Database System GS-Base Is Easy as a Spreadsheet–And the Price is a Steal
By Ian Harac
At a Glance
Many small bugs
Poor layout control
Build databases using larger-than-usual field entries.
At $20, GS-Base 9 is very inexpensive and requires virtually no prior database knowledge to use. Furthermore, it uses a number of metaphors and options which should be very familiar to those comfortable with spreadsheets, a fact that makes it useful to a large set of business users who rarely venture away from Excel. Indeed, it shares many of the functions and syntax found in Citadel’s inexpensive, but functional, GS-Calc spreadsheet program.
Creating a database is GS-Base is straightforward; so is creating the tables within that database. The user follows the basic pattern of creating fields and setting their types. Once created, the table structure can be edited, using clear dialog box that displays the fields in a tree structure on the left, and the relevant options and values on the right.
Field types in GS-Base are fairly limited: Text (for short text, like names or addresses), Number, Date, and File/Image. Numbers can be formatted as currency, integer, and so on, but you can’t directly specify that a field can only be an integer. You can, however, enter a formula into the field that will perform a conversion on entered data, such as rounding down entered values. Or, you’re supposed to be able to; I was unable to get the formula to return anything but an error.
This really is the heart of all of my issues with GS-Base; there are too many small bugs that keep popping up and undermining what could be a very useful tool.
GS-Base allows you to specify formulas for fields, rather than having them contain entered values, and this is where a lot of the program’s functionality lies. You can use formulas use to create references to other tables, for example look up an item’s price and availability by referencing the item’s name. The formula syntax of GS-Base is very similar to that of most spreadsheet programs: Few database developers would establish a relationship via “VLookup”. In Version 9 of GS-Base, an auto-increment feature, which is virtually essential to make this style of relationship practical, has been… sort of… added. You can set a field to autoincrement, and then hit Ctrl-T after you enter a row to set the field value appropriately. While this is easier than manually entering a unique ID, it’s still inferior to the expected behavior of an autoincrement field filling the data in automatically.
The most useful feature of GS-Base is the built-in pivot table feature. This allows for rapid totals and sub-totals of information, with the ability to easily switch how information is categorized and broken down. That this feature is so prominent further cements the concept that this is “The database for spreadsheet users.”
GS-Base shows all data in a single window which can be subdivided in many ways, but which always fills the main program window. It is not possible to look at two tables concurrently on the same screen. You can see the “Table View” and the “Field View” for the same table concurrently, but can’t swap them from left to right, or decide which should be on the top or the bottom. On the plus side, the memo field display does allow formatting of text, including changing font and size.
GS-Base has a lot of raw potential and fills a niche as an extremely low cost product that still offers the ability to do relational tables and meaningful analysis of data via the built-in pivot functionality. The wealth of formulas available for data fields, including aggregate formulas, could make this ideal for many small business, personal, and academic uses–if only there were fewer small frustrations.
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