MS Access vs Base

26 10 2007

[22 Sept 2008 Recovered thanks to Thank you Minder]

A quick question for some of my IT friends.

I’m supposed to be developing a couple of databases for ISODEC. Most of the PCs here seem to have Access 2003, but not all. I don’t have MS Access on my personal laptop and couldn’t work out how to add it to my install of Office 2003 without buying the whole lot again.

I’ve downloaded the free OpenOffice.Org which contains a DBMS and am thinking it might be better to use a freeware database than the very expensive MS Access. It seems simpler to use, although I haven’t really played with it yet and I can install it anywhere. However MS Access is better documented.

Does anyone have any experience using Base application?

Given that Access is better documented and I will only be here a year leaving non techies to maintain whatever I build which is the more sustainable approach?

[15 Sept 2008]
p.s. In the end I went with Access




19 responses

27 10 2007
Dr N

Hi Tim,

Oh great….I’m the first geek to reply!

Any reason why you’re not looking at MySQL? I would say that would give you the documentation and support that you’re looking for without the cost of Access? (I’m actually quite amazed that ISODEC are using Microsoft *at all* given the costs….I would have thought a Linux install would have been much more cost effective? But there you are….

You’ve used MySQL quite a lot, haven’t you? That’s another plus. I also believe MySQL is starting to be really well supported by vendors (even Business Objects….cough…sorry, SAP….)

Have fun!

28 10 2007
Tim Little

The problems I looking at involve only a few hundred rows of data and need to be used and maintained by intellegent people with social science and charity backgrounds rather than IT. They also may want to take a copy on a laptop when visitingf remote villages etc.

The advantage of both Access and Base is that they have nice graphical user interfaces and are really easy to install. I considered MySQL, but it isn’t really suitable to leave with a handful of social scientists. I think.

I even considered Excel

29 10 2007


You left with the best of intentions to learn about the organisation first before imparting your skills and wisdom. In this way I think you hoped to avoid imposing your western experience of IT into what seems to me, to be a definitely non-western organisation. In this way I assume you hoped to work in a way that would prove to be more sustainable and harmonious. However, reading your blog it appears that one month in temptation has already got the better of you and you have already developed one database for which you yourself have expressed doubts as to its design and usefulness, and now debating whether you should be using Microsoft access or an “ Base application”. Have you forgotten your initial aims? Like most of us who profess to be IT professionals you are a ‘Tech-head’, more interested in the technology aspects of ‘Information Technology’ than the information. Remember without the information the technology has no life and only really has a passing interest before it is superseded by the next techno-fad to come along. Rather than worrying about the sustainability of the technology concentrate on the information. Get to know and understand it, for it is the life blood of the organisation. The information itself once well understood will determine the best technology. ‘IT’ stands for ‘Information Technology’ not information on computers. There are many technologies appropriate for different problems that need to be solved regarding any piece of information, none should be ruled out. Take a step back take a look at the bigger picture. Don’t concern yourself with the solution until you understand the problem. Set yourself a challenge over the next month. Find out what are the 5 most important pieces of information that each of your colleagues uses in their daily work. Ask how this information is held. Is it remembered? Written down? How many other people know and use this information? How is this information communicated? What problems do they have with the information? How could they improve the information? Then find out the 5 most important pieces information that applies separately to the different offices in Tamale, Sunyani and Bolgatanga. Then what about the ISODEC organisation? You might be surprised by what you find. Remember that there are many tools for solving information problems form abacuses through printing to digital devices the latest invention is not always the most appropriate solution for every problem.

30 10 2007
Tim Little

You are absolutely right. Thank you.

6 12 2007
paul martin

Just regarding MS ACCESS
it does nto have to be expensive
you can install the access runtime on every machine for free

you just need one copy to develop the database then the runtime will run it on each computer

you can’t really compare Open Office Base to MSACCESS

MSACCESS is light years ahead of it

10 12 2007
Tim Little

The runtime doesn’t allow me to design, and anyway trying to find the download for the 2003 runtime is nearly impossible.

29 02 2008
Lasse Cormin

I’m trying to learn OO Base since I’m very interested in database structuring and since MS Access is very expensive. I haven’t tried MS Access, so I don’t really know the difference. Many people say they are very much alike.
I just wanted to express my opinion that the documentation I’ve came across so far from a beginners point of view of Base in OO’s own help sites is very poor. It’s even hard to find other tutorials on the internet without a good deal of SQL-knowledge to start with. I get the impression the documentation of MS Access is far better. Maybe it’s worth the cash.
To learn how to use an assumingly well equiped freeware RDBSM with as little beginners help as I can find on the internet is not a piece of cake, and I’m beginning to get quite frustraded over what should be simple enough tasks in every decent RDBSM, such as OO Base.
Sorry if I sound rude. I’m just tired of banging my head against the wall, seemingly anyway, with this huge software and its tiny help documentation.

Lasse Cormin

29 02 2008
Tim Little

Thanks for commenting.

MS Access is better documented, and much easier to use, especially for beginners. I’ve decided to go with Access because it is what most people have here (although I don’t ask how legitimate the copies are). It is very expensive though if you have to buy it yourself, and very hard to buy too I found. I’ve got MS Office 2003 without Access and I can’t workout how I can buy Access on its own without paying for the entire suite again.

2 03 2008
William Big

I’m a simple user, and I found Open Office Base and Access equally challenging. I run a simple business aided with my database, but I was not willing to make the huge investment to have M$ on all the computers.

Although it took some learning curve time, we set up Open Office Base to handle all our database jobs.

It is much better having a full copy on each machine, rather than just having one full copy for the database designer and then only run-time versions elsewhere.

Furthermore, because we are migrating to Linux as an institution, remote access is much easier. Sharing databases is much easier in Linux, and distributed processing is easier in Linux.

Why do you think Google uses Linux? (Of course, Google has its own database design).

Our next step is, indeed, MySQL, but I suspect MySQL will be embedded in the next release of OpenOffice, instead of HSQL.

Once that happens, Access will have a very difficult time surviving altogether.

15 03 2008
blog reader

i have just got base and i think it’s brilliant. Many of the standard features of access can be found in base, it just requires java to use (and also openoffice writer for forms and reports)…

18 09 2008

Your original post can be found on :)

7 10 2008
Connie F

Thanks for all of the discussion. The differing opinions will help me make up my mind!

3 01 2009

Way too late to reply now, but just incase someone else might stumble across this paost like I did.
You can find and download Access 2007’s Run Time version very easy. It will open Acess 2003 no problem and best of all it’s the 1st ever truly free RT version for Access.
I would suggest using Access over Base but maybe I’m just bias due to years of working with Access.
Even if using it only as a front-end to a SQL back-end.

9 03 2009

While much of the Open Office suite is on a similar par with Office in terms of *basic* usage, the MS Access versus OO Base is a very different argument altogether.

MS Access is both a DBMS and an extremely powerful application development platform. With Access, I have created Accounting systems, Warehouse Management systems, Utilities, Stock Take control applications, Component Assembly and Stock Control controllers, CRM software and back end website management tools. I have attempted in the past to try to create similar programs (and to find literature on developing such programs) in Base but get nowhere.

The DBMS aspects of both systems are fairly similar, and can create fairly simple databases / reports pretty little forms for entering data.

Don’t forget that while Access has its own database system, it can also connect to many others via ODBC. Many of the systems I mentioned above are actually just VB applications developed in Access teamed with an SQL Server or MySQL back end (There are ODBC drivers available for Access).

12 03 2009
Tech post: My database decision « Tim in Tamale

[…] My final decision […]

26 08 2009
Excel Expert

good tutorials, my site also not bad.

27 12 2009

Well, I personally believe that Open Office Base has the ability to do most of what Access can. I strongly feel that non-profits should be promoting Open Source Software if it meets or exceeds their requirements and also if it provides better data protection (ie. not risking your organization to nasty viruses/worms/trojans as a result of running a compromised 10 year old OS like XP).
I’m using Linux Mint 8 (Helena) which is based on the latest Ubuntu release and it’s simply AMAZING!! Visit
If you really want to use Access still, I’d put a stable Linux desktop distro on your user’s PCs (or laptops), and run Office via WINE or, even better, through the fast and free VirtualBox program by Sun Microsystems. That way, XP is running as a guest “inside” Linux so you won’t have to worry about nasty viruses…just my opinion.
This isn’t an anti-Microsoft post but rather an “I’m-sick-getting-viruses-and-having-to-reinstall-Windows-whenever-shit-hits-the-fan” epiphany.

BTW, try these Google searches:

7 01 2010
Mutiara Malaysia

For developers of SMI based software solutions, ACCESS is a great tool. You just need to buy one original copy and bundle your solution with the runtime, which is free. You may distribute as many types of solutions you have developed.

The only problem with Access-based solution is it only works on windows. I am also faced with a similar predicament. While I had initially wanted to develop solutions in OOo Base, the fact that it cannot be distributed in a compiled format is a serious setback.

10 09 2010
John Tkach

My experience is with mainframe DB2,

It was easy to adapt to and use MS ACESS.

It is very challenging to use Openoffice Base with Hsql.

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