Friday 28th August, 1998
Alarm bells always start ringing when you open a new software box and a dongle drops onto the floor. Apart from threatening installation hassles, it generally signals an unjustifiable price tag, and sadly LinkUp 7 is no exception.
This isn’t to deny that it’s immensely powerful. But like all software designed for a niche market, it’s expensive (the developer has to cover the development costs with only a few unit sales), and the rough corners haven’t been rubbed smooth by a wide enough variety of end-user use. And at £2495, you won’t want to be buying more than one copy.
LinkUp 7 is a pair of XTensions that enable you to automate the transfer of data from your database into a large catalogue-style document in XPress. Depending on the database you’re using, you can choose between accessing your database via the ODBC version of the XTension, or by exporting it to a text-based format (tabbed, CSV, DBF, and so on) and using the LinkDB XTension.
Accessing non-Mac-based databases is straightforward using the ODBC control panel. The LinkUp 7 CD comes with trial versions of various ODBC drivers (you’d expect full versions for the price), and the Apple ODBC control panel installer. One flaw here was that not all the installers worked from the CD, and not every user will be able to figure out how to copy and rename installer folders to get it to work. (Currently, FileMaker users need to export their data as text files, although an ODBC plug-in for FileMaker Pro 4.0 has been rumoured.)
If you’re exporting your data to a text file, you need to convert it to a standard format using the LinkDB utility. This offers a wide selection of tools for specifying how your text file data should be interpreted. Although very useful for bizarre Unix export formats, it could confuse the average user; fortunately, MC Research has provided a pre-saved set of preferences for reading a number of standard text export formats. It’s simply a case of pointing LinkDB at the file and then waiting a few seconds, or minutes.
Having prepared your data/database for use with LinkUp, you’re ready to launch XPress. Both of the two LinkUp 7 XTensions provide an extra menu in the menu bar and from here you have access to the various palettes which enable you to control the process. First, you need to specify your data source (ODBC or LinkDB export file). You can then decide which fields to use, and configure import parameters to filter the data as it comes in; this useful feature allows you to add plain text or hidden LinkUp or XPress tags to your data before processing.
Having decided which fields you want to show in your XPress document, you then have to link them to elements on your page. This ‘markup’ process lets you link specific elements on the page so they represent different fields from within the same database record - perhaps a product name, its size, colour, price and so forth - and although database-stored pictures are not directly supported, LinkUp 7 can handle pictures for which file names are specified in the database.
Having specified which items are linked and which are to contain data from which database field, you then have to link each group of text elements and picture boxes to individual records. This is done via the Data Viewer tool, which lets you examine the contents of your database file from within XPress and select which fields to show. Having found the record you want, you simply select the text object on the page which contains the ‘key’ link for a set of fields from a particular record, and double-click in the Data Viewer.
Links between data in your database and objects on your XPress page can be saved as a project file, allowing you to update your catalogue or price list whenever changes to the database occur. Once you’ve done this for all the elements on the page (this can be done relatively quickly, despite sounding long-winded), you simply tell LinkUp to import the data. This process can be done one record at a time (allowing you to check things as you go along), or all at once. LinkUp offers the facility to step through those alterations which cause text to overflow text boxes.
As well as simple flat-file price lists, LinkUp 7 also handles relational databases, allowing you to load ‘product bundle’ information correctly, or make use of graphical flags and icons for different products. You can even use it to directly export data from previously created XPress documents into database-compatible formats. LinkUp is also now AppleScript compatible, so you can script any changes in your catalogue based on changes in your database. And given the new features and the complex set-up procedures, there’s also the ability, having configured it correctly, to switch to a dumber ‘operator’ mode, which hinders accidental damage to your layouts and data sources. Publishers of very large RS-type catalogues will find LinkUp invaluable, even if it’s overly expensive and annoyingly dongled.
Plug-ins which let you import data from a database into catalogue- style layouts in QuarkXPress.
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|Pros||Powerful ˜ Fast ˜ Compatible with almost any database|
|Cons||Over-priced ˜ Dongled ˜ Confusing interface|
|Originally Published||MacUser, Volume: 14, Issue: 16, p34|