Thursday, February 1, 2001

Choosing the right database application


By Marie Braden

Your Palm device is far more than just a replacement for a daily planner. The Palm device absolutely excels at all types of information retrieval, and one of the first third-party applications most Palm device users choose is a database program. Each program has different strengths and weaknesses, and while none approaches the complexity and depth of Microsoft Access, you'll, no doubt, be able to find a database that suits your needs.

Basically, there are two types of databases: relational and flat-file. Relational databases link to other databases, and flat-file databases are "self-contained." Think of it as the difference between an encyclopedia and a book on a particular topic. In the encyclopedia, there are cross-references that often go to other, separate volumes, but in a book on a topic, while you may have references to outside data, generally, everything you need in order to understand your topic is right there in the book you're reading.

Rather than comparing the multitude of special-interest programs out there, this review will compare the major players in the world of general Palm database programs. Since I was unable to test out Macintosh desktop applications, I can only tell you which products support that platform, but not how well they work with it. I have also elected to focus on those programs that are aimed at the end-user, rather than programs such as Satellite Forms and Marietta that are aimed at development environments. A summary of features and costs can be found in Table A.

Table A: Features and costs
ProgramCostTypePalm RAM requiredImportingExportingField limitDatabase limit
ThinkDBPalm application free, desktop companion $39.95, dbSync $39.95Relational367KAccess, Comma-separated, Tab-separated, semi-colon separated, ODBC-compliant sources (with desktop companion)Access, Comma-separated, Tab-separated, semi-colon separated36100
dbNow$29.99Flat-file210KComma-separated, Tab-separatedComma-separated, Tab-separated, HTML25032
MobileDB$14.95Flat-file52KComma-separated, Tab-separated, Semicolon-separated, HTMLComma-separated, Tab-separated, Semicolon-separated2060
JFile$24.95, JFile/JfTrans Suite $41.98Flat-file104KAccess, Comma-separated, FileMaker (Mac), ExcelAccess, Comma-separated, FileMaker (Mac), Excel5060
ListFreeFlat-file25KComma-separated, BookmarksWord2, plus Notes12

thinkDB 2

The Palm application version of thinkDB 2.0 (at is freeware. However, for the desktop companion, you'll pay $39.95. Like JFile, you can also purchase a synchronization option that makes working with Access seamless. thinkDB has the steepest learning curve of any of the programs listed here, but it's also quite possibly the most powerful. From the beginning screen, pictured in Figure A, you can select many database operations, rather than having to drill down into the database to make modifications.