High-End Database Gets Web-Savvy

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - Back when 24MHz denoted a wicked-fast machine, ACI Micro Inc.'s 4th Dimension (4D) was the first high-end relational-database application for the Macintosh. Today's entry-level Macs have enough horsepower to use 4D to run the IRS; however, the database challenge these days isn't providing sheer size and speed but finding the fastest way to publish data on the Web. ACI US has produced a thorough, simple Web implementation in 4D Standard Edition 6.5.3. The update retains the original's clean design-setting up tables and defining relationships between them is still quick and easy-but now your efforts also yield a commercial-grade Web site, complete with logs and site statistics. And the Windows and Macintosh versions of 4D 6.5 are nearly identical, so you can develop on one type of machine and deploy on the other if necessary.

After a few years of receiving emergency Internet fixes, 4D has grown into an integrated database-development environment for Web applications. New features include a wizard that walks you through Web publication of your relational database with just a few simple choices. Remarkably, the resulting databases (accessed through 4D Server, which is now integrated into 4D Standard Edition) are faster than almost anything else you'll encounter on the Web. 4D old-timers will revel in the broad e-mail format support and the programming tricks possible with 75 new Internet action commands; newcomers will likely be content to let the wizard generate dynamic HTML pages on the fly and to establish a site by following simple instructions. A simple mail-order catalog, for example, should take you only a few hours to shape up for the Web, making 4D a reasonable alternative to a consultant for developing a custom site.

ACI US claims to have improved database indexing in 4D 6.5 by using a new algorithm, but it's hard to evaluate the speed increase numerically. We tested 4D 6.5 on a machine with four times the throughput of the Mac used to test version 5. With a 10,000-record database, there's no perceptible indexing delay for normal operations.

Version 6.5 also includes an upgrade of 4D Write, essentially a hybrid between a word-processing and a page-layout program. The $799 Developer's Edition includes a compiler, a module for incorporating external code, 4D Draw, and utilities for backup and code management.

4D sports some features that you'll find either charming or annoying. Poke around in the HTML examples, for instance, and you'll encounter lots of untranslated French-a tribute to 4D's Gallic heritage. A bigger problem is that 4D operations slow down if you're running other standard software (such as Microsoft Word) at the same time.

If you've used 4D before, the upgrade decision is an easy one. If you went the 4D route as a beginner, 4D 6.5.3 gives you a simple but flexible way to build a commercial Web site. But in doing so you'll be turning away from the standard repertoire of Unix-derived methods (CGI, Perl, and others) used by nearly all other Web developers.

Macworld's Buying Advice

4th Dimension Standard Edition 6.5.3 is a complete, self-contained tool for developing a database, and it's probably the fastest way to put a catalog and order forms on the Web-as long as you don't mind doing things the 4D way.

RATING: 4.5 mice

PROS: Simple relational-database design; automatic conversion to Web-viewable format.

CONS: Occasionally bogs down.

COMPANY: ACI US (800/881-3466, http://www.acius.com).

LIST PRICE: $349.

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