Evolution of an ID System – Part 1

The new ID System and associated applications have come a long way since the early versions I developed in 1995.  Over the years client requirements and technology have changed which has resulted in no less than four major overhauls of the underlying technologies utilised by the ID Production and Management Systems.

  • 1995 – 1997 – Superbase
  • 1997 – 2001 – Delphi / Interbase / PageMaker
  • 2001 – 2004 – Delphi / Interbase / InDesign
  • 2004 – Present – Delphi / MS SQL Server / InDesign

Today I will provide a brief overview of the initial versions of the ID System based on Superbase.

Requirements:

A major requirement for the University ID System is to successfully produce and issue a large number of ID Cards to students as they complete their course approval at the beginning of each year of study.   During this 3 day period around 75% of all enrolled students will have their cards issued on the spot, with the remainder of the students and staff cards being issued throughout the year.

The Early Years – Superbase, MediaStudio, Windows 3.11 and Windows 95:

The first few iterations were based as an application (in reality a set of scripts) running on top of a DBMS called Superbase.  The very first iteration involved a development timeframe that was a little under three weeks (and it shows).

Screen Shot of Uni ID System v1

This three week period included everything from requirements analysis, development, testing, and production rollout.

Compared to the processes and development methods currently utilised it is surprising the first iteration worked at all, especially considering Superbase had not been used previously.  On top of that at the end of each day data from two standalone machines was manually merged and then duplicated to the separate production queues for the following day.

The system initially ran on Windows 3.11, utilising Ulead Media Studio for the image capture (Images were captured via Video Camera, and were restricted to 240×180 Resolution).   The standard Windows Macro Recorder program was used to help automate the interaction between Superbase and Ulead MediaStudio.

Enrolment information was provided by the University via a floppy disk, which was delivered each morning of course approval and more irregularly during each semester.  This enrolment information had to be manually imported.

It was not uncommon for me and the boss to pull all-nighters to ensure everything was up and running come 8.30am when the queues would start opening up.   Must admit it was certainly easier to do 18 years ago than it is now.

Second Iteration = Much Happiness:

After the initial rush of course approval was over a second iteration entered development.  The second iteration continued to utilise Superbase and MediaStudio however provided a cleaner interface, allowing for smoother operation and processing.

Screen Shot of Uni ID System v2

An extended development period (3 months compared to 3 weeks), and an increased knowledge of Superbase certainly lead to an improved system being rolled out.

The Good:

Using Superbase allowed me to quickly implement a system that would provide reasonable printing capabilities using external image files.   At the time few standalone database systems would easily support external image files to print as part of the form.

The Bad:

Using Windows 3.11/DOS 6.22 initially linked us to the limitations of the FAT16 file system, specifically in regards to the number of files we could store in a single folder, this was overcome when I moved to Windows 95 and FAT32.

Advanced form design was difficult in Superbase, as it lacked many of the layout facilities provided by desktop publishing software.

One specific feature that was lacking was allowing printed field labels to be transparent.  This required a workaround to convert the field labels to static caption labels before printing.

The Ugly:

I don’t think I can overstate enough how surprised I am that the first version actually worked, and we successfully got through course approval without any major issues.  It reminds me of the type of quick and dirty application you mock up to test something really quickly, not something you roll into production.

Coming Soon:

I will be posting an overview for each of the technology overhauls taken for the ID System concluding with an overview of the current development system.

About Anthony Dowling

Founder Sjones Limited, focusing on developing ID and Security Card Solutions. Long time Delphi Developer. @AntDowling
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2 Responses to Evolution of an ID System – Part 1

  1. Paul M says:

    Haha! SuperBase! Were those quotes from the early days (eg staying up all night) from you or someone else?

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