Saturday 28th April, 2001
4D 6.7 is a suite of cross- platform, professional-quality database products including single user, developer and server versions. It provides the tools necessary for designing and maintaining complex relational databases for the Mac, PC or the Web.
Based on a traditional approach to relational databases, 4D gives you a graphical interface in which to build your database tables: one for each object type or concept with which you wish to work - customers, invoices, parts and so forth. You can then link your tables together, using drag-and-drop, to create relationships between your invoice and customer tables, for example. 4D provides tools, including powerful assistants, which can automate the process of building the forms to let you enter, edit and manipulate the data within the tables and reports to output the data as meaningful information.
Object of desire
An object-based, fourth-generation programming language lets you interact with the tables, control the interface elements, handle multi-user processes and deal with browser requests from the Web. Because it’s object based, it’s simple to attach code (methods) to objects, forms and menus. In fact, 4D lets you build your own menu bar and use it instead of the default user-mode bar.
4D’s programming language also gives you access to database system-level information and provides the programming niceties you would expect in a decent environment, but which are still lacking in plug-in-free versions of FileMaker Pro.
It offers programmatic access to interface objects (such as sliders, thermometer and dial indicators and drag-and-drop elements), variables with proper scoping, management tools for handling versioning and updating of the code base.
It also provides debugging tools for monitoring your solutions in use and a compiler for turning a standard interpreted database into a faster, leaner, user-proof version, which is capable of running on an off-the-shelf 4D server application.
In other words, with 4D you can build a standalone application that behaves, in terms of GUI and performance, as a ‘proper’ Mac (or Windows) application.
Code of honour
Within a 4D application, the code and data are kept in two separate files. This means building a solution in 4D has several advantages over a similar solution in FileMaker. All your tables are held in a single file: there’s no confusion over which version of a particular file you have open.
Since the code is separate, you can work on the code for a particular project without spending half the time throwing users out of a currently running solution, or re-importing data into the latest version of a file. 4D’s engine automatically handles moving data from the current version to a newer version of the database.
Solutions created in the single-user version open transparently in the developer version, which now includes 4D Insider, 4D Compiler, the two plug-ins, 4D Write and 4D Draw, 4D Backup, 4D Open Suite, 4D ODBC and 4D for Oracle. They can also be compiled to run under the server.
For existing users of 4D, version 6.7 includes several small, but significant improvements over version 6.5. These include renaming of the file structure to match the company’s new title (4D was previously ACI); object inheritance for forms; encryption and decryption of binary large objects (BLOBs); improved programmatic picture handling; and better access to the OS’s file system.
Upgrades to the built-in Web server include WML, XML, HTML 4.0 and Cascading Style Sheet support, compatibility with external CGI apps and scripts, and SSL for Web and client/server connections.
With FileMaker Pro mired in the backwards-compatibility versus new programming and management tools debate, the time may have come for intermediate and advanced FileMaker users to switch to 4D. With an eye on its rivals' installed users, 4D is, of course, trying to make this as painless as possible.
If you want an idea of how to go about migrating a FileMaker solution to 4D (as yet, there’s no simple translation process), have a look at the white paper ‘From FileMaker to 4D’, available as a PDF on 4D’s Web site.
As one of the two veteran, professional, cross-platform relational databases for the Mac OS (Omnis being the other), 4D provides an excellent get-out-of-jail solution to developers who have hit the limits of what’s possible with the FileMaker interface. Up until now, 4D has been seen as an in-house developer’s tool, or something best left to the database consultant.
Considering the natural maturing of FileMaker’s installed user base, the lack of development from FileMaker in terms of cut-and-paste scripting, programming tools and management, and FileMaker Pro’s increasing reliance on ever-more expensive third-party plug-ins, 4D’s naturally extensible programming model and lowered seat cost makes it a much safer bet for long-term database development.
PRICE: Single user £195 (£229.13 inc VAT), developer £495 (£581.63 inc VAT), server £495 (£581.63 inc VAT), single client £175 (£205.63 inc VAT), 10-user client £1495 (£1756.63 inc VAT)
NEEDS: Power PC 604 or better, Mac OS 8.5 or higher, 32Mb RAM (48Mb recommended)
HELP: Unlimited Web, telephone
A wide range of interface elements enables users to build a standalone application which looks and feels like a ‘real’ Mac application.
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|Pros||Feature set + Fast Web server + Internet functionality|
|Cons||Steep learning curve + Printed manuals cost £65 extra|
|Originally Published||MacUser, Volume: 17, Issue: 08, p38|