Specimen Databases PC/Mac(Biota)

Mon Oct 30 15:52:09 CST 1995

Specimen Databases on PC & Mac: Applications, Compatibility, Biota
Recently, Nancy Hensold wrote:

>I have just finished a manual entitled "Specimen Databases in
>Research and Collection Management: A Practical Guide for dBase
>and WordPerfect Users."...<snip>...I don't know a) how widespread use
>of dBase is; b) how adaptable dBase & WP protocol might be to other
>software app's; and c) whether anyone cares.

In his reply, Doug Yanega said:

>...<snip>...There should soon be a new relational version of FileMaker
>released, as well as the BIOTA collection database program (which
>may or may not be Mac-only, I've heard different rumors), so there
>is certainly new software on the horizon which may make life even
>easier. It would be interesting if someone could take the time to do
>a "Consumer's Reports"-style comparison of the pros and cons of
>the many database programs on the market, as well as doing a
>compatibility analysis....

This posting has 3 numbered, related parts (read any, all, or none...):
(1) Remarks on the distinction between collections management
applications and  general data management applications, (2) A
comment on Doug Yanega's suggested  "compatibility analysis"
among database tools, and (3) An answer to the "rumors" Doug
mentioned regarding the Biota biodiversity data management
application (of which I am the author).

(1) Collections management applications vs. general database
management applications. General purpose database management
applications for micros (e.g. FoxPro, 4th Dimension, dBase, MS
Access, FileMaker, etc.,) offer the tools for creating and managing
structured data files (databases). Depending upon the application and
how it is used, data structures vary from simple flat-files (column-
by-row tables) to complex relational structures; the means for
specifying these structures and managing the data in them (input,
output, analysis, queries) vary from using built-in tools to complex
programming and interface design.

Collections/survey management applications (e.g. MUSE, Biota), on
the other hand, are designed specifically to speed the tasks
collections managers, researchers, and biodiversity survey managers
carry out in their work. Confusion between these two kinds of
software sometimes arises because collections management
applications are often developed using the advanced application-
development capabilities of the same software (e.g. FoxPro or 4th
Dimension) that others use in much simpler ways for "do-it-
yourself" data management.

(2) Compatibility. Although database management applications can
often import and export data tables in special formats (e.g. the DBF
standard of dBase and relatives; DIF, SYLK), the lingua franca of
compatibility is plain-text tables (flat-files) with end-of-field and
end of record delimiters. In my view, the issue of which database
apps are "compatible" with which others has a very simple answer:
If an application can import and export plain-text files efficiently,
with specifiable delimiters, it's compatible with every other
application that can do so, and forever shall be. If it can't do this,
forget it. Special formats can be more efficient, but should not a
sine qua non for getting data in and out of any database management

(3) About Biota: The Biodiversity Database Manager (not to be
confused with USDA/SEL's nomenclature database, BIOTA--or with
other synonyms). Biota is a specimen-based biodiversity data
management application that was developed for and is used daily in
Project ALAS (Arthropods of La Selva) in Costa Rica (a collaboration
between the Organization for Tropical Studies, the Instituto
Nacional de Biodiversidad-INBio, and 30 systematist collaborators).
Because ALAS manages not only survey data but collections data
(label printing, specimen curation, and loans to collaborators), Biota
serves both functions. A graphical interface to a fully relational
database structure coordinates tools for recording, maintaining,
querying, and analyzing specimen- or lot-based data, including full
geographic and taxonomic information and species images. Biota
supports plain-text im/exporting to/from all tables. Many features
have been added to allow other users to customize Biota (including
unlimited user-definable auxiliary fields).

Biota will be published by Sinauer Associates (joining MacClade and
PAUP) in early 1996. (The application itself is in late beta testing
and the manual is in draft.) Biota was developed in the 4th
Dimension language (though you need not own 4D to run it). To
answer the platform question: when released, Biota will be available
for Macintosh or PowerMac (native PPC compiled code) only. If Biota
is well-received, Windows and possibly UNIX versions may be
offered, perhaps in a year or so. (4D for Windows has been released,
and 4D for UNIX is soon to follow.) BiotaApp for Macintosh or
PowerMac (the standalone version, which incorporates the 4D
database engine) will cost US$125; Biota4D (for use under 4th-
Dimension or 4D-First, or to run in client/server mode under 4D
Server) will be $100 (prices in Latin America $70 and $90).

When Biota is released I will post a brief notice on TAXACOM.
Sinauer­s homepage at<http://www.webcom.com/~sinauer> will
provide a summary of features and ordering information in a few
weeks. Meanwhile, please e-mail me directly if you have technical
questions about Biota, rather than posting to the list.

Robert K. Colwell
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut, U-42
Storrs, CT 06269-3042
E-mail colwell at uconnvm.uconn.edu
Voice (860) 486-4395
Fax (860) 486-3790
ÿÿ    Specimen Databases PC/Mac(Biota)

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