Today's desktop PC databases are
easy to use, scalable and

By Gina M. Roos

Special to GCN

Like so many other applications once relegated to large, centralized and expensive systems, database management has come down from the mountain to the workgroup, even individual, level. New products are making it easier to store, organize, maintain and share information at a low-entry cost.

The increased functionality of these database management systems lets you use and manipulate data easily while sharing databases within a workgroup or across the Web.

This is a big plus for individuals and small workgroups that don't require moving their database product beyond the workgroup level. But many of these same DBMS products are readily scalable, from standalone to client-server applications, as agency needs grow.

Many DBMS vendors also offer developer's editions of their PC databases for creating front-end applications for client-server databases. And PC databases such as Lotus Approach and FileMaker Inc.'s FileMaker Pro allow access to data stored on a variety of enterprise database servers, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and Sybase.

A major difference between a PC and a client-server version is that, with a PC version, all data changes are made at the user's PC, although the database may reside on a file server, which only stores the information.

PC databases are used in a variety of ways'to track inventory, manage customer records, create reports and catalog various forms of information, including images and computer-aided design drawings.

It's worth it

Buying a desktop PC product is much cheaper than buying a client-server DBMS. What you lose in functionality with a PC database you make up for in cost, sometimes spending less than $300 instead of up to several thousand dollars. And many small DBMS products support both single- and multiuser implementations.

DBMS vendors advise that buyers evaluate database products according to how each fits into the rest of their organizations, not according to the requirements of individual small projects. You should also consider commonality, with the goal that users share and deploy data easily, and look at the growth path with scalability in mind.

Most of the new work done in developing PC database management systems has focused on ease of use, scalability and Web connectivity. A few of the latest releases include an Open Database Connectivity import function that lets users query ODBC-compliant data sources and import them into the database.

Easy-to-use PC databases now supply Internet features for online publishing and let users exchange data across multivendor applications. Corel Corp.'s Paradox 9 relational database lets users publish to the Web and exchange data from competing applications such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, Microsoft FoxPro, dBase, Lotus 1-2-3 or Corel Quattro Pro, as well as other ODBC-compliant databases.

With FileMaker Pro 4.1, users no longer need expertise in Structured Query Language programming; it has a built-in point-and-click OBDC SQL Query Builder. Users can query and use ODBC-compatible data sources once the ODBC drivers have been installed in the FileMaker Pro database.

Now, FileMaker Pro database users can import data from sources such as Oracle, SQL Server, Access or Excel into existing or new FileMaker databases. Converting files from other applications is as simple as drag-and-drop.

Lotus Approach Millennium, a relational database, lets users easily query, report and analyze data, while they manage and perform analysis in small to large database systems such as Oracle, dBase, Lotus Notes, and IBM DB2. Users can link data from other sources to build reports based on data from multiple sources.

Tutorials, templates

For beginners, many PC database systems provide on-board tutorials and a choice of templates.

New users will find Paradox 9 easy to learn, with online tutorials, database templates and other on-board wizards that teach users such functions as performing SQL queries and publishing Paradox tables and reports to a Web page.

A key new feature of many PC DBMSes is Web-enabling applications.

'Almost every government customer has some plans for Web-enabling their data and applications, and they want easy access using the Web,' said Larry Weiss, manager for mobile and embedded solutions at Oracle Service Industries in Reston, Va. 'When we talk about Web-enabling applications we're talking about an order-of-magnitude improvement in productivity,' he said.

Last year, Oracle launched Oracle8i, an Internet database designed to integrate enterprise apps, Java programs, Web sites and content. It's available in several versions, including Oracle8i Enterprise Edition, Personal Oracle8i'a single-user development database for Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT'and Oracle8i Lite, a small-footprint, Java-enabled database for mobile computing.

Corel Paradox 9's Web Form Designer lets users publish, retrieve and manage data on the Web via drag-and-drop text boxes, drop-down lists and other objects to design Web forms in what-you-see-is-what-you-get format.

Built-in Internet and intranet capabilities let users integrate Lotus Approach applications with the Web.

With Data Access Pages, Microsoft Access 2000 users can view, update and analyze data within a Web browser and can add a Data Access Page onto a Web page by simply dragging from the field list for live updates.

Common administration and integration among a vendor's database products are becoming more important as organizations' systems grow.

As a result, DBMS vendors that supply client-server databases try to leverage their product lines by providing integration from the desktop PC level to the enterprise.

Microsoft Access 2000 adds SQL Server 7.0 integration that lets users create scalable databases. With a built-in Upsizing Wizard, users can convert an Access file to a full SQL Server database.

The same is true for Oracle8i, available in Personal and Windows CE editions. These versions are for users who need compatibility with other Oracle8i database products. Replication and distribution features let users deploy work in an Oracle enterprise environment.

Some single-user applications can be used in a workgroup simply by opening it with a client-server version. For example, ACI US Inc.'s 4th Dimension Standard'a cross-platform relational database, integrated Web development and data publishing tool'is scalable to 4D Server, ACI's client-server database. 4D lets users develop an application and Web server at once.

PC complete

Computer Associates International Inc.'s Ingres II workgroup edition, although optimized for NT, can support up to 25 concurrent users, and provides a relational DBMS, including facilities for n-tier, object-oriented application development and deployment.

The PC version for Windows 3.1 and Win95 provides a complete DMBS with a replication feature to automatically synchronize changes between the PC database and Ingres server databases.

With the growth of the Internet, more users want to have their agency data shared among many devices'Unix servers, mainframe computers and PCs.

Six DBMS questions
  • How do you want to use the data?
  • How much data does the database store?
  • Can you send data to and access it from other platforms or applications?
  • Does it feature remote connectivity?
  • Do you need to generate Web pages for use on the Internet or an intranet?
  • Is it year 2000-ready?

'What they're really looking for is some kind of standardization, or common operating environment. The real challenge is taking the power of an enterprise application and bringing it down to something as small as a chip set,' Oracle's Weiss said.

For a small or remote office, Superbase Developers Inc.'s Superbase gives the user the capability to create custom databases for such uses as inventory tracking, storing personal information records, and archiving images and CAD drawings.

Remote connectivity also can be important when organizations need to track and access data from the road. U.S. Geological Survey teams, for example, typically have a lot of employees on the road with notebooks or palmtops performing land, bridge and stream surveys.

Gina M. Roos is a free-lance computer journalist in Plymouth, Mass.

These low-end DBMSes are for workgroups or single users




System requirements

Key features



San Jose, Calif.



4th Dimension

v6.5 Standard


Power Mac

6100 or higher,

Mac OS 7.61 or

higher; Windows

9x, Windows NT

For Mac OS: 20M RAM

(32M recommended),

13-inch monitor with

256 colors; for Windows:

90-MHz Pentium, 32M

RAM (48M recommended),

14-inch SVGA monitor

with 256 colors

4D Form Wizards with drag-

and-drop objects; multiple

debugger windows; Web

Serving for data management

on the Web as a standard

database task within an

integrated 4D client/server

architecture; 128GB data file

capacity; built-in query

interfaces; Report Wizard for

custom report generation

and Label Wizard for custom

label forms, with no  

programming required


Computer Associates

  International Inc.

Islandia, N.Y.



Ingres II Desktop

Windows 3.1, 95

66-MHz Intel 486

or higher, 32M RAM,

150M hard drive space

Complete desktop and

notebook DBMS for Windows;

full SQL support; OpenRoad

integration; two-way replication

with other Ingres nodes;

access to heterogeneous

databases via Ingres

Enterprise Access; Open

Database Connectivity driver;

precompilers for C and Cobol


per user

Ingres II



66-MHz Intel 486

or higher, 32M RAM,

150M hard drive space

Full SQL support, OpenRoad

integration; two-way replication

with other Ingres nodes, access

to heterogeneous databases  

via Ingres Enterprise Access;

ODBC driver; precompilers for  

C and Cobol, Advanced Query

and Reporting Tools;

character-based tools

$995 for

25 users

Corel Corp.




Paradox 9

Win9x, NT

66-MHz 486 Intel PC,

16M RAM (32 M

recommended), 65M

hard drive space,

CD-ROM drive, VGA


Online tutorial; intuitive table

structure dialog box; Visual

Database Designer for creating

and modifying tables and table

links; Expert to help create

and execute SQL queries

without typing code; Find

Duplicate Expert to eliminate

repeat entries; customizable

toolbars; can import MS Excel,

Lotus 1-2-3 or Quattro Pro and

convert into a database; can

connect to other database

apps including MS Access,

MS FoxPro, dBase; Web

Form Designer


FFE Software Inc.

El Cerrito, Calif.






Win9x, NT

Intel 486 or higher,

ODBC driver manager

pre-installed, 500K RAM,

1M hard drive space

ODBC driver for dBase;

Internet and intranet tools for

Web Server application

development, variable-length

record storage with specialized



FileMaker Inc.

Santa Clara, Calif.




Pro 4.1

Mac System

7.1 or Mac OS 8 or

higher; Windows

3.1, 9x, NT 3.51

or higher; Windows

for Workgroups


For Macintosh or Mac

OS: 8M RAM (16M or

more recommended),

CD-ROM drive; for

33-MHz Intel 486 or

higher: 8M RAM

(16M or more


CD-ROM drive

Built-in point-and-click ODBC

SQL Query Builder; support

for new European currency

symbol; ODBC importing;

Internet and intranet

capabilities for publishing

databases live to the Web;

support for customized

solutions such as Kiosk mode;

custom script menu name


Lotus Development


Cambridge, Mass.





Edition 9.5

(includes Lotus





Win9x, NT

50-MHz or higher

Intel 486, VGA adapter,

CD-ROM drive, 8M

RAM (12M

recommended) for

Win9x and 16M for NT

4.0; minimum

installation requires

100M hard drive space

(default installation

recommends 150M

additional space, and more

for optional features)

Connectivity to small and

large database systems such

as Oracle, Notes and IBM

DB2; built-in Internet and

intranet capabilities for

integrating Approach apps

to the Web without HTML

expertise; Find Assistant to

create and store complex

queries; enhanced collaborative

ability; automatic SmartFill;

Dialog Editor for creating

custom dialog boxes


Microsoft Corp.

Redmond, Wash.


www. microsoft.



Access 2000

Win9x, NT

75-MHz Intel Pentium

or higher, 8M RAM for

Access, 161M hard

drive space, CD-ROM

drive, VGA or SVGA


Customizable views and

formats; Data Access Pages

(databound HTML docs); SQL

Server integration; new Jet

Database engine; Name

AutoCorrect; scalable to SQL

Server 7.0 and Windows NT

Enterprise Edition




FoxPro 6.0

Win9x, NT

with Service

Pack 3 or later

66-MHz Intel 486 or

higher (Pentium


Microsoft Internet

Explorer 4.01 Service

Pack 1, 90M hard drive

space plus 59M for

Internet Explorer and

493M (57M typical) for

MSDN, CD-ROM drive,

100 pre-built reusable classes;

Application Wizard and Builder;

Component Gallery for organizing

and using components;

Strict Data Checking;

Coverage Profiler; Access

and Assign methods; drag-

and-drop across applications,

Active Documents; enterprise

application development

VGA or better monitor


Oracle Corp.

Redwood Shores, Calif.



Oracle8i Lite

Win9x, NT, CE;

Palm Computing


Database engine is


Web-to-go for development,

deployment and management

of mobile Web applications;

iConnect for scalable

synchronization of data and

applications between Oracle8i

Lite and central database



(per user)


  Developers Inc.

Huntington, N.Y.



Superbase 3.6i

Windows 3.x, 95,


Intel 386 or higher PC,

4M RAM, 15M RAM,

15M available hard

drive space, CD-ROM

Capable of reading 250 file

formats; rotatable text

boxes; handles integers

up to 122, 880 digits; RSA

encryption; Form Designer;

Report Designer; built-in

multidimensional  report

templates and form/report

design assistants; single and

multiuser implementations




Sybase Inc.

Emeryville, Calif.



Sybase SQL



Windows 3.1 or

higher, Windows

CE 2.0 or higher;

Palm Computing

2.0 or higher

Intel 486 or higher

with CD-ROM

drive, 8M RAM;

synchronization server

requirements include

2M RAM and 5M

hard drive space

Single or multiuser

implementation; full

transactional processing;

triggers and stores procedures;

bidirectional, scrollable and

updatable, cursors; row-level

locking; self-tuning; cost-based

query optimizer; online

backup and recovery;

embedded SQL; development

and productivity tools for

administration; Web-enabling

data; graphical database

modeling, query, analysis

and reporting


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