Data is the lifeblood of today’s society, so naturally, there’s a lot of attention focused on different database tools. After all, if you have the right tools, you have the most efficient means of working with the current massive data glut and perhaps making things more manageable.

To that end, we’re taking a look at Microsoft Access. This article covers critical Microsoft Access-related points such as what Microsoft Access is, how Microsoft Access differs from Excel, the benefits and drawbacks of Microsoft Access, and how Microsoft Access is used.  

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What Is Microsoft Access?

Microsoft Access is a well-known database management system produced by Microsoft and is part of the Microsoft 365 office suite. Microsoft Access combines Microsoft’s relational Jet Database Engine with software development tools and a graphic user interface (GUI). It was first released in November 1992, so it’s been around for a while. In the rapidly changing, fast-paced IT world, we can best describe a 30-year-old program as "venerable."

Microsoft Access also has the distinction of being the first mass-market database program for Windows.

Microsoft Access enables business and enterprise users to manage data and analyze vast amounts of information efficiently. The program provides a blend of database functionality and programming capabilities for creating easy-to-navigate forms.

Microsoft Access is like Microsoft Excel in that you can store, edit, and view data. However, Access has much more to offer, as we are about to see.

How Microsoft Access Differs from Excel

Before we get into the differences between Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel, let’s review what the latter is. Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet utility used chiefly for individual projects and performing brief, relatively simple calculations.

Excel users typically work with a limited number of data cells simultaneously, from a few dozen to a couple of hundred. As a result, excel is well suited to graph and chart such data points and calculations. But while Excel users type information directly into their spreadsheets, Access databases rely on pre-made queries and forms.

This handy reference chart highlights the chief differences between Access and Excel.

Access

Excel

It handles all types of data, including numbers and text, and is used for collecting and sorting data.

It mainly deals with numerical data and is used for financial calculations and spreadsheets.

All data is stored in one place, at one time.

Many documents and worksheets are stored with redundant data.

It’s comparatively more flexible than Excel.

It’s relatively less flexible than Access.

It locks data only at the record level, so that multiple users can work on the same database file.

It locks the whole spreadsheet, so only one user can work with it at a time.

It isn’t easy to learn.

It’s relatively easy to learn.

It lets users build functional data templates and data entry forms.

You only work with the primary data screen.

It has a large data storage capacity because it’s built to handle database storing and manipulation.

It has a comparatively smaller data storage capacity because it’s not built for data storage.

It emphasizes accuracy and efficiency.

The format limits speed and accuracy.

It functions on a multiple relational table and sheet data model.

It works on a non-relational or flat worksheet data model.

It’s great for large-scale projects and long-term solutions.

It’s best suited for small-scale projects and short-term solutions.

So, in summary, if you want to do basic small-scale database functions, Excel spreadsheets will be sufficient for the task. If, however, you need a more elaborate, larger-scale utility that can handle vast amounts of information and accommodate multiple simultaneous users, go with Access.

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How Microsoft Access is Used

Here are some of Microsoft Access’s most-used features:

  • Importing data from Excel or other databases
  • Creating forms for data entry or viewing
  • Designing and running data retrieval queries
  • Designing reports to be either printed or turned into a PDF
  • Allowing users to interact with Access via SQL

The Components of Microsoft Access

Microsoft Access is composed of the following components:

  • Tables: Access stores its data in tables, using a row and column format. Users can create one database that includes all the data of one project. This database is known as a “flat” database. More on databases later.
  • Relational Databases: Although users can place a project's data in just one database, it's typically easier to create numerous tables dedicated to a different aspect of the project. Fortunately, each table can be connected and interrelated, an arrangement known as a relational database.
  • Forms: Forms enable users to enter data into the database without relying on a spreadsheet.
  • Macros: Macros are small programming constructs consisting of commands and processes and are a huge time saver.
  • Modules. Modules are procedures, also called functions, which users can write with Visual Basic Applications.
  • Queries: Queries find information in databases, a helpful tool, considering the size of many Access databases.
  • Reports: Reports simplify the processes of sorting, labeling, summarizing, and grouping data to easily share or print.

The Uses of Microsoft Access

Over the last three decades, Microsoft Access has repeatedly shown its versatility. Microsoft Access can:

  • Store data in table form, which can be later edited or customized to the user’s needs
  • Manage bills and accounts
  • Compare data or find common relationships between existing data
  • Create database websites
  • Develop applications suitable for small businesses, departments within a corporation, or personal use

The Microsoft Access Database

Microsoft Access consists of two distinct types of databases:

  • First, flat file databases store data in plain text files and can't incorporate multiple tables.
  • Secondly, relational databases store data in forms that relate to each other. For example, relational databases support multiple tables, which arrange the text into columns and rows.

Additionally, the Microsoft Access database uses the following data types:

  • Attachment: Stores files like digital images
  • Auto Number: Either assigned by Access or the user when a new record is created
  • Calculated: Creates an expression that uses data from one or multiple fields
  • Currency: Stores currency values and numeric data featuring one to four decimal places
  • Date/Time: Stores date and time information for a year range between 100 and 9999
  • Hyperlink: Stores a combination of numbers and text, used as a hyperlink address
  • Long Text: Typically used for lengthy alphanumeric or text data, up to 63,999 characters
  • Numbers: Numeric data used for storing mathematical calculations
  • OLE Objects: This data encompasses audio, video, and other Binary Large Objects
  • Short Text: Stores text and numbers not used in calculations
  • Yes/No: Only stores the logical values of Yes and No

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The Benefits of Microsoft Access

Microsoft Access brings many advantages to the table, including:

  • It gives users a fully functional, relational database management system in minutes
  • It’s easy to import data from multiple sources
  • It’s easily customized to fit any personal or company needs
  • The online Microsoft Access works nicely with many development languages that work on the Windows operating system
  • It’s a robust and flexible utility that can perform any demanding office or industrial database task
  • MS-Access lets users link to data in its current location and use the information for viewing, querying, updating, and reporting
  • It’s simple to install and easy to understand
  • It lets users create tables, forms, queries, and reports and connect with the aid of Macros
  • Macros in Access are simple programming constructs that helps users add functionality to their database
  • The graphical user interface (GUI) helps simplify its use
  • Microsoft Access online are able to perform heterogeneous joins between many data sets that are stored across various platforms

The Drawbacks of Microsoft Access

Of course, no application is perfect. Every product has its downside, and Microsoft Access is no exception. Its drawbacks include:

  • If too many users attempt to gain access to the same database at once, this may negatively impact the speed and efficiency. There is an apparent limit to how many people can simultaneously work on the same database.
  • Related to the first point, the Microsoft Access database is more beneficial for small-to-medium businesses but not as much for large-sized organizations.
  • There are better database systems available when working with confidential data.
  • Microsoft Access lacks the robustness found in other DBMS systems such as MS SQL Server or Oracle.
  • Since all the information from a database is saved into one file, this can slow down reports, queries, and forms.
  • Although the technical limit is 255 concurrent users, the real-world limit actually ranges from only 10 to 80, depending on the kind of application the organization is currently running.
  • Microsoft Access requires considerably more learning and training when compared with other Microsoft programs.

Wrapping It Up

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution; every individual or organization has its specific needs, so what works for one business won't work for another. However, Microsoft Access is a great database solution for individuals, small to medium businesses, and self-contained departments within larger companies. It's a significant step up from Excel. Check it out and see if Access is suitable for your particular needs. You can also check out the Microsoft Access download here.

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About the Author

John TerraJohn Terra

John Terra lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and has been writing freelance since 1986. Besides his volume of work in the gaming industry, he has written articles for Inc.Magazine and Computer Shopper, as well as software reviews for ZDNet. More recently, he has done extensive work as a professional blogger. His hobbies include running, gaming, and consuming craft beers. His refrigerator is Wi-Fi compliant.

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