Personal Database Solutions: An Overview

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Businesses benefit dramatically from the ability to organize and store information in databases, as do individual consumers. Both use these technologies to manage budgets and archive contacts, as well as many other tasks — each saves a substantial amount of time, effort and paperwork.

The kinds of databases used differ between the two, however. Obviously, companies almost always will require larger solutions that can scale and thus patronize database giants such as Oracle, IBM and MySQL. Individual and (very) small businesses rely on different tools that, while smaller, are very effective in arranging data.

Here’s a rundown of some of the more popular personal databases on the market right now:

Stuff from Redmond

The venerable Microsoft Office Access and Excel programs have served millions consumers for a long time. With the recent rollout of Office 2007, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Access, a relational database management system, is used by individuals and small businesses to create ad hoc but systematic arrangements of data. For more tech-savvy users, it’s also a tool for rapid application development. Advantages include its quickness and flexibility, as well as its compatibility with Microsoft SQL Server. Yet, the product is admittedly limited when applied to large projects.

Some sticklers might not think Excel should be included here, and if this were an article on enterprise databases, they’d be absolutely right. This spreadsheet program, however, with its rows/columns schema, is ideal for individuals looking to store a list of people or items that can be organized along many different criteria. It also can perform simple calculations. The user-friendly, binary nature of Excel has made it the “killer app” — and diminutive database — par excellence.

Along with Office 2007, Microsoft recently released its Money 2007 software. The packages for this product range from Essentials, which helps form personal budgets and track expenses, to Home & Business, which aids users with inventory and payroll.

Other Offerings

There are plenty of alternatives to Microsoft’s personal database products. One of the more well-known ones is Corel’s Paradox, which is compatible with Windows XP, NT and 2000 editions. This comes with the company’s WordPerfect Office X3 suite. Although many think Paradox is one of the better desktop databases out there (in fact, a true community of users exists), it enjoyed its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was a DOS-based product.

For most Mac users, the personal database of choice is FileMaker Pro, which is a subsidiary of Apple but operates across various platforms (including Windows). The latest version of this product includes a tabbed interface, custom menus and naming conventions, cut-and-paste functionality, script variables and an integrated Web viewer.

There are a couple of freeware databases that really serve the needs of the individual user, as well. One is Treepad’s “Lite” product for Windows and Linux, which serves as a personal database, organizer and text editor.

It’s portable too — Treepad Lite is relatively small (465 kilobytes), and it can be downloaded to disc and uploaded to another machine without installation. The software specializes in unstructured information because of its “tree” organization system. (For more information, see http://www.treepad.com/treepadfreeware.)

The other product is the Personal Database Creator (PDC), which also has computer publishing, report printing, data entry and spreadsheet functionality. PDC is “a database software program for the Windows XP operating system written in the spirit of the powerful yet extremely simple-to-use applications of the early Macintosh days,” according the Personal Database Solutions Web site. It is designed as a customizable database for the home user but also can be used to as an inventory- and invoice-management tool for small businesses.

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