Life is more complex than ever. To illustrate my point, consider the following example. Ten years ago when you needed to find a phone number, you would simply go to the family junk drawer and grab "The Phone Book." Today, if you live in any major city or suburb you probably have a choice of three or more brands of telephone directories divided into at least two volumes, residential and business, with one or the other containing the always-confusing government directory section. Or, you could use your computer to conduct any number of internet searches and find the phone number and a collection of additional information that you may never need.
As life's choices continue to increase, so too will the level of complexity. Similar to the telephone number dilemma, choosing whether to manage your data with Microsoft Access or Microsoft Excel can pose a similar challenge. Both products allow you to enter, maintain, manipulate, and print data. Both products, and their competitors, are reliably inexpensive to purchase. So, which product is better? The following information available on the Microsoft Product Website should help you make the right choice.
Consider the phone number scenario presented earlier. Rather than choosing between multiple phone directories, you've decided to build your own directory to store information about your personal and professional contacts. You want to decide between a spreadsheet program such as MS Excel or a relational database like MS Access. How do you determine which program to use?
To be accurate, Excel and other spreadsheet software programs are not database management systems (typically referred to as relational databases). Spreadsheet software stores data in rows and columns called worksheets. The areas within the worksheet where the rows and columns intersect are called cells. The most common use of spreadsheets is to manage basic information such as telephone numbers, employee names, financial data, calculations, etc.
Access, and other relational database software programs store data in tables that look similar to worksheets but function quite differently. Tables, the foundation of all relational databases function both independently and interdependently with other tables to allow the database user to combine data from multiple sources and analysis and / or report information in almost limitless ways.
Both programs work well for managing data, however, each one has clear advantages depending on the type of data you are managing and what you want to do with it. The key to your decision is whether the data is relational or not. If you can store your data in a single table or worksheet, then you can probably get by using Excel or some other spreadsheet software. If your data needs to be stored in more than one table, then you need a relational database program such as Access or a similar database management program.
Continuing with the contact list example, if you are only going to store your contact's name, address and phone number you may decide to use a simple worksheet using Excel or another product. However, if you plan to store additional information such as personal information, hobbies, job information, gift buying history, networking details, etc., which may apply to more than one contact, you will probably want to use Access or another relational database.