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4D Developer 6.8.2 + Jumstart 4D

Wednesday 14th August, 2002

4D is a cross-platform (Mac OS 9, Mac OS X, and Windows XP) database development environment. Databases are created using drag-and-drop tables to define how the data is related, and forms for entering, editing and printing data.

The program has an object-based scripting language that lets you create database procedures and attach methods (executable bits of code) to the various standard interface elements (menus, fields) as well as more esoteric ones, such as drag-and-drop areas, thermometers, sliders and dials.

Unlike FileMaker, 4D keeps the code and data in separate files, so that you can update the code away from a’live' database (without having to throw users out of their system). It also makes it clear which file is the current version (there are usually two for each solution).

The developer version includes extra tools, including 4D Compiler, 4D Insider, 4D Backup, 4D Open Suite, 4D ODBC and 4D for Oracle, as well as the two plug-ins, 4D Write and 4D Draw. 4D Compiler, for example, allows you to take a completed solution and compile it, so that it runs much faster and end users can’t mess with your code.

In control

We reviewed the previous version, 4D 6.7, last year (see Reviews, 20 April 2001, p36), and this release is the Carbonized upgrade. As well as being OS X native, 6.8.2 includes enough new features to please the current 4D user base. A contextual menu has been added that lets you insert appropriate methods, fields, or commands into your code in the Method Editor and custom printing options for programmatically controlling the header, body and footer sizes. You can even set your margins and printable areas to override the printer driver’s margins - this ensures that what you expect to produce is actually printed. There’s tighter integration between TCP/IP and 4D. It has now applied some Web Server features to the standard version, for example, 4D has integrated SSL support - it can make secure http client requests - can act as an IMAP4 client and handle opening and closing PPP connections directly. And that’s in addition to the alphabet soup of other supported standards - HTML 4.0, CSS1, Java, ISAPI, WML and XML.

Aqua support is everywhere: floating, dockable toolbars and the Apple Viewer are supported for online help. If you’re building a cross-platform solution you can create your forms using’style sheets' that contain font and layout definitions based on the platform that the file is running on. So the database looks like XP on Windows and Aqua on OS X.

FileMaker developers often complain about how certain features aren’t in the latest version, how difficult it is to work on a’live' database and how they’d love to move their development to MySQL, Omnis, 4D or anything with a half-decent development environment - if only it weren’t for the learning curve, which is shallow for FileMaker, while 4D’s is still relatively steep. But 4D has come up with a cunning wheeze to reduce the curve. Until the end of October, it is bundling the Jumpstart 4D book with a copy of 4D Developer 6.8.2 for £295 - a discount of around 45%.

Picking up tricks

So how good is the book? The one thing that’s clear about it is how much of an enthusiast the author, Steve Hussey, really is. Although it’s published by 4D Press (and indeed it’s freely downloadable from its Web site, if you already own 4D and don’t want to pay the $29), you get the idea that the guys at 4D haven’t read the entire text. It’s not a whitewash, and it does point out where you need to do a workaround. As well as showing how to build a fully working invoicing system, it covers many tricks that you need to master to build a decent database system, including how to handle multiple users, how to compile your app and dealing with Cross-Platform issues. There’s an awful lot to cram into an inch-thick book, and although the examples are included on the accompanying CD, you do come away with the impression of having raced through everything. Sometimes enthusiasm leads to assumption (not everyone is familiar with the idiosyncratic option-f mode change), but on the whole it’s an excellent introduction to database programming on the Mac OS.

At the bundle price, it’s cheap as chips, and if you’re struggling with 4D, the book is essential. On its own, 4D 6.8.2 is a significant upgrade that brings OS X compatibility to 4D for the first time.

Get Further Info
ProsOS X compatible + Integrated web support + Proper programming environment
Price4D Developer 6.8.2 & Jumpstart 4D £295 (£346.43 inc VAT) (until end of October), 4D Developer 6.8.2 £495 (£581.63 inc VAT) (after end of October), Upgrade £250 (£293.75 inc VAT), Jumpstart 4D $29
Originally PublishedMacUser, Volume 18, Issue 21