Linux database becomes a browser

Mashups are us


The fashion for "web mashups" just got a steroid boost with the release of a browser that is really a desktop database, with full SQL scripting and the ability to manipulate tabular data found on the Internet.

The browser, Kirix Strata, started life two years ago as a Linux desktop database, said Kirix founder and president, Nate Williams. He told The Register that "the world seemed very excited about it at the time, but sadly, the demand for a Linux desktop database, however powerful, wasn't large... people really wanted server products like MySQL."

Also, the original database lacked two features, said Williams. "People asked us 'Does it do scripting?' and 'Can I work on data in existing files?' and we had to admit, it didn't."

What Strata doesn't lack is muscle. Nate Williams told us that it's a full-blooded database, capable of handling a billion records. "We already have clients using it with 100m record data bases," he said. "We can sort a million records in a minute; so if you sort a ten million record data base, it takes ten minutes."

Even so, Williams and his brother, Kirix Chief Scientist Aaron Williams, felt that the market for a Windows and Linux database on the desktop wasn't going to get them famous: "We felt we wanted to differentiate ourselves a bit, and go beyond a Me-Too product. So we looked at the entire Web as a database, and decided to build a product that would handle that."

Today, as Kirix Strata enters public beta, it takes all those powerful database features, and embeds them in a Gecko-engined specialist browser. A tutorial screen cast will show how the browser works, and it can be downloaded in beta versions for Windows or Linux format.

"When it comes to working with data on the web, standard tools like spreadsheets or even web browsers behave like fish out of water," Williams told us. "Strata puts web data front and centre so you can deal with it in context and then manipulate it quickly." It handles many data formats natively, such as HTML tables, CSV files and RSS feeds. Right-click, and pick a tool, and you have an on-screen, structured table which you can manipulate with your mouse in real time, can control with ECMA standard versions of Javascript, or even, mount a remote MySQL database and link.

"We really didn't think it was worth trying to embed this very powerful database engine as a FireFox extension," said Nate Williams. "There are now quite a few special purpose Gecko-based browsers, like the Flock browser for social networking, or the Songbird music browser. We think that auditors will simply cry out for this ability built into a browser, and we think people are quite willing to try these speciality browsers, nowadays."

In any case, he said, a data engine capable of handling 60 billion records per table would probably never fit into FireFox as an add-on.

In the meantime, Kirix is building up a list of web sites with CSV and structured data, which would otherwise require tedious manipulations with mark, cut, and paste into spreadsheets or standalone databases, but which Strata can simply manipulate directly.

"We're asking people to try it out for us and let us know if they run into problems or have any suggestions for making it better," said Williams. "To return the favour, we're giving our free licences of the final version to anyone who provide us with good feedback during the beta period. Check the beta information page for further details." ®


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