FOCUS

From Academic Kids

This article is about the software product. For more meanings of the word Focus, see Focus.

FOCUS is a software product of Information Builders Inc. Originally developed for data handling and analysis on the IBM mainframe, as newer systems were developed and smaller computers became more powerful, the available platforms for FOCUS were extended all the way down to personal computers.

Loosely competitive with SAS, for instance, FOCUS has never reached the same degree of mainstream adoption, perhaps because it has only basic analytical and statistical functions, lacking the wide array of specialized analytic tools which made SAS the standard in fields such as pharmaceutical clinical trials. Instead, FOCUS concentrates on extreme flexibility in data import and export.

Description of FOCUS

Like other database-oriented fourth-generation programming languages such as SQL or SAS, FOCUS assumes a default file structure, and automates the process of identifying files to the operating system, opening the input file, reading the next record, opening the output file, writing the next record, and closing the files. This allows the user/programmer to concentrate on the details of working with the data within each record, in effect working almost entirely within an implicit program loop that runs for each record. Other procedures operate on the dataset as a whole, for instance printing or statistical analysis, and merely require the user/programmer to identify the dataset.

Compared to general-purpose programming languages, this structure allows the user/programmer to be less familiar with the technical details of the data and how it is stored, and relatively more familiar with the information contained in the data. This blurs the line between user and programmer, appealing to individuals who fall more into the 'business' or 'research' area and less in the 'information technology' area. This in turn has the double edged result of allowing rapid answers to business or research questions, even ones requring several iterations to get from the initial results to a final answer; but also contributing to the construction of a large body of badly written and impossible to maintain source code.

FOCUS features the unique ability for the user to construct a data description file referring to the actual data file, or even several different data description files addressing the same data file in different ways, rather than the usual practice of having the file structure hard-coded into the program. In this way, files of any structure from any source can be accessed or produced in many different ways, eliminating much of the data manipulation (i.e. concatenation, or parsing) usually required with other programming languages to change variable formats or data structures.


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