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Access Fear Factor I: Basics

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Afraid of the dark? Spiders? Heights? If you are an experienced Word/Excel user who has Access-phobia, this article is for you. Herb Tyson shows you how to use Word and Excel to start creating what should be a simple database. When limitations become obvious, you learn how to use an Excel spreadsheet as the starting point for an Access database that ultimately will be more useful.
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Access can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. Well, maybe not the latter, but certainly less complicated than many believe. Many of the Access articles I come across are way too eager to demonstrate Access’ depth and prowess. Yeah, it’s got depth and prowess. So does a top-of-the-line Mercedes. But sometimes all you want to do is go to the grocery store. The salesperson can give you the technical specifications. Or simply hand you the keys. This is a "hand-you-the-keys" article.

Sometimes you need the extra capacity and power of a full-fledged database program, but don’t particularly want to deal with the intricacies or jargon. Excel and Word tables can take you only so far. If your database has more than 256 columns or more than 65,536 rows, you’re out of luck with Excel. In Word, your luck runs out above 63 columns or 32,767 rows. In either case, dealing with a spreadsheet or a table for even a fraction of those maximum dimensions often is a study in frustration.

Even small data sets produce frustration when data fields aren’t compact and predictable. If your data set contains name, age, sex, email address, and other mostly predictable chunks of information, a spreadsheet or Word table might be the perfect container. But what if fields vary wildly in size? What if you need more flexible display options?

For Example

To truly demonstrate the frustration of dealing with a clunky spreadsheet or Word table, I’d have to ask you to key in so much data that you’d quickly lose interest. So instead I’ll ask you to follow along. You can reenact my steps if you like, or just nod as if you were actually doing everything I do. Okay? I see you nodding, so I’ll proceed.

My memory stinks. My wife and I rented a movie this past weekend, but I can’t tell you what it was called or who was in it. And unless I keep track somewhere, I’ll go to the video store in few months and re-rent the same DVD. Then we’ll settle in to watch it and quickly realize not only that we’ve already seen it but also that we didn’t like it.

Instead of trusting to stinky memory, I’ll create a database of movies. At some point, I’ll even create a summary catalog that I can upload to my PDA for quick reference when I go to the video store. In this database, I’ll include the title, the director, the cast, the rating, the year the movie came out, the date I saw it, who in the family saw it, whether we liked it, and perhaps even a quick review.

I just called my wife to find out what movie we saw most recently. It was Imaginary Heroes. Now I remember—sort of. I can get most of the rest of the information from Movies.com.

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