Dyce & Sons Ltd.

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4D 6.5 Developer Edition

Tuesday 28th September, 1999

4D Developer Edition 6.5 is a rapid application development tool (RAD), which enables you to build complex relational databases for the Mac, PC or the Web.

Databases are constructed through tables (the traditional method), and each table can be made up of a number of different fields, which together model objects or concepts - employees or company cars, for example. These can then be linked to create relations, matching a particular employee to a particular car from the company pool. Tables are displayed graphically, and links are created using a simple drag-and-drop process.

Workable databases can be built in fairly short order, as 4D has a number of automation features for creating simple entry forms and report layouts from a set of related tables. However, 4D also includes a powerful object-based language: methods (executable code) can be attached to objects, forms and menus for controlling database processes and user interface behaviour.

4D has always been a tool for an in-house developer or a database consultant who is deploying databases to a number of different clients. It has many advantages over other packages, such as FileMaker, in this scenario. Code and data are contained in separate files, making code updates and changes to the application easier. It can be run either in an interpreted mode or a compiled mode - the latter involves extra licensing costs, but provides massive speed improvements, and gives the developer more protection for their valuable proprietary code, which is heavily extensible.

Veteran 4D users will notice a swathe of improvements, which can be grouped together under two headings: features and pricing policy.

Feature-wise, version 6.5 is faster. Given more memory, indexing is much quicker (which means faster sorts and queries), and you can choose how you want the indexing optimised for queries or updates. This is particularly good if you’re building a CD-ROM database, which isn’t going to have any records added and so won’t involve updating. And if you’re performing an operation that used to invoke a progress bar, this doesn’t show up unless the process takes more than a second. ACI claims that deletion, import/ export, client/server transfer, and set and array functions have also been accelerated.

There are improvements to the Web server, the most important of which is the new non-context mode - users can now use the Back and Reload commands in the browser. A set of Internet-related commands have also been added for working with email and FTP.

The programming interface itself has been improved, with command syntax and errors being displayed in the method editing window, as well as new Find Editor and Runtime Explorer windows for searching the entire database structure (expressions, variables, table/field names, forms and comments) and analysing how your database behaves during use. The user interface improvements are numerous, but the inclusion of animated buttons, resizable form areas, dynamic table and field names, the ability to modify form objects, sizes and colours using a method, and the inclusion of a Picture Editor for creating icons for use in 4D, are worth particular mention. The CD documentation - in HTML and PDF - is still a sore point, but with over 4000 pages on a CD, it’s hard to see how this could be improved.

There are corresponding improvements to the pricing policy, with the Standard version at £195 and the Developer version at £495. Both contain an interpreted runtime as standard, as well as the new 4D Internet commands, so you can produce CD-ROM databases straight out of the box. However, the developer version also contains 4D Compiler for producing machine-coded versions of your database; 4D Insider for copying code and objects between databases; a new version of 4D Write, the word-processing plug-in; 4D Draw the graphics plug-in; 4D Backup; and 4D Open, which provides a programmer’s API for 4D operations. In other words, you get the full development environment, including Web functionality - but excluding the multi-user Server and 4D Calc, which is being dropped anyway - for £495.

With 4D, however, the rub always came with cost of deployment. Once you’ve developed your database, you still needed to shell out for licences. Things have changed slightly. As well as alterations to the Web server licensing (see sidebar), single- and multi-user licensing has also changed. For each single-user deployment of a compiled application, you can now provide 4D plus the two main plug-ins, 4D Write and 4D Draw, for £130. This price drops if you have enough users to buy the unlimited licences - £595 each for the 4D engine or either of the two plug-ins. In terms of cost comparison, there’s still a premium over, say, FileMaker, but the maintenance benefits and slew of new features more than account for this.

The multi-user angle is different. If your database is multi-user, you’ll need the server extension (£695) and additional users (starting at £195 per client). The balance makes it a more expensive option for small installations, but better for large sites.

The 4D Developer package is a superb product, providing a well-thought-out balance between interface, functionality and maintenance. All in all, a very tempting developer alternative to FileMaker.


Powerful RAD program with built-in Web server, enabling fast creation of databases.

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Rating 4.5
Manufacturer ACI
Pros Powerful, fast, built-in Web server and Internet functionality ˜ Includes interpreted runtime
Cons Steep learning curve
Price 495
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 15, Issue: 18, p26