FilePad: A serious database in your pocket
©Copyright 1994 David MacNeill
Regular readers of Newton Notes will recall my shameless fawning over an application called FilePad, which was introduced at the Newton Platform Development Conference last December. The developer, Healthcare Communications of Lincoln, Nebraska, created FilePad while developing Hippocrates, a unique point-of-care data gathering application for doctors using Newton MessagePads to keep track of their patients progress. Though the Hippocrates demo was certainly impressive, the collected Newton nerds at the conference went nuts when the presenter demoed the alpha version of FilePad. I remember thinking, "This is FileMaker in your pocket!"
Five months later, FilePad 1.03 is here, and its turned out rather nicely. Fellow IconoClass instructor Leslie Judd and I put FilePad through its paces, testing all the features we could find, including a few hairy formulas, some lookups, and a test of the links to FileMaker.
Using a file cabinet
FilePad uses a file cabinet metaphor for its main screen. Tapping on the FilePad icon takes you to a screen displaying all your cabinets. Tapping a cabinet opens the file and puts you in browse mode for any existing records. Tapping the New button creates a new empty record, ready for data entry. You can use a variety of input options to fill in the fields: standard Newton Intelligence handwriting recognition, the soft keyboard to tap in the data, digital ink for sketches or signatures, or the FileMaker-like poplists, radio buttons, and check boxes. Each record may occupy several pages, accessible using left and right paging arrow buttons. The standard Newton up and down arrow buttons move you through any existing records in the database.
Creating a layout
If youve ever used FileMaker on a Mac or under Windows, you already know how to use FilePads layout environment. When you tap the New button in the master cabinet screen, you first name the file. Getting the various screen objects for your data entry screen is easy: Tap one of the twelve buttons on the toolbar across the bottom of the screen, then tap the screen where you want the object to appear. Text entry fields, radio buttons, and other objects can then be dragged with the pen, or nudged into position using the Align tool. Several other options are available to make your screens look the way you want, including a snap-to-grid feature. The developers thoughtfully included a Layer tool that lets you restack your screen objects if your layout gets a little too crowded.
We found some limitations in the program while laying out our test file, a personal checkbook tracker. The most grievous omission--at least for this application--was the lack of a running total capability. Healthcares technical support manager assured us that this feature was slated for a future version. Version 1.0 lacks the ability to perform calculations on text or dates, preventing us from making our running total work. Another problem was the radio button limit of only two buttons per set, and the poplist limit of four items per list. We feel these shouldnt pose too serious a problem for most data gathering applications, but hardcore FileMaker hackers will doubtless consider this a serious flaw.
Another interesting aspect of the FilePad interface is the presence of Save buttons, the first Ive seen in any Newton application. Normally everything you do in Newton is saved automatically. I suppose FilePads rich layout environment demands the control of an explicit Save button, but it will take a little getting used to.
Links to your Mac
FilePad comes with a program called FilePad Link in both Macintosh and Microsoft Windows versions that can upload and download data from and to your Newton and your desktop computer. Our test of this feature worked fine, although it was a little fiddly. You must first export your data from your database (we used FileMaker Pro on a Mac) into a tab-delimited file. FilePad Link then connected to the Newton using a serial cable. This version does not appear to support AppleTalk transfers, however, the data came right across. We tried both the Overwrite Existing Data option and the default Append mode with no major problems. Uploading to FileMaker occurred without a hitch, but downloading from FileMaker to the FilePad was not as smooth. A graphic border used in FilePad took up the space of a field and required a matching field in FileMaker so that the data went in the right fields in FilePad; the order of the records were transferred in reverse and a blank record was added. FilePad Link also supports a basic macro capability to automate updating several cabinets at once, or to combine several cabinets into one.
Overall, we rate FilePad and FilePad Links performance and stability as good to very good. The layout tools we rate as excellent, given the inherent limitations of the Newton screen size. If you need to carry a database in your pocket, this is the best thing going.
The list price for the full version of FilePad 1.03 is $139. The runtime version is $69, with a reduction when purchasing 40+ units, and yes, site licensing is available. FilePad is distributed by Apples StarCore Newton software publishing division, so it will be available wherever Newtons are sold, or from MacWarehouse at 800-255-6227 (their pricing was unavailable at press time). For more information call Healthcare Communications at 402-489-0391.
David MacNeill is a teacher, consultant, and marketing director for the IconoClass, a Macintosh, Windows, Internet, and Newton training center in Sacramento, 916-565-3535. He can be reached on NewtonMail at davemacneill, or on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org.