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April 28, 1997

Microrim's Oterro promises to ease the pain of SQL

A new product that a core team of programmers has been quietly designing just minutes away from the Microsoft campus will soon change the way Visual Basic (VB) programmers create database applications for their customers.

Oterro, which will probably be announced soon, is published by Microrim, in Bellevue, Wash. It is a fast, relational, ODBC-compliant database engine that may cause VB developers en masse to rethink their need for SQL Server or the Jet engine in Microsoft Access.

VB programmers who need to write a front end for a multiuser database application have been frustrated with their back-end choices for some time. The Jet database engine in Access is adequate for a stand-alone, single-user application but is also notorious for crashing when its subjected to more than two or three network users at the same time. Also, Jet's performance slows down dramatically when a database contains more than 20,000 or 30,000 rows.

"When VB developers go to Microsoft to fix the Jet engine, Microsoft says, `Switch to SQL Server,'" says Jeff Ward, an Oterro tester at SQL Resources Group, in Chicago.

But SQL Server has cost, performance, and support problems to deal with. SQL Server requires a fast, dedicated server with plenty of memory running Windows NT Server.

"You can't get away with 32[MB] of RAM for SQL Server," says Ken Burton, an Oterro tester at the Burton Consulting Group, in Valencia, Calif. "You'd need 64[MB] to 128[MB] to get the same performance as you do with 32[MB] for Oterro."

SQL Server itself isn't cheap. Microsoft sells the product in five-user packs for network use. A discount mail-order company recently listed SQL Server at a cost of $1,400 per five users. And support can also be expensive: SQL Server requires a database manager who has passed several weeks of training.

Oterro is designed to replace Access, SQL Server, and other database engines for serious VB developers. The brainchild of a group of software whizzes hired away from other companies by Microrim, Oterro will support an unlimited number of network users and includes one year of technical support at a cost of only $3,200.

A VB programmer using Oterro writes a visual front end and then delivers a completed database application to a customer. The customer pays no additional licensing fees. The Oterro engine becomes a part of the application whether there are two network users or 200.

In other respects, the beta version of Oterro that I examined takes several giant steps toward improving ease of use for the VB developer. Unlike SQL Server, it is not necessary to allocate the size of a file for a database in advance. Oterro dynamically resizes a database to accommodate an unlimited number of records. Oterro also automatically handles "optimistic" concurrent locking of data records. This means that two or more network users can view and edit the same record, with all users being notified of changes made by the others. No record is made unavailable to other users at any time.

When an upstart product becomes a threat, Microsoft usually lowballs its own prices in an effort to eliminate the competition. But Oterro runs on either Windows NT or Windows 95, which would make it attractive even if Microsoft were to reduce SQL Server's price to zero. For more information, call (206) 649-9500.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of Windows 95 Secrets Gold and four other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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Copyright © 1997 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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