Strengths of R:BASE

Microrim Exchange Journal

Volume 13, Number 4
July-August 1996


by A. Razzak Memon, M.D., M.P.H.

R:BASE provides the strength of a mainframe DBMS yet the ease-of-use of an entry level system. This is in sharp contrast with other systems which either have strength and lack user-friendliness, or are wonderfully easy to use, but fall far short on power to run serious applications.

In the early years, many organizations created their own database structures, commonly Sequential Access Method structures, because it didn't cost money up front. However, they spent considerably more in programming costs over the long run. They're still paying the price for this "free" database methodology because many organizations can't seem to break away from these incredibly complex, almost unintelligible structures. Even today, these Sequential Access Method structures require a historical knowledge of the data, which means tremendous job security for those who programmed them to begin with.

Along came "relational" database systems and brought order to data management by organizing data into logical groups, then providing a logical way to work with the data by relating the groups together. At the same time, Structured Query Language (SQL) emerged which allows for efficient manipulation of the data between these groups, as well as providing an easy and logical method for asking questions across these groups of data. In the mainframe world (you know those monstrous computer systems everyone used to gleefully predict would become extinct, well they're still alive and going strong), people rely upon relational database systems.

Ask any major organization in the public or private sector around the world and you will likely find they entrust their mission critical data to an SQL based, relational database system like Oracle (TM), Sybase(TM), Informix(TM), or DB2(TM). Indeed, despite the inexplicable popularity of flat file systems like dBASE(TM) (also a sequential access method system), the entire industry is "wising up" and moving rapidly to SQL based, relational database systems, and away from sequential access systems.

Wayne Erickson, founder of Microrim, "wised up" long ago and built an incredible system for the desktop around the same model and principles of data management that major organizations have on their mainframes. Let me fill you in on something else. If you were to get a job working with any one of these RDBMS industry leader's databases, you would be astonished at how similar they are to working with R:BASE. They all have the same concepts of one-to-many relationships, views and joins, primary and foreign keys, commit and rollback, and, most importantly SQL.

At the same time R:BASE provides you with this tremendous power, it does so with the kindness and gentleness of an entry level system. Long ago, Wayne Erickson knew that the emerging personal computer industry would be dominated by those without formal training in either programming or relational theory. He devised a system that would allow end-users to build complete business applications without programming experience. In addition, he knew the value of SQL and wanted to share its wonders with end-users by displaying the easy to learn SQL commands as one made menu selections to perform their tasks. Some of you R:BASE veterans will clearly remember Prompt-By-Example, the one outstanding feature that let me know right away that this was a database system with a "philosophy" like no other.

I have evaluated and worked with nearly all of the competitive database systems at one time or another. The many early "easy-to-use" systems commonly fell short on power. One could easily build a system, but only for minor tasks. They were not designed with the power to run a business, they were designed to get someone going quickly.

Even today, other database vendors like Microsoft and Borland provide "gimmicks" which feign ease-of-use in their systems. Yet this gimmickry cloaks a very complex system underneath. If your objective is to build a system to keep a small list of wedding invitations, scouts, or club members, you can build it, "bing-bang-boom" and you're done. However, if you need to build something more sophisticated, something on which you can run your business, and manage large volumes of data, the ease-of-use facade falls off and you are stuck with a complex programming environment. You will either have to become a programmer or hire a programmer.

R:BASE, on the other hand, starts with tools that are easy to use and require no programming. Granted, there is still a learning curve involved, but it is a steady, smooth learning curve that will quickly get you to building a complete application.

I often consult with large corporations that have two environments, the "little" and the "big" environments. They select products they think are easy to use for their "little" environments, such as departmental level tasks. Then there is the "big" environment which has all the official company data. They ask me as a consultant if I can help them get pieces of their data from the "big" environment down to the "little" environments.

Once I asked a particular client how much data they had in their "big" environment, and they told me, "Oh, it's a lot of data, over 50 megabytes!" I nearly laughed out loud. Then I started finding more and more incidents of clients who think they need a mainframe and expensive relational database because their volume of data ranges from 100 to 500 megabytes. In my experience, R:BASE can handle this volume of data with no problem. R:BASE has been documented to handle as much as 10 gigabytes of data.

R:BASE can effectively combine the "big" and "little" environments by providing the ease of use needed in the "little" environments, at the same time it can provide the power and performance needed in the "big" environments. Most importantly, it can perform this amazing feat for a fraction of the costs!