SAN MATEO (03/13/2000) - If the formula for a killer application is to combine powerful and unique features with ease of use and a reasonable sticker price, then Database Commander 1.10 (Enterprise Manager Edition) by CDA International Ltd.'s Manifold.net easily reaches critical mass -- and then some.
Database Commander is a powerful query generation and database modification tool that grafts a friendly user interface onto troublesome data files and large back-end databases, regardless of whether you're using Access, dBase, FoxPro, Paradox, Excel, Lotus, text, HTML, ODBC, SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase, or Btrieve. The software can also let you change, update, calculate, query, analyze, chart, and drill down into your data by simply pointing and clicking.
In short, Commander offers as much power as major database transformation and warehousing tools that cost thousands of dollars more. It's a strong package whether you work with a large database management system and SQL code, interact with diverse data sources on a regular basis, or simply need quick sales and marketing statistics.
The package offers full query capabilities via a drag-and-drop dialog box that lets you build SQL queries instantly and save them for future use. A separate window at the bottom of the dialog box displays the statement you're building in its native SQL format. Moreover, although earlier versions of Commander only ran select SQL queries (all other data definition and manipulation was handled by Commander's custom routines), the Enterprise Manager Edition offers full operational functionality.
For fast data manipulation throughout an entire field, simply select the target field, select the operation you want to perform from a drop-down list that offers over 100 string, date, currency, numeric, and Boolean operations, and add the updated field name. Commander can copy one field to another, even transforming field types -- such as numeric to text or vice versa -- while the copying is in progress. And because Commander's search and replace features offer pinpoint precision, it's easy to amend your database with case-and text-sensitive criteria.
Commander also lets you see the relationships within your data more easily and concisely than most packages costing thousands of dollars more. For example, Commander can work on a relational data set of customers and orders to quickly return statistics such as averages, variances, maximums, and minimums. Those figures can then be saved as extra fields. You can see how many records fit your description and select individual records with a single click. If you want to see your selected records in a group, one click will put them into a separate window for further review and processing. You can easily work on a current selection, thereby transforming, analyzing, charting, or even saving only those records in the selection to a new file. In fact, the analysis features are so flexible that you can even copy and paste database tables, relations, queries, and records between Commander sessions and other applications.
Commander also offers a useful charting feature that lets you graph grouped fields and view charted records. The bars, wedges, and points in your chart act as handles that allow you to drill back into your data. Click a bar, for example, to automatically highlight the records that comprise it, or use Ctrl-click to highlight records from multiple bars at once.
And these features are just the tip of the iceberg. If you click a record or field and then its context menu, Commander will use a mix of artificial intelligence and automated fuzzy-searching logic to track down more records such as the current one. You can retrieve records that have similar record or cell contents, or search for a series of criteria across several fields.
There is also a more sophisticated search tool called Decision Support. Simply create a profile specifying the desirability (from 0 to 100 percent) of various possible values in one database field. For example, you might create a profile called "Mature" that specifies the desirability of various ages taken from the "Median Age" field in your database. You might then create another profile called "Affluent," showing the desirability of various values taken from the "Household Median Income" field. Each profile describes your sought-after values in a single database field by evaluating the selected data against customizable presets (such as low, average, and high). Decision Support will then sift through the entire database, comparing the age and household income values of each record to the "Mature" and "Affluent" profiles, ranking each record based on the desirability of its values.
The new version of Commander includes a client application that retrieves data from a Microsoft SQL server OLAP (online analytical processing) services provider and performs local analysis and presentation of data from multidimensional databases. (This feature is available only in the Enterprise Manager edition.) The application connects to the OLAP server using OLE DB and offers several advantages over other OLAP browsers, such as mathematical computation and data filtering, data export from cubes retrieved with MDX (Multidimensional Expressions) queries to a wide variety of formats, copy and paste support to transfer results into Commander for further analysis, and easy integration with interactive data.
One potential drawback to Commander is that it's very Microsoft-centric. The package was clearly designed for Windows 9x, NT, and Windows 2000, and it is at its best when working with SQL server or Access. In my tests, all of Commander's specialized utilities (such as the Query and Formula Builders, Charting, More Like This, and Decision Support) worked without a hitch -- but since Commander uses the notoriously pokey Jet database engine, it can be very slow when it comes to sorting or grouping (and, in some cases, when it's working with exotic data sources such as dBase, Paradox, or ODBC). Another important limitation is that Commander can't save your queries unless you save your work as an Access file, which can be inconvenient if Access isn't your native format. Still, Database Commander is a powerful package that scores a Very Good rating for its power, utility, and price.
Geoff Hollander (firstname.lastname@example.org) owns and operates Northwest Database Services, in Lake Oswego, Ore.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
Database Commander 1.10
Business Case: Company decision-makers, sales staff, and marketing personnel can use this package to learn about relationships within their data that were previously unobtainable without expensive high-end apps or IS involvement.
Technology Case: Commander is compatible with a wide range of database formats, although its use of the Jet database engine can slow down processes with more obscure formats. Internet Explorer 4.0 (or later) is required to enable ActiveX.
+ Connects to virtually any data source, including large back-end databases such as SQL Server and Oracle+ Performs complex operations with single-click simplicity+ HTML format support enables easy Web data captureCons:
- Overreliance on Access and SQL Server makes some operations (such as sorting) slow- Skimpy documentationCost: $145Platform(s): Windows 95/98, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 2000Manifold.net; Carson City, Nev.; (800) 556-5919 www.manifold.net.