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Microsoft Access Database: Next Generation of Spreadsheets

Microsoft Access Database: Next Generation of Spreadsheets

Bringing your Microsoft Access database application into the current online digital age started with the need for this integral tool for small and medium sized businesses way back in the 1990’s.

WordPerfect, Lotus 1–2–3, and dBase are the three software products that dominated the software market for a long period in the history of personal computing. WordPerfect is used for word processing; Lotus 1–2–3 is a spreadsheet program from Lotus Software; and dBase is a database management system for microcomputers.

During the early days of personal computing, spreadsheets and databases coexisted because there was a clear designation of responsibility between the two models.  During those times, the use of spreadsheets were mainly for financial modelling. While databases were intended for everything organization-related.

Spreadsheets and word processors offered the benefits of simplicity and direct manipulability. Databases were never as manageable as word processors and spreadsheets. The main drawback in using databases was in the technical implementation complexity of the software.

Microsoft Access Database Next Generation of Spreadsheets

As a result, average users began using spreadsheets as provisional databases.
After many consultations with dozens of Excel clients, it became clear that almost all of them were using the product not for the purpose of financial modelling but as a conventional tool for making tables instead.

At this point in time, the office productivity perspective had also shifted from a multiplayer market to one subjugated by Microsoft, which put down Lotus 1–2–3 and dBase with its own Excel and Access database products. The growing grey area between spreadsheets and databases gave an internal provocation to the product and marketing teams on those two products.

Microsoft drew a line between the two which consequentially made a self-fulfilling prophecy. Databases could have become more convenient to use and more spreadsheet-like rather than conversely. But in the documentation of Excel 2003, it was stated that Excel lists had a database-like functionality.

The problem was, the spreadsheet was concurrently pulled in a totally different path by a vocal minority of number-crunching power users. The resulting product gradually suffered from “split personality”. Simple tasks such as inputting lengthy notes into a cell involves incomprehensible key combinations to add new lines and results in expanded rows that make the spreadsheet difficult to navigate.

Microsoft Access Database: Next Generation of Spreadsheets

The solution: A real database that is as comprehensible as a spreadsheet.

What users really need is a software product that integrates the fast and flexible features of a spreadsheet’s interface into the structure of a true relational database. By concentrating on organisational use cases, this lightweight database would not trade-off design sophistication for the sake of number-crunching capabilities. It would be a real database with a seemingly spreadsheet interface, rather than a spreadsheet with quasi-database potentialities.

This is easier said than done, though. Principal database concepts such as multiple views, many-to-many relationships, and forms must be made accessible in a re-imagined design that feels instantly instinctive to users.

A recent article called Microsoft Access database versus Excel, which to choose highlights the pros and cons to help add clarity to the key features of the two powerful applications.

This database-with-spreadsheet-interface would fill the necessities of minor teams whose highly specific use cases are not composite or sensitive enough to justify a formal IT initiative. It would eliminate the technical complexities of old-style databases: setting up a hosting server, generating and keeping indexes for performance, and so on. But these databases for the citizen developer should also provide an API (Application Program Interface), so if a solution develops and finally rationalizes IT resources, it can be programmatically accessed and shared with other teams and services rather than be isolated and remain as a departmental silo.

To bring utmost value to users, the product needs to be built upon contemporary collaboration models that reflect new work styles and consumer behaviours. In other words, it must exist in the cloud, support real-time collaboration, and be functional from mobile devices.

Cloud-based and collaborative

A cloud-based product can sustain rapid sharing and syncing of data while removing much of the complexity of database creation. Since the software is cloud-based, neither configuration nor server maintenance is needed.

There are no conventional database products that can equal Google Docs’ typical collaboration set. The word processor and spreadsheet products made by Google deliver both cloud-based experience and real-time collaboration. Google Docs took user experience into a different level. Using the software, users can edit their works instantaneously as if they are simultaneously working on the same computer.

Google Docs had changed the way people think about their work deliverables. Documents have evolved from stationary handworks that need to be printed, into an advanced online document that could be edited simultaneously and with revision history that keeps track of the changes made by the user.

From a design perspective, each potential interaction in the software product should consider the collaborative result instead of focusing firmly on the one-user setup. The product must reflect real-time changes, apparent revision history, and allow contextual specific conversations.

The technical architecture of the product should be engineered in such a way that it can allow real-time synchronization. The resulting product must be capable of managing any multiuser issues such as merge conflicts and handling undo complexities. An example scenario is when two users are making changes to the same document where user A wants to undo his last activity without affecting user B’s recent edits. These issues are more complicated in a relational database’s context than in a word document or in a spreadsheet, where merge conflicts can be handled in an understandable method.

Mobile Responsiveness

The unbelievable growth of digital devices such as mobile phones and tablets has compelled a thorough reconsidering of old-fashioned interface designs for the touch paradigm. Even though these technologies dominate the present day, desktop should have equal importance since it plays a vital role in data entry and data processing. The ideal productivity application should not only accommodate mobile gadgets but each distinct device as well.

Traditional spreadsheets were perfect for the keyboard and mouse age, but this application was never suitable for touchscreens. The software application is not easy to navigate when using touch technologies and users often face the most common troubles: mistapping and formatting difficulties.

Waking up the beast and make it mobile too

Microsoft came to realize the need for a product that will give users hassle-free access to data and easy data manipulation. In this regard, Microsoft Access database has been developed.

MS Access is a database application that is designed specifically to eliminate the burden of keeping file-based records in your company. It is a tool for creating browser-based database applications quickly.

With Access Mobile Database Client, you can now have a direct access to all the tables in your MS Access database without installing any third party software. One important feature of this product is it makes it easy for the users to search using customizable queries through its advanced query builder.

Another key feature is it enables sharing through mail, apps, and file system. You can save the data for later use by exporting and sharing it with your co-workers.

However, you still need to master the design concepts and principles of Microsoft Access database (even with the desktop version) and have a good database plan ready to implement. To help build your product and start the journey, one will need to immerse themselves into some education hence my eBook bundle and utilities.

This article, Microsoft Access Database: Next Generation of Spreadsheets, first appeared on Microsoft Access Database Tutorial – Learn How To Use Microsoft Access.