CatBase

The Mac platform is reasonably well catered for in the database department – from the evergreen FileMaker Pro through to the heavyweight 4th Dimension. Sometimes, a particular aspect of business requires a dedicated solution. This may be as simple as a CD-cataloguing program: it would not be difficult for a novice to use FileMaker Pro to design a database for such a task. But take a more complex scenario, and the desire to ‘hide’ the nuts and bolts of databasing from the user, and a far higher level of expertise is required. CatBase has been developed in 4D to provide a complete databasing solution for publishing catalogues, directories, or any other projects that handle the relational side of companies and their products. It also provides export facilities for print and Web. CatBase revolves around the relational set-up between its three main tables: Companies, Products and Product Details. When adding information for each company, a further table comes into play (Contacts) and likewise for Products (Categories). Data can be imported in the standard three formats of tab-delimited, comma separated or fixed length, so supporting a variety of existing sources. While you could start from scratch, designing a database from the fields upwards, it is simpler to zap all records from an existing file and to rename standard fields as required. In this respect, a project can be up and running very quickly. Exporting information
Getting data into a database is the easy part; creating an output template so that minimal work is required once imported into the publishing program is a totally different problem. In this department, CatBase excels and provides full QuarkXPress, PageMaker and Multi-Ad Creator2 support for print, HTML for Web and RTF (Rich Text Format) for any other applications. Database output often consists of a repetitive set of data. For example, a catalogue may have a company’s name and details followed by a list of its available products. CatBase uses Style Sheets to define all aspects of how information will export. For QuarkXPress, this includes font size, style and colour, tracking, baseline shift, scaling, indents, leading, drop caps – in essence, every paragraph function that would usually be set manually. Text box creation – anchored and unanchored – with columns, text inset, frame style, alignment – the list is almost endless. The next step is to decide what each output paragraph consists of. Some of these will be Style Sheets – such as a company name and address; simple punctuation – such as a line feed or tab; a formula or calculation; fixed text or a picture. The last item tends to cause many problems with data output as, in QuarkXPress, it requires an XTension called Xtags (£175, Digital Toolbox, 0181 961 6622) whose command-set is rather difficult to use. In keeping with the general ethos of the program, CatBase hides such complexities, allowing you to set frame details and then call in an existing picture. The final result is an export file that flows seamlessly into a DTP or Web program, requiring minimal further tweaking. CatBase offers integration with a number of existing products, each of which can be purchased as an optional extra. The 4DWrite word processing plug-in (£95; ACI, 01625 536 178) can create emails, faxes and mail-merged documents; the FaxExpress plug-in (£50; Glenwarne, 01628 667 702) can send faxes directly from the database. There is also built-in support for Indextension (£99; CatBase, 0700 228 2273), an indexing XTension for QuarkXPress, and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) that comes bundled with Xerox TextBridge 8 (£69; Digital Toolbox, 0181 961 6622). More exciting is the fact that CatBase can be run as a completely self-contained Web server. This adds significantly to the value of the package.

OUR VERDICT

CatBase Software has gone to great lengths to ensure that the user interface is as straightforward as possible. Each window is of a uniform nature with standard icons, and small, floating palettes are used for menus. Neat and easy to work with, though full support for the return key to close windows would have been nice – and command-w turns the Web Server off. There are two schools of thought regarding databasing and catalogues. The first is that, once data has been exported, any further changes are made to the DTP document with a substantial update requiring a further export. CatBase is of this variety. The second is that the database should remain permanently linked to the DTP document so changes to data cause an immediate update to the document. Such software is inevitably far more expensive – and given the export functionality of CatBase, little alteration should be required once data has been exported. See the full 50MB demo on our cover CD, along with third-party XPress XTension demos and full documentation. If you’re involved in the publishing of databased information, spend some time with this demo – and be prepared to contact CatBase for a full version.

Find the best price