So it is with the true nature of databases. Getting data in the database is easy, getting it out takes work, knowledge, experience, the right tools. In between is the effort required to know exactly which data to collect, how to format it, and so on.
In short, databases are usually complex, expensive beasts which require specialized knowledge and experience to develop so the rest of us can use it.
Your Mac is based on Unix which has a boatload of flexible, powerful, inexpensive applications. Among the most popular is a great relational database application called MySQL. It runs wonderfully on Mac OS X, most flavors of Unix, Linux, and even does Windows.
MySQL is complex, though and requires effort and experience; not in getting it running on Mac OS X, but creating and maintaining a complex database.
To be sure, there’s plenty of tools available, many books on the subject of MySQL, but it’s not an application for the faint of heart. True, there are other database tools available for Mac OS X.
The even more complex Oracle, the once-simple Filemaker which is no longer simple, 4-D and a few others that could make you swear off databases forever because of complexity and costs. The biggest difference between the basic functionality of these applications is that MySQL is free Open Source and complex, while the others are expensive and complex.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a tool that could harness the complexities of MySQL (did I mention that it’s “free”?), not cost an arm and a leg, and give you access to MySQL’s power but keep it simple enough to use?
Enter iList Studio 2.0.
Dr. David Hutchison of Lakewood Studios thought the same thing and developed a Mac OS X application called iList Studio. In short, it’s a Mac GUI front end to the popular MySQL database which runs on your Mac.
iList Studio’s claim to fame will be making the complexity of SQL databases more manageable while providing an attractive price point that falls between the free and difficult to use MySQL (grab a book and you’re on your own) and the somewhat easier to use but more expensive FileMaker and 4-D.
I trace my own database roots back to the CP/M days and dBase II from Ashton-Tate. Once launched, dBase II prompted the database developer with a simple green dot on the screen. You were expected to know everything else after that.
iList Studio is a very Mac-like database application that lets you design databases in MySQL, edit databases, and develop as complex a database as you’d like, without having to dip into the MySQL command line on your Mac.
Plus, iList Studio doubles as the front end to MySQL so other users in your business can access the database you’ve created, add new data, and run and print reports.
If you want to hold recipes or a simple list of contacts, you don’t need a MySQL database and don’t need iList Studio. If you want a number of databases to link together, and require some employees to enter data, while others run reports and statistics, iList Studio and MySQL is the “inbetween” solution.
Cheaper and less complex than FileMaker, 4-D, Oracle, and MySQL by itself; and affordable for multiple users.
If you know databases, develop databases, and constantly look for elegant database solutions, you’ll love the feature list of iList Studio.
iList Studio takes a unique approach to data modeling and development. For businesses that require a level of custom application development (many databases that fit the company’s needs) flexibility is important; many databases, many users and uses, low cost per user.
I counted about a dozen ways iList Studio can search for data in multiple databases. The standard user-customizable windows are available; perfect for the user with limited knowledge, all the way to direct SQL editing for the more proficient.
There’s the added feature of context sensitive built-in help for the new user who doesn’t want to rely on command line SQL queries just to get some data from the database.
As I noted before, database entry is usually the easy part of application development. It’s tougher to develop the application data fields, and that often pales in significance to the complexity of getting the right data out of a database.
iList Studio handles the former with ease, plays to the latter, and gives you the SQL flexibility of maintaining a database (or set of databases) as a living, evolving application (changes are OK).
Every time a search is made, iList Studio automatically adds it to a history menu to be used again. Like a browser, the searches can be bookmarked for ease of use.
Simple needs (but complex in design) are solutions like auto-numbering and editing at the same time, applying numerical functions, generating random numbers, moving data across fields. These are typically complex functions made point and click by iList Studio.
Mac users will love the Mac-like use of customized windows. When you’re creating, editing, viewing, or searching for records, simple select the number of type of options via point and click, and iList Studio will generate the custom window—complete with pop-up menus, list boxes, sliders, and calendar functions.
Oh, did I mention that iList Studio works with Microsoft Office (the application suite that Mac users love to hate)? Reporting tools are complex in most sophisticated SQL databases. MySQL is complex and sophisticated and every user will have slightly different output requirements so reporting tool requirements usually are a nightmare for a database developer.
iList Studio takes a different approach and lets you merge data records with Excel or Word with one click. Since many businesses use Word and Excel for information layout, it’s an excellent tool to act as a reporting front end for iList Studio.
This is a dependable database application that fills a niche for businesses who require custom data but don’t want or can’t afford the expertise and expense of FileMaker Pro, 4-D, Oracle, or the complexities of command line MySQL. Your Mac runs MySQL with ease on OS X. iList Studio will let you take advantage of all that Open Source power and tame some of the complexity.
Most applications have a good side, a bad side, and some have an ugly side. There’s no ugly side here. But there are some features I want from this application:
The ability to create a web interface to access and enter data into MySQL. As it stands now, iList Studio becomes the front end, the interface to the data in MySQL. That requires that each user have iList Studio on their Mac.
Having the option to create an HTML front end access to MySQL data would make iList Studio a must-have killer database application. As it stands, the application has matured steadily from version 1.0 to the latest version 2.0.4, and I would expect additional enhancements in the future.
iList Studio retails for $129.95 from Lakewood Studios. There’s an educational pricing discount to $79.95, and in true Mac form, you can also download a working version demo. Click Here to view the details on iList Studio.