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Database Programs for the HP 95LX

Database Programs for the HP 95LX

PHONE is a remarkably robust database program. However, there are a number of other more sophisticated database programs available. Take a look at Notes95, fastNOTES!, Pocket Sales Force, Info Manager, and QA Palm.

[In this article Marty looks at database programs for use as Personal Information Managers. However, these databases can be used generically to handle many types of information for business, medicine, scientific research, engineering, education and many other professions -- Editor.]

By Marty Mankins

The main reason I purchased the 95LX was so that I could have a Personal Information Manager (PIM) with me at all times. I want to have access to phone numbers, notes, schedules and to-do lists wherever I am. I was also tired of having Post-its stuck all over the place, occasionally falling behind desks and getting lost.

The 95LX's built-in APPT, PHONE, and MEMO were a godsend. But I always thought it would be nice to have just one program handle all of this. In past issues of The HP Palmtop Paper we've seen the remarkable flexibility of the PHONE application. It has been used as a phone call tracker, a "cut-and-paste" database, medical information library, and much, much more. (Page 42 of this issue shows how a subscriber uses PHONE as a to-do list.) PHONE is indeed a simple but flexible database program that can be used creatively to handle many PIM functions. But it is not the only database program available for the 95LX.

This article will look at four database programs and one "screen generator" for the 95LX. I'll briefly describe how each works and it's main features. I'll also look at how easy it is to get up and running on each product, and who should use the product. I'll also discuss how each can be used as a PIM. So let's see how to get organized!

Notes95 (ON DISK)

If all you need is a quick and easy way to organize the odd notes and other information you jot down during the day, check this program out. Not system compliant.

This program lets you take down and quickly organize notes, important ideas, to-do lists, etc. The notes are sorted by the date they were entered, but you can do searches on key words and create subsets of the notes relating to a specific topic. It's main goal is to make taking notes easy -- Notes95 accomplishes that goal!

If your needs are not demanding, Notes95 could be used for the to-do and daily notes functions of a basic PIM. Each entry could serve as a note, appointment, or to-do item.

Notes95 has a command menu similar to the 95LX's built-in applications. You can access the program's commands by pressing (MENU), highlighting the command and pressing (ENTER). Or press (MENU) and the first letter of the command. For example, to find a note with a word or phrase in it, press (MENU) Find. To sort the notes in your file by the date they were entered, press (MENU) Date. You can also assign an Urgent status to notes and then display all your "urgents" by pressing (MENU) Urgent.

Notes95 Display of Notes:  Graphic

 Unfortunately, once you have used Find or Urgent to select a subset of the notes, there is no list command to display all the notes again. The only way I discovered to show all notes is to put a common word in each note and then do a find for that word.

The main file (NOTE95.ZIP (ON DISK)), has six files archived in it. Only NOTES95.EXE (non-system compliant -- must be run from DOS) is required to run the program and create new data files. NOTES95.ACC has some sample notes in it and might help you get used to using the program.

To install the program, copy the NOTES95.EXE file to your 95LX. It's recommended that you create a separate directory to put this file in, as all data files will be stored in the same place as the program file. To run the program, press (FILER), highlight NOTES95.EXE and press (F4). If you loaded NOTES95.ACC in the same directory, it will automatically load into Notes95 when you start.

fastNOTES!

Freeform database that lets you create, organize, and edit notes, and display them on the screen as overlapping windows. FastNOTES can be used with SWITCH! 2.0 to pop-up over the built-in applications or run from DOS.

FastNOTES! is a full-featured note taking program, storing information in screen "windows." These windows can be moved around the screen, set up to overlap, and increased or decreased in size (you can expand a note to take up the whole screen).

fastNOTES Screen:  Graphic

 Notes are numbered as they are created. Each time you make a new note, the number increments by one. You can add a description to each note that briefly describes what the note is about (press (F7) in Edit mode). For example, you could enter "TODO1" for your first priority to-dos, or you could enter "Miller" for notes relating to a client named Miller.

FastNOTES! can import and export text files, allowing you to consolidate multiple files into one place. I imported all of my MEMO text files into one fastNOTES! data file (one note for each MEMO file) and put the MEMO filename in the description field. It's very useful to have my MEMO notes consolidated. When I can't remember which specific note I'm looking for, I can search for notes based on a word or phrase in the note. I can also sort this file by pressing (F9) to list the notes and O to order them.

FastNOTES! could function as a limited PIM. You could keep important information with you in note form. You could keep to-do lists associated with a specific topic, important information (like car repairs, monthly goals, daily expenses meeting notes, etc.).

Individual appointments could be placed in note form, but I think they would get lost in the rest of the notes. It may be possible to keep separate data files, one for notes and one for appointments, and switch back and forth between them.

FastNOTES! uses either single character or function-key commands. For example, press New or (F7) to create a new note. You can also press (MENU) to access a command menu. You can also bring up the help menu by pressing (F1). This gives you a complete list of the functions you have available. It takes a little time to learn the commands, but once you've got them down, fastNOTES! is pretty easy to use.

I reviewed a pre-release version of fastNOTES! and did not get a chance to test the automatic installation features of the program. All of the program files should go in the same directory. I created A:\FASTNOTE and manually copied the program files there. There are two FastNOTES! configuration utilities that I was able to use and test. FASTCFG.EXE lets you change what a note looks like when it's on the top of the pile, in the background, or being edited. You can also use it to change the default size of new notes and allow backup files to be created. FNOTECFG.EXE lets you specify the default directory and the size of the memory block for the program. The main program file, FASTNOTE.EXE, is pretty small (54K). The program is SWITCHable, which means that it runs from DOS or it will act like a system-compliant program if it is used with SWITCH! 2.0, also available from ACE Technologies.

FastNOTES! also comes with FASTNREN.EXE, a utility to renumber your notes. This is useful if you've deleted some entries in between old and new notes. FastNOTES! specially formats its notes and stores them in a file with a .UNO extension. FastNOTES! comes with PBK2UNO.EXE, a small 10K utility that converts a Phone Book file into the fastNOTES! format. It's great for bringing your phone book entries into fastNOTES!

FastNOTES! is a more 95LX compatible version of UNO (ON DISK), discussed on page 10 of the July/August 1992 issue.

Pocket Sales Force

PSF is a system-compliant contact manager built around a user-definable database that lets you save names, phone numbers and notes or other information. PSF reminds you of people to call or places to be, but there is no way to set an appointment for a specific time.

If you need a database already customized for contact management, check out PSF first. (See page 8 of the May/ June 92 issue for more on PSF.)

PSF's opening screen lists a menu of seven functions: Action Today! lets you cue up a list of contacts which are due action today; Find company records lets you search by any field in the database for a contact; Input new sales leads lets you add records; Process new sales leads finds and displays contacts that have not been assigned a date for next action; Setup lets you create a new database, configure the program, and change the names of the user-defined fields in the database; Export to 1-2-3 puts the database into a Lotus format so that it can be imported into 1-2-3.

Pocket Sales Force Data Screen:  Graphic

 Pocket Sales Force (PSF) starts out with a big plus -- it is System- Manager compliant. PSF.EXM (the main program file) is transferred over by an installation program. It took me about five minutes to install the program and then another 20 seconds to start SWITCH! 2.0 from ACE Technologies, and assign the program to (ALT)-(APPT). (If you don't have SWITCH!, check the PSF user manual for APNAME.LST installation instructions. More information on using the APNAME.LST file can be found on page 9 of the Mar/Apr 1992 issue.)

The 32-page user's manual was helpful, but hard to understand at times. I ended up just going into the program and entering data.

There were some small quirks that I ran into. One problem was saving a new entry. The documentation says that you need to press (ESC) to save a record. I had to press (ESC) two or three times before a record was confirmed as being saved. Also, I was a bit confused when the record I just entered did not automatically appear in the Action Today list. I finally figured out that you had to go to the Process New Sales Leads option and assign an Action date to the record. It then will appear in the Action Today list for that date.

Other than those small problems, PSF is a great program. If you are handling a lot of information on your contacts and need something more feature laden, you also might take a look at ACT! by Contact Software (see page 5, May/Jun 92 issue).

INFO Manager

Combines a simple, free-form approach to storing information with powerful search features. Particularly useful for people who need to store different types of data (freeform text, contact information, numerical data) in one database.

A first glance, INFO Manager appears to be a simple, three-field database like the 95LX's built-in Phone Book. Instead of Name, Number and Address, each INFO Manager entry stores its information in Author/Date, Headline, and Information fields.

Main INFO Manager Screen: Graphic

 The Author/Date field contains information on who entered the information and when they entered it ("Rich/5-21"). The Headline field is for name or title of the entry ("Database Article").

Two features make Info Manager powerful. The first is its flexible Information field, which can hold unstructured text (i.e. draft of an article) or structured information stored in "Forms" (i.e. invoices, purchase orders, etc.). A programming language and linking between "Forms" allow the development of sophisticated business applications.

The second powerful feature is INFO Manager's ability to search the database for specific criteria or key words and create Lists, or subsets of the database. The Pick List function automatically keeps track of the last 50 entries you have created or modified. You can quickly display the Headline of each of these entries in a list, for quick review and selection. In addition, you can enter and search on one or more key words placed in the Information field.

INFO Manager could be used as an effective to-do list. The date due and person responsible could be kept in the Author/Date field; a brief description of the item in the Headline field; and more complete information, including notes, contact addresses, reference material, etc., in the Information field. The pick list would give you a quick look at the last 50 to-dos, or you could do a more specific search on the person responsible, dates due, and key words.

INFO Manager has other powerful features, including the ability to edit your data, create macros for repetitive key strokes, print reports, and transfer information between the program and other software applications.

The current version of INFO Manager has problems installing with a data compression program loaded in the 95LX. This makes it difficult to use with Stacker 2.0 or ACE DoubleCards. I did install it successfully on my SunDisk 10MB Flash ROM card.

INFO Manager comes with a desktop PC version and a system compliant 95LX version that share features. You can download the INFO Manager database into your 95LX for portability, and upload any changes to your desktop PC when you return to the office. The 95LX version is system compliant, your INFO Manager data file will have the same size limitations as the built-in applications (approximately 50K of data).

qaPalm 1.0: a "Screen Generator"

qaPalm lets users create a customized screen for collecting data. However, you must export the data file to another database program if you want to sort it or generate reports. Therefore, qaPALM can not be used as a stand-alone database program.

qaPalm is a program that lets you design a data entry screen. qaPalm is actually two programs; a screen generator and a run-time module. The screen generator runs on a MS-DOS desktop computer. qaPalm displays a region 40 characters wide by 14 lines long in the middle of your PC's display. Creating a data entry form is as easy as moving the cursor to a spot on the screen, typing in the label of the field, and setting the attributes and field types with the Field Options menu and submenus. qaPalm comes with an emulation feature that lets you test the data entry screen on your PC before transferring it to the 95LX.

After you have created the data entry screen you desire, the screen generator creates a data entry runtime program that you transfer to the 95LX.

qaPalm creates a data collection program, not a true database. You use it to collect data qaPalm's own file format. You can then download the file to a dBASE file format for use with another dBASE-compatible database.

qaPalm does not have report generating, searching, or sorting capabilities. However, while running a qaPalm application on the 95LX, you can press (ALT)-Lotus to create a Lotus 1-2-3 file (same filename, .WK1 extension). You can then use 1-2-3 to analyze, sort, or develop reports.

Product Comparison Table

 After you have created the run-time module, you can use DOS Connect and qaPalm to transfer the data entry program from your desktop to the 95LX. qaPalm automatically creates a subdirectory to hold the program, a subdirectory to hold related files, and a batch file to run the program on your 95LX. The data collection program is not system-compliant and must be run from FILER.

The runtime program will work on the earlier 512K Palmtop, but a 1MB 95LX with a RAM card is recommended for serious use.

Other Database Programs

These additional database programs were not tested for this article.

ACT! -- a powerful, popular contact management program built-around a database. See page 5, May/Jun 1992 issue for more information.

EFMS (ON DISK) -- Everyone's Information Management System is a simple flat-file database with user defined screens, indexes, and simple report generation capabilities. See PTP Sep/ Oct 92 page 46.

InfoSelect - a "random information processor" that makes it easy to save and later find odd pieces of information that never seem to fit into a regular database. See page 35, Jan/ Feb 93 issue for using it on the 95LX. Lotus 1-2-3 -- built into the 95LX. Can be used as text database. See HP 95LX User's Guide, page 5-2 for more information.

KIV - Keep In View is a cross between an outliner and a free-form database. See PTP Sep/Oct 92 page 48.
 
 

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