REVIEWS

Report for Duty

Ocean Software's Complete Access puts information at your fingertips

by Seth Ross

Whether data lives on water-cooled iron or a web of workstations, it only has value when people can access it and put it into useful, readable reports. Drafting business reports from corporate databases, though, has typically been grunt work.

But that could change with the combination of NeXT's DBKit and Ocean Software's Complete Access, a report-writing application based on modular and interchangeable components.

Complete Access puts an arsenal of data querying, fetching, and reporting tools at the disposal of a programmer or advanced user. Finished Complete Access documents (called "containers") generate reports (called "layouts") that can be run at will by novice users.

If you're an executive or technologist that regularly must analyze and report on vast arrays of data, you should seriously consider this application. Given the right situation, Complete Access could justify the adoption of NEXTSTEP.

We evaluated late beta versions of Complete Access 1.0 and found that it provided easy access to data living on a Sybase server. All but a few features were functioning in the version we reviewed, and the rest should be complete by the time this review appears in print.

The component is the message

A Complete Access container is divided into five component types: Model, Data Set, Layouts, Queries, and Calculations. Components can be created separately and then mixed and matched to create different containers.

Complete Access is designed to work with any relational database engine that has a DBKit adapter, including Sybase and Oracle. Strictly a reporting device, the program cannot administer or build a database, nor is it designed to let you make changes. The Model component is used to connect either directly to the database or to models created with the DBModeler app, which is included with NEXTSTEP Developer. This process will typically require someone with database experience.

Using the Data Set component, you can suck in data from a wide variety of sources. The database defined by the Model component is the common choice. But you can also import Tab-limited text files created by other applications like DataPhile or Improv. Just drag the file from the Workspace Manager and drop it in the Data Set Inspector's well.

Laying out the data

Now the power user with little database experience can get into the act. The core of Complete Access is the Layout component, which produces the physical documents and deliverables. It's a snap to lay out data in a wide variety of common report formats, including mail-merged form letters, labels, and envelopes.

Complete Access allows you to toggle between a design mode and a browser mode. In design mode, the app provides a battery of design tools arranged in a horizontal tool bar, including drawing tools and a variety of objects (like text fields, memos, checkboxes, or pictures) that can hold data from your database. Simply click the appropriate mini-icon and start drawing your layout's fields.

Quick queries

Queries determine which data will be retrieved from a database. One barrier to the widespread adoption of SQL databases is the difficulty of mastering SQL's syntax. Complete Access obliterates this barrier.

You don't have to know a shred of SQL to compose complex database queries with Complete Access. New queries begin with at least one query criteria a formula that sets up the query. To build a query, simply select and drag a field from the table browser and drop it on the query criteria. Click the Relational Operator button and choose from operators like <, , =, >, , and so on. Finally, type in a parameter you want to match. For example, say you need to search a customer database for anyone by the name of Jones. Drop the name field into the criteria. Select the relational operator "=" and use "Jones" as the parameter. You've set up a query that will retrieve records with "Jones" in the name field.

Complete Access lets you seamlessly create complex queries with multiple criteria, which are often built around these operators: AND, NOT AND, OR, and NOT OR. It's fairly simple to query for, say, the customers who don't have a California address and who have ordered more than $500 worth of product. If you know SQL, you can bypass the graphical query builder and directly input SQL queries.

The CA advantage

The modular approach of Complete Access represents a boon for individuals and workgroups alike. Any component can be detached from a container and saved in a library. By loading up the library with commonly used components that you can drag and drop into your containers, you save time down the road. Why set up that complicated tax calculation if your co-worker has already figured it out? Why set up a query from scratch if you developed and stored a similar one several months ago? Administrative employees could be taught to run existing containers with almost no training and soon be creating new containers out of tried-and-true components.

One notable absence in this version of Complete Access is charting, the staple of business reports. Ocean will include charting features in Version 1.1, and anyone who buys Version 1.0 is entitled to a free upgrade.

Missing features aside, Complete Access should represent a valuable tool for those who live and die by reports. It's easy enough for the novice yet does not arbitrarily hold back the expert. Assuming that Ocean Software is able to polish its beta version into a solid shipping product, Complete Access should earn a place on the Dock of every database junkie.

Seth Ross is the publisher of San Francisco-based Albion Books and a contributing editor to NeXTWORLD.


Complete Access 1.0b5 (beta)

4 Cubes

Complete Access is a graphical report writer that allows both novice and expert to seamlessly query, fetch, and present data from SQL databases. The app's modular approach allows users to reuse and share major report components.

$499

Ocean Software, 4241 Baymeadows Rd. #12, Jacksonville, FL 32217.

904/363-1646, 904/636-5856 fax; info@oceansoft.com.