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I have never been a fan of Microsoft Access; in fact for a while I absolutely hated it. Most people I have spoken to have thought MS Access was a waste of time.
I have recently taken on the role of ECDL tutor and ITQ assessor. I am therefore responsible for teaching the program to new learners but also assessing them on their use of IT which means I have to be pretty competent with many applications including MS Access (Database).
I started learning about databases by trying to remember the names of everything, buts it not until you really get going that you can discover and learn new things. I have just sat for over an hour tonight playing with Macros (this is basically a set of instructions that will allow you to record a task you do regularly to speed up the process) and have created a database of my weddings guests...why I hear you ask...well I will explain.
A database is brilliant for managing large amount of information and it's even better when at the end of a month at work you can present that information with a few mouse clicks. I am going to give you a brief introduction of each section of a database and explain why I now choose to use a database rather than another application for my wedding data and why I use it everyday at work.
AN INTRODUCTION TO MICROSOFT ACCESS
The dictionary describes a database as:
"A collection of data that is organised and can be quickly accessed"
Therefore a database can be a telephone directory, an encyclopaedia, a dictionary or a library index. A database does not always have to be linked to a computer, if you keep a book of recipes in a folder and index these it is effectively a database of your favourite recipes. Microsoft Access was designed to assist the user with data collection, and sorting this data into a clear logical order so that it can be access quickly.
MS Access (Database) has four fundamental features - tables, forms, queries and reports.
First we have a table; a table is an underpinning part of a database. I can hear you say "but a spreadsheet has a table" I hear this comment quite often and of course you would be right in thinking a table in a database is hardly ground-breaking, but when combined with forms and queries to create a report we really have something special.
The table displays all of the underpinning records and can be used to create forms and a well planned table will make queries more effective. You can also link tables so that the data can be continuous over several tables.
If you think of a form you last had to fill out online, such as an order on Amazon or a form for an email account or even a survey...what made this form easier to use? Was it the drop down boxes or the checkboxes.? How did this form look was it colourful? Practical? Was it easy to read? Easy to use?
The best thing about a database is that you can create a form such as the ones described above. I will now refer back to that wedding database, I wanted to be able to input 170 people both wedding and evening guests. I wanted to include menu choice, table numbers, gender, accommodation requests, travel requirements and any other special requests. I decided to choose a database for this task as I could input the data rapidly and edit it at a later date. I could also create a separate table so that a drop down box, a combination box or a check box could be used to speed up the process of inputting data. What may have taken me 2 hours in a spreadsheet took me 10 minutes using a database.
Forms and tables are excellent features of a database but my favourite has to be the 'query' feature. A query will basically allow you to 'search' for a record or records showing certain criteria. I may want to run a query to find women attending the wedding breakfast so that I can determine how many favour boxes are required, I can then extend this to see how many of these boxes are required on each table. I can also use a database to query how many guests have ordered chicken and which table they are sat on. I can then print a report showing menu options and table numbers for the venue, meaning that the waiting staff have an easier job.
In hindsight all of this work sounds a bit over the top for a wedding, but if I now said that I do everything on a database for work you may start to get an idea about how diverse and reliable the program really is.
If my boss asks me to produce a report about the number of students enrolled on a certain course and how many achievements I have had since a certain date I can run a quick query and print a report to demonstrate this...no more rushed, incorrect reports as they have all been stored on a database.
Tables, forms, queries and reports are the basic underpinning features of a database but it does not stop there. You can create links from one form to another, or even another application altogether. You can also use it as a desktop with commands to your most frequently used documents/applications and websites. You can even create a website or edit an existing webpage. When you really get into Microsoft Access you can find that you can manage your contacts, calendar and activities on one page.
USING ACCESS - "the first steps"
On first impressions Access looks very confusing and it is easy to give up shortly after starting. On opening the screen looks pretty bare. The background is grey with a small task pane in the centre. The menu bar is similar to the other Office Applications so competence in the other MS Office applications can be useful. The standard toolbar however is slightly different with lots of 'peculiar' icons. The application can be really infuriating.
Do try to persevere as once you have created a table you have overcome the first and most difficult part. I usually avoid the 'help' and 'office assistant' but these features can be very useful. My favourite aspect of using MS Access is that if you try to do something that will not work or disagrees with another action it will tell you. You also have the option of creating tables, forms, queries and reports using a wizard which is very useful for the 'database virgin'.
Microsoft have a selection of useful publications explaining terms such as referential relationships, Macros, primary keys etc. One you overcome any confusion with these words, using the program starts to make sense.
It is best to plan any database before you start as this will give you an idea of what you expect from a database. For example you may lend CD's and DVD's to friends and want to keep a record of who has borrowed a DVD/CD a database would help you do this, you may even sell items on Ebay and realise a database would help you keep track of what has been sold. It may help if you note the date bidding ended, the date the payment was received and the date the item was posted. A database is very well suited to tasks such as these.
I also really like the fact that a spreadsheet can be used to create a database, so you do not always have to start a new document. Databases can also speed up a mail merge in Microsoft Word. The MS Office packages communicate very well with each other meaning that sharing data between applications can speed up a task.
In the beginning for Version 2.0 Microsoft stated that the requirements for successful installation and use a system with 4MB of RAM and 8 MB of available hard disk space would suffice however it was recommended that the program would work best with 6MB RAM and 14 MB hard disk space. Today the latest version (MS Access 2007) requires at 256GB RAM and a processor with a speed of at least 500MHz. With every update Microsoft add better features, although the early database has varied little from today's version. The format and structure has changed and now looks far more modern with rounded menu bars, the functionality has barely changed.
I cannot believe that an application I once feared has become such a useful resource in managing my everyday tasks and making me a more organised, professional person at work. I have found that with a bit of careful planning and patience it is possible to create a fully functional database, which makes life a lot easier. I have only touched on the capabilities of MS Access in this review; it is possible to do a lot more with the application.
If MS Access isn't already installed on your PC, give it a go. Microsoft Access 2007 can be downloaded free for a 30 day trial; I would recommend that you try it before purchasing