, etc. The index will determine the order in which your data is displayed. You have to have a table selected, and be in design mode. Then, on the top menu under Table, Index Maintenance will appear. Menus only display when they can be used, which can be frustrating when you know what you need to do, but you don't know how to get to it. You then must pick a name for the index. Alpha Five is no help in providing a field name, even though you had a field selected. Then the next blank is Field Expression, which can be the field name if no mathematical functions need to apply. Again, no help, just a blank box. The help says "x.y". Huh! Without an index, the list is displayed in the order it was entered, i.e. record order. Alpha Five allows more than one field to be indexed. However, selecting all fields to be indexed will slow down data entry, since all indexes have to be updated for every record entered.

To help with this, Alpha Five offers a query, which allows a search on a non-indexed field. There is also a Quick Sort, which will re-order the records according to criteria you specify. This will then be used for the record list. If more than one index is used, the primary index must be specified. Other indexes are then secondary, etc.

Once the database is designed, entering the data is easy if everything is set up correctly. If you discover that a field isn't large enough to hold a long name, for example, it can be changed, however each form in which it appears must be adjusted or the name will appear truncated. When establishing a field, allow space for the largest piece of data that will be entered in that field. However, allowing much more space than needed will use hard drive space, since space for the whole field is reserved, whether it is full or not. Multiply this by the number of times the field occurs in the database, and much space may be wasted. Remember that hard drives are relatively inexpensive, and redesigning your database can be a bit painful.

Some of the things databases are useful for are inventory, membership lists, mailing lists, employee data, rental property, books you have read, etc. If there is much data, it will probably justify the use of a database. If you are keeping a small amount of data, it probably doesn't justify the work of designing a database, and it may be kept in a spreadsheet or a word processor.

If you already have a database from other software or an earlier version of Alpha, simply introducing the .DBF file to Alpha Five will cause the data to be displayed on the default forms, which quite often is satisfactory for most needs. If you need to display it differently, then you will need to design or modify a form. The databases you design with Alpha Five can be as simple or as complex as your need. The number of tables, forms, fields, and records Alpha Five can handle should satisfy any user or business.

The manuals included with Alpha Five are all in soft copy, meaning no printed manuals. However, they can be displayed in Adobe Acrobat Reader or Word. The Acrobat Reader is included. If you wish, the manual can be printed. Constantly referring to the on-line documentation increased my frustration, so I printed the basic manual. Warning, don't try this without adequate paper supply and a spare ink cartridge. The manual in Acrobat consists of 258 pages, and my attempts to eliminate some as unneeded resulted in my needing them. When building a new database in Alpha Five from scratch, I referred to the manual frequently. The organization of the material in it makes it difficult to find, and often the index is no help. As I demonstrated at the June meeting, the limited search capability of Acrobat makes finding a subject difficult. I tried to search for the word "delete" without the quotes in Acrobat Reader. It reported that there were no occurrences of this word, even though I showed that "delete" occurred several times in the text. On-line Help is 100% accurate, but little help at times. This problem is similar to a product of another software maker.

Overall, Alpha Five is a complex database manager, and its flexibility makes it difficult to learn. The seeming shortage of menus makes you wonder how to get something done. However, once familiar with the product, a satisfying database can be built that is easy to work with and data can be looked up several ways. Once something is selected, menus show themselves or become available to a right click. I, however, would not use the word "intuitive" to describe Alpha Five, as I have seen in other reviews.

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MVPCUG 2002
This page was last updated on:
February 2003