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Recorder 2000: The Waiting is Almost Over

By Martyn Hodgson

 

Recorder

For most of the last decade, biological recording software in the UK has been dominated by the Recorder program. Recorder was written by Stuart Ball, and runs under DOS (it predates Microsoft Windows by quite some time). Thanks largely to its stability and very detailed species dictionary, most large biological records databases in the UK use Recorder. The largest of these easily exceed a million records.

However, time and computer system have moved on significantly since Recorder was first launched. Possibly the single biggest changes have been the rise the number of users of personal computers, and the dominance of Microsoft operating systems (i.e. the various flavours of Windows). Love them, or hate them, Microsoft software has taught the vast majority of users to expect computer programs to operate in very pre-defined ways. This has become so engrained in most people that they only realise their conditioning when they try to use software that has never seen, or heard, of Windows. Recorder, of course, is one such program. This makes it a difficult program for most people to learn, particularly for occasional users. It should be said that regular users settle down very quickly and find Recorder simple and very fast to use.

Recorder is designed as both a species records system and a site recording system. I guess that this latter aspect is much less widely used than the former. For species recording, Recorder is fairly generic. This has lead a number of specialist interest groups (e.g. butterfly and dragonfly recorders) to develop their own software to run under Windows, tailored to their own specific needs. There are a also a small number of generic systems for species recording which run under Windows, but none of these have the detailed taxon data held by Recorder.

 

Recorder 2000

In the last couple of years it has become apparent that a replacement for Recorder was required, but one that in essence:

 
Retained and expanded the Recorder taxon database.
Runs under the various versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system.
Makes full use of the processing power of a modern p.c.
Is capable of supporting very much bigger databases than currently supported by Recorder.
Can be expanded to support specific requirements.
Supports a generic import and export facility.

The full list of requirements is much longer. For details, see the further information section.

The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) took on the project of specifying the new software, which has been entitled Recorder 2000. Recorder 2000 has been developed by an external software company.

 

Current status

At present, the final stages of testing are being carried out by a number of volunteers. The software has been demonstrated several times and from what I saw recently looks to be stable and just about ready for release. At the time of writing, release is due for June this year although a number of things need to be done before then.

 

Pricing

One of the decisions to be made is that of the pricing structure. The current suggestion is that the price per user will work out to be less than that for Recorder. Significantly, for users associated with a record centre, that has a site licence, the cost will be little more than a handling charge. For technical reasons associated with the way Recorder 2000 holds its data, it is vital to understand that making dual copies of Recorder 2000 from the same installation disk will make your data useless beyond your own copy computer.

 

Transferring data from Recorder

Before you can transfer data from Recorder into Recorder 2000 you will need to run a checker program. At the time of writing, this is not currently available, but its author (Stuart Ball) informed me that this should be available very soon (maybe even by the time you read this). This checks for broken referential links amongst other things. These need fixing before data can be exported. Following that, a new version of Recorder (probably version 3.4, apparently) will be launched. I guess this will be Recordersí final version and will contain the code to generate the files that are needed to import data into Recorder 2000. According to the NBN, this version of Recorder will be supplied with Recorder 2000.

The data transfer mechanism chosen for Recorder 2000 appears to have been more of a problem than expected. Details are on the NBN web site. However, if you have a large amount of data to import then expect the process to take several hours. This should not be an issue as, hopefully, it will be a one off exercise.

 

Recorder 2000 Version 2(already!!)

The Recorder 2000 project leader (Stuart Ball) is already talking about Recorder 2000 Version 2 and possible features. This will probably be available next year. The two features already mentioned are the ability to delete a record (Iím not sure why this isnít in version 1, but Iím sure there are reasons), and support for different database software. Currently Recorder 2000 uses Microsoft Access for its database, but Access is not really suitable for anything other than small databases. The most likely alternative database is Oracle 8i.

It is to be hoped that updates to the taxon database will be made independently of updates to the program software. These should be downloadable from the NBN website.

 

The WBRC approach to Recorder 2000

The WBRC is currently working on getting the historic data currently held on record cards computerised. This is going well, but it is a long process. Since, there is nothing that can really speed this process up, for now itís just a matter of grinding our way forwards.

Largely speaking, Recorder does everything we need for data entry. Thus, there is no sense in switching to Recorder 2000 for now. Indeed it would be likely to interrupt the data entry project. However, we will probably buy a single copy of Recorder 2000 to experiment with it shortly after it becomes available. This will allow us to become familiar with the software, and, more importantly, decide on how we want to use it.

 

Further Information

The NBN sees the internet as its main method of supplying information. Anyone interested in Recorder 2000 should visit the NBN website on a regular basis. The address is www.nbn.org.uk. This site holds a lot of very useful information regarding the NBN and biological recording. Only a small part of which relates to Recorder 2000. The site is updated on a regular basis, with recent updates being listed on a ĎWhatís Newí page.

 
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