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Boxit 1.0

Reviewed by Charlie Schick

Posted October 13, 2000 · Issue 88

Overall scores
Installation Excellent
Learning curve
(beginner who can Web surf and word process)
Technical support Very good
Features Excellent
Customizability Very good
Utility to biologists Excellent
Value for money Excellent


Boxit is a FileMaker Pro relational database for organizing, managing, and storing information on reagents commonly used in a molecular-biology laboratory. Information on antibodies, cells, oligonucleotides, plasmids, and other biological samples is entered in different sections of the database and integrated in a common interface. For example, information on a plasmid is linked to the data in the plasmid storage-box list, listing box number and position. Simple database searches also make it easy to find reagents. With Boxit, a laboratory can centralize important information, making it easier for laboratory members to find reagents. When a laboratory member leaves, reagent information will not be lost since it is stored in Boxit databases. The reagent's physical location (via the storage-box section) is also saved. A database for lab protocols and for ordering lab supplies is also included. Boxit is available either as a FileMaker Pro database or as a stand-alone application for those who do not have FileMaker Pro. This program is an excellent organizational tool for any molecular-biology laboratory.

Available platforms Macintosh and Windows
System requirements Windows
486 or higher, 16 Mb of RAM, 20 Mb hard-disk space, Windows 95 or later. The runtime application requires the shfolder.dll and comctl32.dll files, which are installed by Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 (or later) or by Internet Explorer 4.0 (or later).

Power PC 601 processor or higher, 16 Mb of RAM, 24 Mb of hard-disk space, Mac OS 8.1 or later.

Boxit has been optimized for 832 x 624 pixels and 256 colors or more. The stand-alone version does not require FileMaker.

Test platforms Pentium III, 450 Mhz, 128 Mb RAM, 13 Gb hard drive, 32-bit color, 17-inch monitor

PowerBook 3400c, 200 Mhz, 144 Mb RAM, 2 Gb hard drive, 24-bit color, 17-inch monitor

Price Boxit-SA (stand-alone): $250
Boxit-FM (FileMaker Pro required): $200

How Long Did It Take to Learn to Use It Productively?

Less than an hour. Boxit is designed for use by personnel in a molecular-biology lab. Laboratory workers accustomed to recording information on reagents can use this program shortly after installing it.

Product Quality

Ease of installation Excellent
User friendliness Excellent
Interface Graphical user interface (GUI)
Intuitiveness of design Very good


Pop-up menus can be customized in the various databases that list lab-member names, units, and more. New databases cannot be integrated without contacting the programmer.

Ability to Program in Scripts, Add Extension Modules, etc.

Because the database is password protected, FileMaker scripts or extensions cannot be added without contacting the programmer.

Ability to Import and Export in Different File Formats

Imports and exports tab-delimited data.

Useful or Unusual Features

Boxit is actually a collection of databases used to store the most common information found in a molecular-biology laboratory: antibodies, oligos, plasmids, orders, protocols, and cells. There is even a "stuff" database for miscellaneous reagents such as cell pellets. Each section also contains information as to which storage box the reagent is in. An excellent feature of this package is the logical order of data entry. In each window, the cursor moves in a particular order from field to field to guide data entry. In this way, all the fields are filled. For example, upon entering all the information for a plasmid, the user can click over to the storage box section to designate in which box the plasmid was stored. This makes it easier for new laboratory members to input reagent information. This approach helps maintain consistency in reagent information, facilitating information retrieval.

The data-entry process maintains consistency in the way data are presented and visualized in the different databases. But each database can also be searched using FileMaker's excellent search capabilities. This makes it easier to find anything, irrespective of order in the database, which is important when new lab members are given the task of finding a reagent with incomplete information, a common occurrence.

Each section has customizable pop-up menus to speed data entry. These menus contain information that is usually similar in all records, such as the investigator name. For example, the antibody section allows customization of standard antibody dilutions. The order section allows users to create a vendor list for quick entry of vendor addresses via a pop-up menu.

The developer has paid attention to the details that most molecular biologists focus on. For example, in the antibody section, each record has concentration information of primary and secondary antibodies needed for immunoblotting, flow cytometry, confocal imaging, and immunoprecipitation. In the oligo section, each record automatically calculates from the sequence the G + C percent and the Tm. The plasmid section has a field with a pop-up menu of common enzymes that can be used to linearize the plasmid. These special touches make the databases much more useful to the working molecular biologist.


FileMaker Pro is an excellent tool for easily creating custom databases. Boxit provides many of the databases that a molecular-biology lab might need. In order to modify the layout or features of the Boxit databases (beyond what can already be done) or integrate another database, such as a protein-expression database, you need to contact the programmer. This can be an inconvenience, but it is still better than many commercial packages that do not even allow program-level customization.

FileMaker Pro has many excellent file-sharing features. Boxit allows sharing only via a FileMaker client, requiring multiple copies of FileMaker Pro. Boxit does not support any Web-sharing features (these do not require any FileMaker clients). This file-sharing restriction can be costly if it requires the purchase of FileMaker clients. This limitation can be a major inconvenience for those who wish to share over a network.

Comparisons with Similar Software

I do not know of any other laboratory-management package targeting molecular biologists.

Technical Support and Documentation

A single scientist created this database and is now sharing it with others. I think it is too much to expect any support beyond online help and email. The programmer was quick to respond to my queries regarding the program. The online help is useful and better than help found in most commercial programs.

Target Users

This database was designed by a molecular biologist for molecular biologists.

Publisher information Bernd Wollscheid

Web site:
Online Purchase:
Pricing structure Boxit-SA (Stand-alone, FileMaker Pro not required) single-user license is $250

Boxit-FM (FileMaker Pro 5.0 required) single-user license is $200

Trial versions also available

Software class Laboratory management

Charlie Schick is currently on leave from his position as instructor at Children's Hospital/Harvard Medical School while he is working on various writing projects.

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