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November 1996 Reviews TOC

11/96 Reviews SW: Visual SQL 4.2

Take the Manual Labor Out of Visual C++

By Martin Heller

A client/server database application lets you do three things: enter commands, query and manipulate the database, and display the results. Microsoft's Visual C++ (VC) purportedly gives you all three, but users have complained that there's still too much hand coding. You can either combine VC with third-party libraries and controls, or simply pick another environment.

Before you toss VC in the trash bin, consider adding Blue Sky's Visual SQL. Generating simple database views with VC requires a lot of manual layout; Visual SQL (VSQL) automates the process. VSQL also generates spreadsheet views and pick lists, helps you formulate SQL queries and assists in managing your database code with its own little repository. VSQL minimizes the amount of C++ and SQL code you need to write by hand to build working database applications, but doesn't eliminate the need to code (VSQL runs on Win95 and the Intel version of NT.)

Its custom AppWizard gives you a leg up on a working application with one query attached to one or more forms or spreadsheets. Its six add-in components let you expand the application with more data-bound forms and bound spreadsheets, bound list and combo boxes, bound listbox dialogs and bare SQL query functions. Additional tools help you build queries semigraphically, with Wizards or with an editor. You can also explore your database tables, views and queries; navigate your application; and view VSQL's own online help.

Finally, VSQL bundles Sybase SQL Anywhere, a fairly robust client/server database for small user groups. In many ways SQL Anywhere completes the VSQL product, but the bundle price is just too high. The $1,499 price tag is more than you'd pay for PowerBuilder 5.0 Professional, which also includes SQL Anywhere. PowerBuilder is a complete development environment as well, while VSQL requires you to purchase VC separately.

I tested VSQL with Microsoft's VC 4.2 Enterprise Edition, the latest version. With Blue Sky's version 4.2 patch installed (a CD-ROM version should be available by the time you read this), the two worked fine together, but I found myself wishing for slightly better integration. VC is unaware of VSQL's repository, and VSQL is unaware of VC's ability to directly manage databases and edit and debug stored procedures. As it is, a savvy developer can treat the two as complementary tools-but the tools should communicate better.

Using VSQL at the Wizard level is easy. Unfortunately, the Wizards never seem to generate exactly what I want. And it's a big, nonintuitive step from working with the Wizards to working directly with VSQL's database classes. Blue Sky's documentation seems to acknowledge this flaw, albeit obliquely. Its tutorial explains in excruciating detail how to comment out generated code for unnecessary dialogs and how to add in code to perform the more usual task of popping up a daughter record. The code required is often fairly complicated. Sure, I can cut and paste it, but why should I have to? Products like TopSpeed's Clarion 2.0 and Wall Data's Salsa generate hierarchical views automatically based on the database design; VSQL isn't that sophisticated.

The bottom line: Visual SQL is a good start, a step in the right direction and a reasonable investment providing you already have Visual C++ and don't already have an SQL database.

-- Info File --
Visual SQL 4.2
Pros: Works with Microsoft Visual C++ to generate SQL database applications in C++ using MFC; includes Sybase SQL Anywhere
Cons: Expensive; requires Microsoft Visual C++ 4.x
Disk Space: 30MB
Platforms: 95, NT
Blue Sky Software Corp.
800-457-4946, 619-459-6365
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

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