Microsoft Access versus Excel: how are they different?
Spreadsheets versus databases
Microsoft Access and Excel are two totally different programs. Access is a database program while Excel is for spreadsheets and financial calculations.
You would use Access to collect, manipulate and sort different types of data: names, addresses, titles, identifying codes, and so on. The primary use of Excel is to create financial spreadsheets. Excel has basic functions to sort data, but its primary use is performing financial calculations and manipulating numbers.
With Excel, you can compile financial data and manipulate it using a variety of built-in formulas. It's an extremely powerful spreadsheet program that can perform dozens of different computations, from basic mathematical operations such as addition or multiplication to more complex calculations such as averages and percentages. You can create extremely complex financial "what if" scenarios where you change different variables and see what the consequences of those changes would be. The software also has graphing capabilities and can produce pie charts, line graphs, and bar graphs. Excel does have limited data sorting capabilities but you wouldn't want to try to create and maintain a complex database with it.
With Access, you can collect, sort and manipulate data such as words, phrases, names and numbers. For example, you could do a database of employees or members of a club, storing all their personal information: name, age, address, phone number, and so on. Then you could ask the program to give you a list of those individuals that fit a specific set of parameters: for example, employees with over ten years of service, or employees in a certain department or city. Microsoft Access can be used for any application where there is a large amount of data and you want the ability to sort it or extract it using different criteria.
Access also allows you to create and format custom reports using your data. Reports give you the ability to select and return different combinations of data in ways that are useful to you.
People who aren't familiar with database software will often try to store database information in a spreadsheet. While Excel can be used this way, it doesn't offer the full range of capabilities that Access does. You're much more limited in the ways you can search and return data, and you can't funnel selected portions of your data into customized reports the way you can with Access. If you have a small amount of data and don't need complex search capabilities or custom reports, you can probably get by with Excel; otherwise, you'd do well to invest in a proper database program such as Microsoft Access.
OpenOffice: an alternative to Microsoft Office
- Apache OpenOffice Official Site
Don't have the budget for Microsoft? Apache's OpenOffice productivity software is free and creates compatible files. It has fewer bells and whistles, but it does the job. I use it at home for word processing and creating spreadsheets.
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© 2008 John Chancellor
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