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Software to Read/Convert a Folio Infobase File? 18

Posted by Cliff
from the dead-languages-and-file-formats dept.
garyebickford writes "Infobase is an application and data format that appears to be very popular among various governmental agencies. It is apparently also used to produce many CD/DVD titles. The 'Folio' software to read and write Infobase files is evidently now produced by NextPage Inc.. (Note: in order to get their page to come up, I had to set Opera to say it was Explorer). In my case, I have been given an Infobase file that contains, to my knowledge, public domain material. However the software to read it is Windows-specific, and I am resistant to the idea of buying a Windows box just to read it. I tried contacting the company that produced the Infobase, but the support number for the company is no longer connected, and their email address bounces. I seem to have an orphan dataset. I have looked fairly extensively for any open source software that can read or write the Infobase format, without success. Does anyone know the format, or (bless you) have an algorithm to unpack the data?"

"Until I began this search, I had never heard of Infobase. After seeing 12,400 hits on Google (search for "Infobase document"), mostly for Infobase documents on web servers, mostly for the information archives of regional and city governments, I believe that an Infobase reading and writing tool could be a valuable open source project, especially considering that presently Infobase is entirely a Windows product.

Another factor is that the Folio Infobase has now been around ten years. One might worry that without a second source, all those Infobase files could be lost if the existing software is no longer supported at some point."

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Software to Read/Convert a Folio Infobase File?

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  • buy it. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    if you work for a government, push out an RFP and pay for an open source coder to code it.
    with all the hungry programmers out there right now someone will jump at it.
  • by avi33 (116048)
    Why not wine, or would that necessitate purchasing a legal windows license as well?

    What's the real goal, to be able to open this file (and presumably others like it) without touching windows? Why not emulate it? or don't you have a copy of the software either?

  • Probably Patented (Score:2, Informative)

    by MrRobahtsu (8620)
    You would probably have to have a foreign programmer reverse engineer and write the software. I met the founders of Folio back in 1990 and actually produced a product with the DOS version. They have long touted their patented compression and indexing technology.

    So don't do it in the U.S. unless you have a large legal budget or know the status of the patents and owners.

    IANAL.
    • Reverse engineering is completely legal in the US.

      • Re:Probably Patented (Score:4, Interesting)

        by qnonsense (12235) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @09:46PM (#5284819)
        • Reverse engineering is completely legal in the US.
        True. There is nothing illegal about reverse engineering a file format (or anything else for that matter) for the purposes of interoperability (witness Kerberos). But...

        Unfortunately, reverse engineering's not all that's involved in this case. As our original poster said, the algorithm's patented. So while it'd be fine to reverse engineer the file format and algorithm in the US, distributing a viewer which contains the patented algorithm (and it must in order to work), sure as hell isn't.

        At least in the good ol' US of A. (The rest of the world isn't so stupid as to allow software patents. But you know US !)

        You do remember a little algotithm called RSA, don't you? Hint: Theo de Raadt lives in Canada for a reason.
  • According to this rather old news article [xml.com], they may offer some kind of API to address getting at the data stored inside. You might want to phone their supportenfolken.
  • by JimDabell (42870) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @05:34PM (#5283452) Homepage
    I tried contacting the company that produced the Infobase, but the support number for the company is no longer connected, and their email address bounces. I seem to have an orphan dataset.

    <irony>

    Well thank $DEITY you didn't use open-source software, because there are all sorts of support issues with that!

    </irony>

    Seriously, though, if the company is still in business, it shouldn't be that hard to contact them. Look at their domain records for contact info, business directories for their area, etc.

  • by supton (90168) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @06:03PM (#5283642)
    Folio NFO files are too much of a niche format to have already been reverse engineered, so you likely want a text dump of the content. This is not a problem, as Folio software does have export abilities.

    You likley want to get your hands on a copy of Folio Views for Windows or Macintosh. First, keep in mind that there are differences between the 3.x and 4.x infobases. You need to find out which version of Folio products produced your infobase. If nothing else, Folio Views 4.x will read the older NFO files. You want to export the infobase from Folio Views to a Folio Flat File (FFF, very simple SGMLish, but not quite SGML text).

    You will likely need to buy this from an OEM, since NextPage stopped producing this a long time ago. Here's the history: Folio was the default search engine for Netware many moons ago, and was popular, and then had DOS, then 16-bit windows versions of their "Views" product (2.x and 3.x line). Folio was purchased by Lexis-Nexis, and then sold to OpenMarket, who didn't want it, and eventually sold it back to its original founders, who changed the name of the company to NextPage. During the time it was at OpenMarket, a 4.x version of Views was released, which is win32 (and also MacOS app).

    FYI, FFF is very easy to work with. I've written text filters to work with it, and it's as easy as any other decently-marked-up format, even if it is not SGML. I do not know of any way to get an NFO out to FFF without a copy of Views.

    Tip: My former employer NewsView Solutions [newsviewsolutions.com] is one of the few OEMs still selling Folio-branded products, and still uses the Folio Views 4.x products alongside with their digital asset management software. They could sell you a copy of Views (I forget about pricing).

    • To expand on this a little, when Supton says, "Folio was the default search engine for Netware", I believe he is referring to Netware's interactive help system. A FREE viewer came with the database. It might be worth a shot if you have access to any Novell 3/4 documentation on CD to try pointing that viewer at your dataset.
  • Folio Information (Score:3, Informative)

    by coldmist (154493) on Wednesday February 12, 2003 @11:46PM (#5292840) Homepage
    I have worked with Folio Infobases for many years as a hobby.

    With their v2 dos-based infobases, they had a free viewer that could open the contents and dump out a txt file.

    With their v3 16-bit based software/infobases, they also had a viewer for 3.0 infobases, but stopped it when they started v3.1x infobases. Fortunately, the 3.0 viewer could read the 3.1x infobases, but it wasn't widely distributed.

    With their v4 32-bit based software/infobases, they greatly improved the performance of the database, increased it's total size, and brought the UI up to the "standard" win32 interface.

    They have proprietary compression algorithms to compress the built infobases. The APIs that are available from the company are only into the .dlls so you can tweak a custom interface, but the raw data is pretty much locked down.

    You can include images and even raw data like Excel spreadsheets into the infobase so you can share a single file and it has all the data inclusive to itself. It's a very powerful format.

    There is also the ability (within the infobase itself) to lock down the contents even to the point where a user can't co a ctrl-c to copy text to the clipboard, or prevent an "export" of text out to .doc format. Be aware of this so that if you buy the software for $150, there's a chance you might not even be able to get the data out of it. Most infobases aren't locked down that far, but most commercial infobases do prevent the exporting of text to a file.

    As for Folio on linux, I've heard win4lin can run Folio just fine. But, you have to have a copy of Folio Views.

    http://www.thefiengroup.com sells Folio, but their website is a bit screwed up right now. $150 for the "viewer" program, and $2000 for the developer software (with html/doc/wpd/txt/etc import/convert/compile/build/manage features). Then there is the $2000 Publisher software that actually makes the CD-ROM installation binaries for a product. Then, there is a 5% per copy sale tax with quarterly updates back to Folio. So, it's targeted to data publishers for products.

    The Folio Flat File format is SGML-derived. I write a lot of perl scripts to take OCR'd text or html and convert them to properly marked up .fff files.

    So, the moral of the story is: If you could come up with a flat file sourced database with an OpenOffice front end to it with full regexp/wildcard/thesaurus/boolean searching down to user-specified context (string/paragraph/article/monthly/entire database), you could have a killer ap for the publishing business. Acrobat PDF is great for brochures and such, but when you have 2GB of text, Folio beats anything out there for less than $25,000 to combine/search/manage/filter it, which it does extremely well and fast.

    Ryan
  • If you need a viewer, it MIGHT be enough just to buy any Folio-based product, since I assume they all include the viewer, and the viewer seems to be general purpose. (At least my copy of the viewer which comes with products from www.nlx.com works with multiple databases.) So you could just find the cheapest Folio-based product, and then run it under wine or something like that (unless this requires a Windows license).

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