CDS-ISIS user forum

Report on Crimea 96


by Alan Hopkinson

Crimea 96 was a conference resembling the large international library and information conferences; the annual General Conference of IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) comes to mind. There were many different topics under an overall theme. The theme of the Third International Conference 'Crimea 96' was Libraries and Associations in the Transient World: New technologies and new Forms of Cooperation.

Most delegates were from the former Soviet Union countries and the Baltic States coming from places as far apart as Vilnius and Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and Chechnya. There were participants also from eastern Europe, (e.g. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia). There were also a large contingent from Turkey which is very close to the Crimea though there is only one convenient passenger flight a week. The Turkish group was however very interested in CDS/ISIS.

There were also present librarians from the USA, Canada and the UK and two staff from UNESCO, one of whom was Mr Giampaolo Del Bigio who is the developer of CDS/ISIS as well as being acting head of the UNESCO General Information Programme.

As with all similar conferences there were parallel sessions which caused some overlap of interesting topics and there was even a clash between even a boat excursion to see the house where Gorbachev was imprisoned during the 1991 coup in the USSR and Mr Del Bigio's demonstration of the latest version of the Windows software! Also, the HURIDOCS format, an exchange format like MARC used within human rights programmes was described by Marija Laszlo from Zagreb University in a session which took place at the same time as the CDS/ISIS session. This was unfortunate as there was a huge interest shown in formats by CDS/ISIS users and by users of automated systems in general in the region. I gave a talk on using CDS/ISIS with exchange formats (in the CDS/ISIS Workshop) and at a separate session in the workshop entitled Development and Application of UNIMARC, UNIMARC/AUTHORITIES, USMARC and other Library Formats in Cataloguing I gave a paper on UNIMARC on CDS/ISIS followed by a demonstration of UNIBASE, a demonstration database promoted by IFLA to illustrate UNIMARC.

CDS/ISIS was also mentioned in papers in other sessions and there was a meeting of the International Association of CDS/ISIS Users which has changed its name to The International Association of CDS/ISIS systems and new information technologies users and developers (Association ISIS-NIT). This change of name is intended to reflect the fact that users of other software packages would like access to the international network that CDS/ISIS users have and that other activities such as attendance at general meetings on library automation in other parts of the world have taken place under the group's umbrella. The group is hoping to hold a joint meeting with us at CAB International, 56 Queen's Gate, South Kensington, London SW7 5JR on 2 December 1996.

Presentation of ISIS for Windows

Mr Del Bigio gave a presentation of ISIS for Windows. He began with a history of CDS/ISIS mentioning the DOS version, the VAX version (no longer supported) and the UNIX version which will run only on Intel-based UNIX, such as ATT, SCO and LINUX so long as it has a SCO UNIX compatibility add-on. He outlined the problems of maintaining the different platforms: access to the operating system varies not to mention I/O (input/output) issues such as the screen and keyboard. He mentioned that Pascal had been chosen as the language for writing CDS/ISIS because it was then the most portable language. This has now been overtaken by the language C and its variant C++.

In outlining the development strategy he stressed that the priority in the DOS version as elsewhere has always been to maximise system functionality. The formatting language, he said, to the muttered agreement of the meeting, was unique. Any attempts to make user access more friendly can be accomplished through the CDS/ISIS Pascal interface which from version 3 has been a very useful tool in the DOS, UNIX and VAX versions.

CDS/ISIS therefore is successful because of its functionality rather than because of its user-friendliness; the developers have neglected the interface and manual though others have stepped in there. The attributes of CDS/ISIS could be said to be plain and not fancy.

CDS/ISIS has acquired a clientele and UNESCO has to try not to let them down. Everyone wants Windows software today. Experts recruited to advise organisations on software are not interested in software packages which will not run under Windows. Additionally, nowadays, everything has to be client/server so that interfaces can be tailored to user needs. Mr Del Bigio said he expected he would have to adapt CDS/ISIS to UNICODE as hitherto CDS/ISIS had been more adaptable to different character sets. He noted that the Arabic, Chinese and Korea versions were specially developed each on an individual basis.

He outlined the implementation stages. The first was the rewriting of ISIS in C++. Following this, a multi-platform development system called ZINC was used. This was chosen from amongst other such tools because it was the only one which happened to support UNICODE and it also happened to be the cheapest. UNICODE is the International Standard 10646 which allows all characters to be represented in a computer system by a two-byte combination of characters rather than one byte for one character at the moment and this gives the possibility of a standard way of representing many more characters than at present in one database or system. For example it should be possible to include in one document or database all the roman, Cyrillic, Greek, Chinese and graphic or pictorial characters that one would wish for.

ZINC has two parts; a 'designer' used to build the graphic interface with the user which produces a .DAT file which is platform independent so it gives the look and feel of, say, Windows or OS/2. Secondly, for each platform a 'library' is needed, e.g. a DOS library, a Windows library, UNIX library. One buys a library for each platform one needs to develop and additionally a UNICODE 'key'.

A program developed under ZINC will use calls to the ZINC library for its ancillary programs , not, for example, to a Windows library. The ZINC library translates a 'request' from the program into the target system. The program starts in C++ and is compiled with a Borland compiler before being passed to ZINC.

As far as the person who runs CDS/ISIS is concerned, he or she will end up with an executable file (e.g. a file ISIS.EXE) and a .DAT file for each platform. The CDS/ISIS product will include the following facilities.

a) The provision of physical access to the CDS/ISIS database (which will have the same physical structure as at present).
b) The provision of logical access, for example the system will retrieve the record with record number (MFN) 37, or get a particular word from the terms dictionary.
c) It will do a search of the database and format the retrieved record according to the existing format language with enhancements
d) It will provide access to Dynamic Link Libraries (DLL's) which are libraries of routines which programmers can use to extend the basic program.
e) It will allow the development of an Internet server.

Mr Del Bigio proceeded to define the products in more detail. He reported that a beta-test version should be issued in Summer 1996 which would have the functionality of the existing DOS version but in Windows (with the exclusion of some functions in the present Pascal compiler). It would also include a DLL which would enable the development of applications in Visual Basic, a computer language developed by Microsoft for use by programmers to develop Windows applications. This should enable CDS/ISIS to be developed even more extensively than at present with the Pascal compiler.

They had released a WAIS-ISIS server for Sun, HP, RISC 6000 and UNIX. The WAIS will operate on an ISIS database with its MST, XRF and other fields. A WAIS client will also be developed (the OPAC as far as end-users are concerned).

The server and client were already under test and could be obtained by going to the following URLs: http://nx4sns.sns.it/isis/waisisis.html and the client at http://nx4sns.sns.it/isis/ynisis.html.

He mentioned that this was at a World Wide Web site which would interest CDS/ISIS users, based at the Scuola Normale de Pisa. This site is called ISIS Today and he recommended those with WWW access to look at this.

Searching

He then proceeded to give the demonstration. Starting with searching he demonstrated how it is possible to open more then one database at once. When a database is opened, one is taken straight into the 'browse' function. The file structure, he reiterated, was identical to that in the DOS version enabling both programs to be used side by side on the same databases. He proceeded to show the effect of new commands which have been added to the display language to enable fonts to change in form and size. He showed the two types of search, namely expert and novice; the expert search allowed all the fields and the entire dictionary to be used as well as free-text searching, and all the operators were available. The novice search was easier but more restrictive and it might not always be so easy to formulate a search in the way that one would want. He showed how help text was provided, at least, so far, in English. Records when retrieved could be 'marked' for later use as in many Windows information retrieval applications. It was also possible to import and export records within this version of the software.

Data entry

Data entry was demonstrated The parameters which build up the existing worksheets will provide a Windows style data entry display, including, naturally, all the fields that have been specified when the worksheet was set up. Mr Del Bigio demonstrated a validation file (named as CDS.VAL for a database named CDS). This consists of a normal ascii file with an entry for any field which it is required to validate; each entry consists of the tag followed by a colon and then a conditional statement. Thus the following statement would make field 24 mandatory:

245:if a(v24) then '24 is mandatory',fi

Any conditional statement which produces text will prevent the data from being entered until the statement is satisfied.

Functions have also been included to globally add, change and delete fields.

Printing and sorting

Printing and sorting had changed less under Windows, though there were significant improvements. The formats available for any database could be selected from a drop-down menu and could also be amended on the fly if required. Printing would generate a Postscript file, a Rich Text Format file or an ascii file with or without carriage returns.

Other functions

Mr Del Bigio displayed some of the new features of the forthcoming beta test version. A split window would be available for cut and paste activities. It will also be possible to place the display format in a window and edit it if required. Hyperlinks will be possible enabling the display within a record of data from another record; the other record may be either in the same database or a different one. This will use an extension of the existing REF function for retrieval of another record by record number (MFN) or an extension of the REF(L) function for the retrieval of a term in the inverted file. It will be possible to open Windows Write within the application to display text, Windows Paintbrush to display images and other programs to read sound files. This will make CDS/ISIS multimedia.

There were clearly a great deal of exciting developments in the near future and the workshop participants went away with much to look forward to.

It is worth mentioning that the Windows version of ISIS is a beta test version and not generally available. No date was given for its general release.

Alan Hopkinson
19 June 1996

Alan Hopkinson                     Phone (0)181 362 5238
Systems Librarian                  Fax   (0)181 362 5163
Middlesex University
Bounds Green
LONDON N11 2NQ
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