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Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass

GDBWIN: a Windows-based program lets you view and edit Palmtop database, Note Taker and PhoneBook files on most desktops and laptops.

By Ed Keefe

 Over the years, I've created several custom database and NoteTaker files for the HP Palmtop. Those files that contain information useful to the Palmtop community have been released into the public domain and made available on the 2000 CD InfoBase as well as on the S.U.P.E.R. site. (See the Finding Support for Your 200LX article on page 17 where some of them are listed.)

 The Problem With Databases

 The database engine on the HP Palmtop makes it relatively easy to create a database. The search and subset features of the program make it simple to sort, search for and retrieve information. However, the tiny keyboard of the Palmtop makes it frustrating to get information into the database. I have a hunch that the creation of many a database has been thwarted by this limitation of the Palmtop. My hard disk is littered with several such unfinished databases.

An Evolving Solution

 During the past seven years, I've used a variety of methods to stuff data into the Palmtop's databases. Like most beginners I started out by keying in the information on the Palmtop itself.

Then I discovered that the Notes field in the database engine would let me insert text files of up to 32K bytes. (Just press the F3 (Notes) and F3 (Insert) keys and type in the name of a text file.) I soon found that it was possible to copy and paste from a Memo file into a database file. The only problem with this was that the copy and paste clipboard on the Palmtop was limited to, at most, 10K bytes at a time. But, even with inserting, copying and pasting, data entry on the Palmtop was still a task for nimble fingers: not something I'm blessed with.

 The HP Connectivity Pack provided some relief. It let me do almost all the data entry on a desktop. The only drawback was that CPack doesn't make it easy to copy and paste. One way to perform the operation is to load a text file into Memo and copy highlighted information to the clipboard. Then close Memo, open the database and paste it in the appropriate field. (Another way is to insert text, up to 32K bytes, in an otherwise empty Notes field of a database. From the Notes field you can highlight and copy some of the information to the clipboard. Then you can select another record and paste it into the Note field. This saves opening and closing the Memo application.) To make things more difficult, CPack's clipboard is limited to about 4K bytes and there's no way to enlarge its capacity.

 I've tried other data entry techniques such as creating Comma Separated Values (CSV) files and using CPack or GDBIO to convert these text files to a database. That technique almost works, but large Note fields get truncated and have to be finished by further copying or pasting.

 An External Keyboard Proves Helpful

 Wayne Kneeskern, in his "Project Gutenberg" article, in this issue of The HP Palmtop Paper, tells how he used an external keyboard to solve the problem of data entry. Nothing beats typing all the information into a database if you want first-hand knowledge of what's in the file.

Stuck With Nowhere to Go

 All of the above techniques work but, when information comes from the World Wide Web, Word or Word Perfect documents, etc., there's the added chore of converting the information to ASCII text format and then inserting it into a DOS based database. The task is not difficult, just time-consuming.

I longed for a better solution: a Window's version of the HP database engine that would let me copy information from other Windows programs and paste it directly into the database. Ideally, the resulting database file would work with both the Windows and Palmtop's database engine without the need to convert from one platform to the other. A Windows version of the database engine would also let me view a database file on my desktop without having to use the CPack program.


 About three months ago I noticed an email on the HPLX-L mailing list from Alan Striegel. The message mentioned a Windows program called GDBWIN by a Japanese programmer. The note included a hot link to download the file.

Sad to say, the hot link didn't link, but I persisted. I did my own search of the World Wide Web and found an English description of GDBWin along with a way to get a copy of the program. Here's my version of the description and the way to get your own copy of GDBWin.

 GDBWin (Ver 0.90)

GDBWin is a program for Windows (9x/NT/2000) that lets you access GDB, NDB, and PDB files created on the HP 100/200LX. It doesn't work with Appointment Book or World Time files. The program will let you view and edit information in the database files. It will let you add or delete category words and subsets. However it will not let you create or modify a database. You must create custom databases on the Palmtop (or in CPack) before they can be accessed with GDBWin. As a result the program is of use only to owners of the HP 100/200LX Palmtops.

 Getting Your Own Copy of GDBWin

 Using your WWW browser go to www.PalmtopPaper.com and we will have instructions to guide you through the necessary steps to download your copy of GDBWin.

A Brief History of GDBWin

 The author of GDBWin, TORU MIYAMORI, apparently started working on the program in 1996 and continued to develop it up to November of 1999 when he posted the most recent version of the program on the Web. The version number (0.90) probably means that the program is not yet finished. However, work on the program seems to have come to a standstill. The author's Web site is still alive; however, repeated attempts to contact the author have proved futile. TORU states that he will only accept email written in Japanese and may or may not respond.

The Good Features

Over the past three months GDBWin has become the second most-frequently-used piece of software on my Win98 computer. First place goes to my email program.

I've used GDBWin to access copies of my current Palmtop database files and have been using it to develop a NoteTaker file of "miscellaneous reflections" (MR.NDB).

The MR.NDB file is currently at 500K bytes and growing. It contains the standard Title, Category and Notes fields common to NoteTaker files. I've been able to do all the data entry on my Win98 machine and perform such tasks as adding category words such as "analogies", "pensees", "questions", "suggestions", etc. Using GDBWin I can even create subsets and Smart clips on the fly.

If I get an idea or a question I'd like to ponder, I click on a desktop icon that is a shortcut to the MR.NDB NoteTaker file. In less than a second, the list view of the file pops up on the screen. I can press the F2 (Add) key and type in a Title for the new record. If the Note is more than a few lines long, I'll start TextPad, a Window's text editor, and type the Note, spellcheck it, reformat it and cut and paste it into the NoteTaker Notes field. Likewise, If I find an answer to a question on the WWW, I can highlight the text on the screen and copy and paste it directly into a Notes field in GDBWin.

Compared to the DOS-based, CPack program the whole operation using GDBWin is almost too slick. The ease of operation is probably why the MR.NDB file has grown to 500K bytes in a couple of months.

The GDBWin program has some other "nice" features. For one thing, there are no installation woes. Simply unpack the archive, put the files, GDBWIN.EXE and HPDBDLL.DLL, (approximately 400K bytes total) in a separate directory. Start the GDBWIN.EXE program and load a Palmtop GDB, NDB, or PDB file. Somehow, in the process of loading the file, the GDBWin program will create the necessary file-associations. From here on, you can point at any of the database files in MS Explorer, double click on them and they will automatically start the GDBWin program. If you keep all such files in a particular directory, the program will also remember that directory. Would that all Windows' programs were this easy to get started.

Once the program is automatically configured, it's possible to open several instances of the GDBWin program with different files in each. For standard NoteTaker and PhoneBook files, you can copy and paste records from one file to another. For example, I can use the CPack program to create a new database file, NEW.GDB, based on my DOSHELP.GDB file. I can then open DOSHELP.GDB and NEW.GDB, highlight selected records in DOSHELP.GDB, press CTRL+X (cut) and point at NEW.GDB and press CTRL+V (paste). It works and it sure beats CPack's extracting and merging operations.

 When I'm ready to port the file to the Palmtop, I simply insert a PC card, copy the MR.NDB file to it and put the PC card in the Palmtop. It's ready to go on the road: no muss, no fuss.

 Repairing Broken Database Files

 No, GDBWin will not automatically repair database files. However, it will attempt to load broken databases and display the records, in list view up to the point where the file starts to become corrupt. In the list view, all records beyond that point will appear empty. Yet, if you move the highlight bar to the first broken record and press Enter, the contents of the record may appear. Using Windows copy and paste techniques, you can transfer the information to a text editor, delete the bad record and see if there are any more bad records. Once you've cleaned up the database you can add the records back in.

A couple of my databases had several spots that gave the error message, "Record not found." I was able to repair them quickly and almost effortlessly.

 The Not So Good Features

 The one, glaring limitation of GDBWin is that there is no English instruction file. That wouldn't be so bad except that GDBWin's pull-down menus use the Japanese character set and there are no Help screens other than the "About" help screen.

That limitation would ordinarily be enough to make the program worthless for non-Japanese users. However, if you're familiar with the ways in which most Windows programs work, you may be able to figure out some of the capabilities of GDBWin. Otherwise, if you're familiar with the way the function keys work in a Palmtop database application, you can also coax GDBWin into being useful.

At the bottom of the GDBWin window, there are buttons that emulate the function keys on the Palmtop. The F1(Help) button is greyed out but the F2 (Add) through the F10 (Close) buttons are there and operate in much the same fashion as they do on the Palmtop. You can click the F3 button (or press the F3 function key) to display the Notes field, press F5 to create or modify a Subset definition, etc. You can also press the CTRL+D key to open or close a Data Card view. The only function key that doesn't work is the F8 (Columns) key. However, if you want to widen a column, you can use the Windows technique of dragging the separator bar in the top row of the list view. (See coldrag.gif.)

 A Little Help From a User

 Since my computer does not display Japanese characters and I don't read Japanese, I've only been able to guess at all the features of the GDBWin program. I've managed to figure out almost 75% of what the program can do: I'm not sure about the other 25%. Some of the features may not be implemented or I just don't know what to do with dialog boxes and pull down menus that show only a few letters and blank lines.

To help you get started with GDBWIn, here is my understanding of what all the pull-down menus are supposed to do.

I. File Menu

 A. Open File (CTRL+O)

 B. Save

 C. Save as...

 D. Close file (prompt to save)

 E. Exit File (prompt to save)


 History list


 F. Exit the Program

 I. Edit Menu

 A. Display Record

 B. Insert (Add) F2

 C. Delete Record (Del)

 D. Undo (CTRL+Z)

 E. Cut (CTRL+X)

 F. Copy (CTRL+C)

 G. Paste (CTRL+V)

 H. Select All (CTRL+A)

 III. View Menu

 A. Subset (F6)

B. Sort (F7)

 C. Column (F8)

The column button doesn't work. Instead, use the mouse to temporarily widen a column in list view. There is no way to move whole columns to the left or right in list view.

D. Notes (F3)

 E. Data Card (CTRL+D)

 F. ???

 G. Top Tool Bar (toggle on/off)

 H. Bottom Status Line (toggle on/off)

 IV. Search Menu

 A. Find (F4)

B. Find Again (Shift F4)

 C. Reverse search (Shift F3)

 D. Search Next (Shift F2)

 E. Previous (F6) (Available only in page view)

 F. Next (F7) (Available only in page view)

 V. Options Menu

 A. Smart Clip (F5) ???

B. Configuration (Tabs)

 1. Size of fields

 a.The slider sets the height of the fields in the record view.

 b. The 'V' checkbox bevels the fields in the record view

 c. The 'F' checkbox widens the fields in the record view to Full width, independent of the width of the list view.

 2. Color ???

 The 'S' button opens a color selection box.

 Most of the color buttons within the slider box don't seem to have any function. Toward the bottom of the list, the two Note options let you set the text and background colors for the Notes full window display.

3. Sets various fonts throughout the program. I have set my Notes field to use Trebuchet MS, 12, Normal font style. The other options let you set the fonts for the list view and the record view.

 4. Select default folder for extracting data with Smart cards, I think. I have the 'D', GDB ('M') and 'E' checkboxes set with C:\temp\ as the directory. The Note__RichEdit__ checkbox is unchecked.

 5. iPex ???

 Never having tried iPex, I don't know what this dialog box is supposed to do. The 'D' button puts a check in the checkbox and the 'B' button selects a default directory for graphics files, perhaps.

 6. Sets the date and time formats for use throughout the database.

 7. The radio buttons choose between two different 'LX' options and a GDBWin option. I have tried various choices but didn't notice any difference.

 VI. Help Menu

 A. Presents an "About" window with an automatic scrolling presentation about the GDBWin program most of which is blank.

 B. The second item (a blank underline) presents an OK box. When you click OK, another large window opens. The only thing readable in this window is the "Export Table" button. Clicking the button seems to do nothing. The window with three tab buttons, likewise, appears to be a stub for further development of the program.

 C. ??? The third help option leads to a GDBDump dialog box. The one or two readable things in the window seem to indicate that this option is for CSV dumps of the data. However, there does not appear to be a way to make "dumps" happen within the program.

Summing Up

 There are several options that remain a mystery. I've indicated these with a triple question mark (???) in the text. If you figure out what these options are supposed to do, please let me know.

 The GDBWin program, in spite of its unfinished feel, is still one of my favorite ways to use Win98. I have yet to see GDBWin crash the operating system. It works well-well enough that I wish the author would have completed this excellent piece of programming and made it useful for English usage. It truly makes viewing and modifying the contents of database files a lot easier than CPack or even the LX itself.


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