Thirty years after Cardbox released its flat-file database of that name, the company has upgraded both the Pro and Home editions to version 3.1, and slashed the price of the Pro edition from £299 to £0. The Cardbox Server back-end is also free.
"It's all a bit of an adventure," says company founder Martin Kochanski. "We don't need to make money out of Cardbox because we don't have huge establishment costs. It costs next to nothing to run a web site, and nothing at all to distribute software from it, so there is now no reason not to contribute to the public good by spreading Cardbox among as many people as possible."
Flat-file databases are, of course, out of fashion, and the trend is to use programs such as MySQL, even though they may be overkill for collections of contacts and membership records, digital and scanned images, log files and similar mostly-static records. An indexed flat-file database can be small, fast, and reliable.
Cardbox can store up to 16 million records, and major users include museums, libraries, educational institutions and various societies. It also supports VBScript, and users can record and play back macros.
The standalone version is now available as a free download for Microsoft Windows XP and later versions. The Cardbox Server, for multi-user/networked databases, runs on both Windows and Linux. The documentation includes The Cardbox Book and Cardbox: Macros and Programming, which can either be purchased from sources such as Amazon.co.uk or downloaded as free PDFs.
From a sample Cardbox contacts database
Using Cardbox involves creating a number of fields on a grid similar to an index card, and as you might expect with a program that pre-dates Microsoft Windows, it looks old fashioned by today's standards. Existing users probably don't care, but now Cardbox is free, there could be an opportunity for third parties to develop some more stylish templates to appeal to new users.
Currently, one of Cardbox's options is to use Amazon's S3 to store data online, and Kochanski says the company is working to make it generally available though the cloud. In a blog post in January, he wrote:
"By the end of the year, our aim is that every Cardbox user should be able to have databases in the Cloud, accessible, secure, and automatically backed up, and to share them with anyone they want, live, and with updates immediately visible: friends, family members, or business colleagues.
Much of this can already be done today, by renting a server in the Cloud and putting the Cardbox Server on it: our challenge is to remove all the layers of bureaucracy and administration from this procedure so that it becomes simple, transparent, cheap, and in many cases free."
Whether this will attract new users and new applications remains to be seen, but after 30 years, it's unlikely to dent Kochanski's faith in his product.
"If it doesn't boom, it doesn't," he says, "and nobody loses, because it's still available for whoever needs it. For the things it does, nothing else is as good as Cardbox. I couldn't live without it."
Update: Kochanski has just expanded his remarks in a blog post, Cardbox 3.1: the story behind the story.