An update of AskSam Systems Inc.'s database, which can handle both structured data and freeform information, became available this week, with improvements to its e-mail support and the capability--for an extra fee--to organize material pulled off Web pages.
Version 5.1 of askSam is available for download. The Standard edition lists for US$150. The Professional edition, which adds indexing for faster searches on large databases and Visual Basic support to customize applications, lists for US$395. Upgrading from 5.0 to 5.1 is free of charge.
The askSam database program's claimed differentiator is its support for both the structured data of a conventional database, which might involve specific fields, and unstructured information that isn't easily organized. Data comes in many forms, or in no form at all, and askSam was designed to handle these inconsistencies.
You can use the application to create a structured database with clearly defined fields, such as name or address. But you can also store complete documents in an askSam database without worrying about their structure, you can create hyperlinks to connect pieces of otherwise separate information.
The previous update, askSam 5.0, added e-mail support. It lets you import messages--with or without attachments--into its databases. But while you could search for specific text within the contents of these messages, you couldn't search in the attachments within those messages.
Version 5.1 enhances those e-mail functions, and adds other features.
New in the Update
Now, with version 5.1, you can search both e-mail messages and their attachments--if the attachments are in Word, HTML, PDF, WordPerfect, RTF, or plain text formats. But askSam still can't find a phrase inside, for example, an Excel spreadsheet within an e-mail message within a database.
The program also now supports IMAP as well as POP e-mail systems--a big convenience if your office uses Outlook for its internal e-mail system.
A new Web-related option is available in version 5.1. Ever try to bring information from a Web page into a structured database? It involves a lot of tiresome cutting and pasting. To make this sort of job easier, askSam is selling an US$89 version of Crystal Software's TextPipe Pro as an add-in to askSam 5.1 (it won't work with earlier versions).
TextPipe Pro lets you create filters that organize data so it can be easily placed into the appropriate fields in an askSam database. This should be especially useful with Web pages where the data changes but the form stays the same, such as the results of a PC World Product Finder search. Representatives of askSam Systems say the company plans to eventually have a collection of free filters available on its Web site.
Among the free programs now posted by askSam Systems is the askSam Viewer. Modeled after Adobe's Acrobat Reader, it will allow anyone with a Windows PC to view and search an askSam database.