Product Reviews: Empress RDBMS and Just Logic/SQL RDBMS
Manufacturer: Empress Software Inc.
Manufacturer: Just Logic Technologies Inc.
Phone/Fax: 800-267-6887; 514-642-6480
Price: $295.00 US
Reviewer: Rob Wehrli
In my quest for a formidable relational database management system that would run under Linux I came across a pair of applications that fit my wish list very well. I needed a database that was fast and easy to use, set up and manage. The system had to work in an Internet/Intranet environment, support multiple users and be vastly configurable. The cost had to be within my budget.
I tested Empress RDBMS first. Marketed for Linux, it includes several features that make it a clear choice for discriminating individuals and businesses who can afford it. I then tested Just Logic Technologies' Just logic/SQL RDBMS, a product which does not include as many bells and whistles, but does offer core functionality for about a third of the price of Empress.
The first thing I noticed when the Empress package arrived at my door was 18 bound and 7 unbound (loose-leaf) manuals. This documentation set is fully cross-referenced and includes titles for the core server installation, server management and administration, client utilities, 4GL application development platform, web server interface, ODBC driver, SQL reference, GUI Builder and much more. The manuals are printed in easy-to-read fonts with page numbers in bold and chapter data included on every right-side page. Each manual includes a complete index and a diagram with the entire documentation roadmap directing attention to the order in which manuals should be consulted. Empress gets a resounding “A+” for their documentation and additional kudos for complete man pages that complement their hard-copy documents.
Installing Empress from the installation diskettes requires basic Unix system administration experience. While the installation documentation is complete, the diskettes included a broken cpio command on the label. Nothing too difficult to overcome—merely an annoyance in an otherwise outstanding presentation. Installation of the Empress GUI Development and Runtime requires installation of Motif (libXm) libraries and knowledge of the path to their locations. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this feature of the Empress product bundle as my a.out-based Motif libraries were not recognized by the installation program.
Dismissing the minor installation difficulties and getting to the meat and potatoes of testing Empress left me pleased with the package contents. Several utilities, such as the interactive SQL interface and the dBase file import and export programs, provided me with considerable appreciation for the talent and foresight of the Empress development group. While every SQL interface is “interactive”, Empress is truly interactive in that it is capable of, among other things, prompting the user during table design for specific table attributes and for related variables. This is enough to excite even the most placid DBA. If you use the empsql interface for inserting data, it prompts for user input and is useful as a front end for data input by non-programmers.
Plugging Empress into my particular application required little more than prototyping a database in Access 7.0 and using the ODBC driver to export the tables to Empress. This worked with numeric data types quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, the Access text data type produces problems when exporting tables from Access to an Empress database. I did receive a prompt reply from Empress' e-mail support claiming that this anomaly is due to different definitions of text data types between Access and Empress and that Access cannot export text attributes to Empress because of this dissimilarity. It seems to me that Empress should develop a workaround for developers using Empress ODBC and Access for database prototyping. Working without a text data type is not a viable option. One solution for those DBAs using Access is to export data from Access to a dBase or comma-delimited text file, then import to Empress using their fine import utilities. I also found no support for varchar data types.
The first databases I built were simple tests to see how well the Empress utilities produced desired output. Empress performed flawlessly, and the Interactive SQL tool is a real glowing ember in a crowded fireplace of functional components. Their empsql and supporting configuration files allows for custom user configuration, much the same as configuring an e-mail reader. For example, I selected joe as my SQL editor instead of the default vi for console-based edits.
Testing the speed of the database with data imported from a combination of Empress utilities was very straightforward. I decided that several joined tables and multiple nested queries would provide a good performance test. Empress produced results far above my expectations. I was suitably impressed with the raw speed at which Empress rushed data back to the screen. A search of 810,000 records, where several calculations, conversion of data types and summing and ordering of resultant sets was required, completed in less than 15 minutes. By comparison, the same query on an SQL server machine(1) took about 28 minutes.(2)
Incorporation of an Empress database into a web environment is accomplished without hassle using their DataWEB package. Writing HTML forms with Empress extensions to query the database is straightforward for anyone with a little HTML experience. My Red Hat 4.0 system, installed with the supplied Apache httpd server, integrated quite nicely.
My final test, which says as much about Linux as it does about Empress, included flipping the power switch to the off position in the middle of a query. After several minutes of waiting while fsck fixed my purposely distorted file system, Empress recovered without any noted glitches. Of course, I was hoping to crash the database to test the on-line backup utility, but it would not crash. I didn't get mad—I got even. I deleted the database, and it restored quickly and without incident. I was ready to query once more.
Empress also includes a report writer that I was unable to test due to scheduling limitations.
Lacking in Empress is much of what is lacking from many commercial RDBMS products today, full SQL-92 support. A point-and-click management tool would be nice and even recommended, since it is standard fare with Microsoft's SQL Server. Considering the cost of the Empress package that I tested is about $1500, it is a bit expensive when compared to the cost of a typical Linux distribution. However, the ease of use of its utilities and the completeness of its documentation man pages and on-line help make it a good choice in the professional world. It is a remarkable product that will benefit the many Linux users who find it a perfect fit for their needs.
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