Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Why Access and not Excel

My creationImage by tripleascholar via Flickr People in my Intro to Access classes go through a lot of content in two days. It's always a challenge to provide the right balance of useful and useable information in balance with the existing skills, background, exposure and motivation of participants. That's what makes teaching so vital, so interesting, so alive.

Sometimes, an Excel proficient participant will ask Why is Access so complex? Why do I have to normalize tables, relate them and so on? Shouldn't the software Just Do It?

That's a valid question from their perspective and indeed, there are reasons why such and such a person or such and such a task might stay rooted in Excel rather than Access. You have to make a good choice of tool (after all, these things are just tools) for the relevant job.

Reasons to consider Access

  1. You have way too many columns in Excel. So much that you are scrolling the screen left and right until you have nausea.
  2. You have way too many rows in Excel. In Excel 2007, you can easily have more than the famous 65535 rows. But you're hitting the problem where you can't see the rows you want, you're afraid of accidentally stepping on some data whilst you are analysing and reporting and the machine is slowing down badly
  3. Your data needs more data entry validation than simply keying in and using Excel's cell validation rules allow. And Excel Forms are either not within your skill set to develop or they are not rich enough in features to do what you want.
  4. You want a no-buts simultaneous multiple operator data entry system. Excel 2007 has again upped the ante for simultaenous multiple operator data entry but there are still some buts.
  5. You have too many one to many facets in your data. One company has 1 to 50 employees. One class has 30 students. One student has four years of study, at least 3 units a year and so on.
  6. You want reports galore - you want this column here, that column there, grouped this way, aggregated that way - it's the same data but it's to be laid out differently. Yes, I know it sounds like Pivot Tables but Pivot Tables don't allow white space wherever you want it.

The big cheese

Because you have too many columns, too many facets to keep working in Excel, you can't just have Excel Plus Plus. Access has different approaches, different features, it isn't Excel Plus Plus.

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