The Holy Grail for database users and developers is an intuitive, fast, and powerful development tool that lets them create and package the entry forms and reports that make a database more than just a storehouse of information. Omnis Studio 3.1 approaches this Holy Grail status, albeit with some bumps along the way.
A descendant of Blythe Software’s Omnis, Omnis Studio 3.1 is now in the hands of Raining Data. In its current form as a RAD (rapid application development) tool, Omnis Studio enables the relatively easy creation of database applications, whether the underlying database is an Omnis, Oracle, Informix, Sybase, DB2, or ODBC-compliant (Open Database Connectivity) database (such as Microsoft’s SQL Server).
As you might expect, Omnis Studio 3.1 targets database professionals and programmers, not the occasional database user. But even if you have experience in database-application development, you might find the program puzzling if you aren’t prepared for a Windows interface in a Mac application.
Omnis Studio comes in three flavors: Standard Edition, for individuals and small businesses; Enterprise Edition, for midsize and large businesses and organizations; and Web Edition, which targets the VAR (value-added reseller), ISP, and ASP (application service provider) markets.
What’s Windows Doing Here?
The product’s complexity means that one of the first things you’ll have to do is open up its manuals. Omnis Studio 3.1’s documentation consists of PDF files on the installation CD. Experienced database programmers will find it complete but difficult to use efficiently.
The PDF manuals and the online help files (which duplicate a great deal of the information in the manuals) use Windows screen captures throughout. These did not render well on screen in OS X’s Preview application or in Adobe Acrobat Reader 5, and they’re even less readable in a Web browser.
In addition to the Windows-centric documentation, a significant portion of the user interface is reminiscent of Windows, in that various windows have their own menu bars and toolbars. While this provides a level of consistency across the various platforms on which Omnis Studio is implemented (OS 9, OS X, Windows, and Unix), it’s jarring nonetheless.
Powerful Database Creation
Now for the good news: If you understand the hierarchical structure of object-oriented development systems, you can put together a database application fairly easily and quickly using Omnis Studio 3.1.
You build projects around a library, which holds all the pieces of your application: windows, data files, methods, and so forth. In OS X, Omnis Studio defaults to creating libraries in the Omnis directory of the Applications folder, which is a bad idea; as a rule, user-specific documents should be created in the user’s directory.
Omnis Studio also includes a window called the Component Store (think of it as a supermarket that carries the various components you might use in your project). The objects you drag from the Component Store to your library — such as menus, windows, queries, and toolbars — invoke wizards that build an object based upon your responses to their questions.
At any point, you can use the Property Manager window to tweak an object’s attributes. Double-clicking on an object in your library presents an editor for that type of object. For example, double-clicking on a button allows you to edit its methods (the code it executes when clicked) in the Method Editor, a helpful editing environment that tries to anticipate what you’re trying to do (based on what you’ve already typed). Or you can just select the commands from the lists in the Method Editor window.
Omnis Studio also lets you add your own menus and toolbars to your applications, without requiring that you write any code, unless you want to augment the wealth of presupplied methods. This is where the learning curve becomes difficult and the casual user will likely get lost.
Creating reports is as straightforward as creating forms, and Omnis Studio can either display the results on screen or save them to a file for later perusal, printing, or e-mailing.
Web-ify Your Database
Omnis Studio also includes remote forms capability, so you can allow your users to browse the database via the Internet or an intranet. While Omnis Studio makes creating these remote forms simple, in some places they deviate from the standard Mac user interface. For example, when you’re presented with a list of fields from which to choose your key field, the list includes check boxes. However, you can check only one box at a time; hence, the check boxes should be radio buttons.
You can also create multiple versions of the database form that are dependent on the viewer’s browser (Internet Explorer or other). But if you want to deploy your app on the Web, you need the Web Edition of Omnis Studio. An added downside is that the Omnis Server required for Web deployment runs only in Windows NT and 2000 and Unix (Linux, actually, so you can’t run it in OS X). Raining Data says Mac support is coming “real soon.”
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If you need a database-development tool for your business or organization, Omnis Studio is a very good choice, filling the need for a powerful database-application-development environment that’s deployable across a breadth of platforms and database servers. At $149, the Standard Edition is an attractive purchase for an interested hobbyist who isn’t afraid to learn a little programming or to deal with a nonstandard interface.