Why do we recommend MS Access for Small Businesses?
We often recommend Access Databases . Many people say – “Why Access, aren’t there more powerful alternatives such as MySQL an Open Source Database, Oracle and SQL Server?”
The difference between these and Access is that Access is a comprehensive environment for producing a Database System complete with Queries, Forms, and Reports.
Oracle, MySQL and SQL Server are engines that store the information. To produce a Database System with these it is necessary to harness them to Webforms or Windows Forms and to Crystal Reports for the reporting functions.
Because development of such a system is far from quick or simple, these Database Systems tend to take far more time to develop and therefore cost more than an Access Database.
The restrictions of Access Databases are that Access does not work well with a large number of users all using the system at once and its baseline storage capacity is limited to 2 Gb (over 2000 Million items of data) .
A third limitation is that Access was designed for Desktop use (ie not in a Web Browser). This can be a drawback if you need to connect to Company Data wherever you are wherever there is an internet connection. However, using a Remote Access connection it is possible to use an Access database on any device which can be connected to the Internet directly or using Wi-Fi.
For a small or medium sized company, these restrictions are unlikely to cause any problems and if so, there are several well documented ways round these limitations.
A major advantage of an Access Database System is Access’s ability to link to other Microsoft Office components such as Word, Excel and Outlook. Form or Mailmerge letters can easily be produced in Words generated from Access . Mailmerge Emails can be generated from Outlook using Access in a similar way. Excel charts can also be directly produced from Access and Access Reports can be exported to Excel for further analysis.
Linking to Other Databases
Access has a unique ability to link to data in other databases including MySQL and SQL Server via a system called Open DataBase Connectivity (ODBC). Access Tables can simply be exported to the new system which gets over both the restriction of limited simultaeneous users and storage capacity. This means that Access Forms and Reports can remain unchanged and the database system work exactly the same way as with the original tables.
Using Access over the Internet
The third restriction is rather more difficult to overcome as Internet Forms are very different to Access Forms. Internet Forms use HTML to lay out data and up to now, there is no way of duplicating an Access Form precisely in HTML.
Microsoft has tried to get round this in the later versions of Access using Sharepoint Server Technology. However this means that forms must follow a prescriptive layout and there are no Reports as such, only screen snapshots. To date, Sharepoint server and Access have not been happy bedfellows.
A Hybrid Solution
This does not mean it is not possible to share information over the Internet. The system that Bluebird Software have developed uses MySQL stored on a Web Server (in the Cloud) for table storage. Each user, when they log in connects up to this database. The only disadvantage is that Access software needs to be installed on each machine connected to the Internet.
Using this technique, it is also possible to use Web Forms as well for some additional functionality.
We have used this technique with CRACS and CoreReports to allow users to see the results of Surveys over the Internet. Access is used to edit and post new surveys where each client can view only the surveys that are applicable to them.
Database Systems Grow…
So is Access the best way to start? We think so, unless sharing information over the Web is paramount, in which case a MySQL/PHP website may be preferable. If you have a project in mind, please ring or email us for advice.