Easy-to-Use Brilliant Database Hits the Cost and Functionality Sweet Spot
By Ian Harac, PCWorld
Brilliant Database is a relational database package that includes table design, reporting, scripting, and all the other features needed to make a usable business tool, at a very low price ($80). Although plenty of free database engines are out there, such as MySQL, very few offer free or low-cost tools for designing forms, building queries, laying out reports, and otherwise producing something to be used. Brilliant Database fills that niche.
If you’re a home user or you own a small business, you likely do not have a dedicated database developer on staff…and with Brilliant Database’s help, you may not feel the lack of one. Indeed, the terminology and methods of operation are very different from those of other tools in the same vein, so starting without preconceptions may be a plus. For example, what most other database programs call “tables,” Brilliant Database calls “forms”–and rather than the normal paradigm of specifying fields for a table and then designing one or more forms to show those fields, you design the table and the form at once. If you want a record type that contains a name, a phone number, and a region to write notes, you just place those fields on a form and set the properties you wish. (You can add, delete, or edit fields later.) Brilliant Database also uses “folders” to store records. Folders can hold records from one form, or from multiple forms, and you can drag and drop records between them, based on the folder permissions you set.
Being a relational database, Brilliant Database can link data in multiple forms. The traditional example is having a form for orders and a form for clients. When you create an order, you select a client from the list of those entered (or enter one directly), and information relating to that client can be placed in fields on the order form. When you change the client’s data, any order forms associated with that client will show the updated value.
Brilliant Database also allows scripting. Rather than entering code into a text editor, you select a field, form, folder, and so on, then assign scripts to various events. The scripts are composed by selecting specific actions and structures from a list. This makes it very difficult to produce syntax errors, though it does nothing to prevent a user from constructing a syntactically perfect but logically flawed script–but neither does any other programming system. The range of actions is sufficient to cover the majority of database tasks; if you need to go beyond them, it is possible to write a DLL or to embed Visual BASIC into the script.
Other than the aforementioned odd nomenclature, Brilliant Database’s downsides include a graphical look and feel that is vintage 1990s, and documentation that is somewhat sparse and unclear, with occasional bits of poorly translated English.
The Professional edition of Brilliant Database reviewed here is for single users. The $150 Server edition allows multiuser access. There’s a $40 version that allows full use of a database but no ability to create or edit forms or scripts. There is also an Ultimate version ($1299) that allows you to create a stand-alone Windows executable from your database.
The 30-day Brilliant Database Professional trial is full-featured and nagware-free. If you’ve outgrown trying to hammer the square peg of Microsoft Excel into the round hole of database, but you don’t need to or don’t have time to learn something like Oracle or SQL Server, Brilliant Database may just hit the perfect sweet spot of cost, ease of use, and functionality.