|Microsoft Access is an example of how Microsoft wins the game just by changing the rules. They'd never successfully marketed a database program before Windows came along; dBASE and Paradox for DOS were unassailable. But Windows required programs to be overhauled or rewritten from scratch. Paradox stumbled making the transition and dBASE nearly died, leaving things wide open for Microsoft's new program to walk away with most of the market. But depending on whether you're looking for something simple and inexpensive, something powerful, or something different, you should consider the alternatives:|
|LibreOffice/OpenOffice/NeoOffice Base includes the same range of programming tools as other professional databases. It runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or Solaris and stores its documents in OpenDoc XML, a fully-open data storage format. It has excellent compatibility with MS Office files. It's available in several flavours, including LibreOffice, a free open-source community-driven version; and both free and commercial versions under the Oracle OpenOffice name.|
|Ability Database is part of a complete suite similar to MS Office, and comes close to qualifying as a clone of Access, with file-format compatibility, and of course features such as SQL support. And it's much cheaper. It's not geared as much for developing stand-alone applications, but for personal or workgroup data management it's a good deal. It can be purchased separately or with the complete Ability Office package. Available for Windows. A free trial can be downloaded.|
|Bento (for Macintosh) and its big brother FileMaker (available for both Macintosh and Windows, making it a good choice if you want to develop applications for both platforms) are easy to use and power, respectively. Despite the existence of MS Office for the Mac, there's no version of Access for Mac (because Microsoft doesn't want to suggest that Macs can be useful for serious data processing)... but the many Mac users who own Bento or FileMaker don't seem bothered by that at all.|
|4thDimension is a tool for serious cross-platform developers. It's clearly the most powerful database system for both Mac and Windows, providing full-featured programming tools, and the ability to create applications that can scale to "enterprise" size. It takes a bit more work to learn than FileMaker, but the results can be worth it.|
|Delphi technically isn't a database program, but it can be used to produce the kinds of applications you might use Access or another desktop relational database for. It's a programming tool which is especially good for developing data-based applications, designed to compete with Microsoft's Visual Basic tools. It frees the programmer from having to write all the code for the user interface by letting her drag and drop objects and attach functions to various buttons and other on-screen elements. Available for Windows.|
|Alpha Five is a fully-featured database manager suitable for commercial development, business use, or personal database projects. It gets pretty consistently positive remarks from reviewers and users alike. It will look very familiar to Access users, and offers a variety of wizard-type aids to development, a visual report creator. Programming is optional for many uses, but Alpha Software's Xbasic language is readily available if you need it. Alpha Four is an earlier generation, designed for DOS but which works under current versions of Windows as well.|
|Lotus Approach is part of their SmartSuite package, so its ability to work well with 1-2-3 is a given. Its focus is on accessing and sharing data within a company, regardless of what format the data is stored in. Toward that goal, it's well-integrated with their strategic Lotus Notes groupware system and IBM's DB2 database server. If your company is using Notes or DB2, Approach is a sound, intelligent choice for the desktop.|
|Like so many programs, Corel Paradox stumbled at the Windows sill, but has since caught its footing. Its file format is less prone to corruption and performance problems than Access', and it contains some pretty powerful tools for building state-of-the-art applications, whether for yourself or your company. Its web-integration tools are a big step forward. Although it's no longer available as a separate product, it's included in the "professional" package of WordPerfect Office.|
|askSam is an award-winning free-form database capable of handing information that fits neatly in fields, as well as information that doesn't. Regardless, it's still very fast at searching and retrieving information from that data. An optional module for publishing searchable databases on the web is available.|
|TreePad is a free database program that is designed to easily store unstructured data, in a "tree" arrangment that the user defines. It's small enough to fit on - and even run from - a diskette without any special installation, making it practical for carrying personal information to access on any Windows computer. TreePad Plus, a newer and more powerful version, is also available as shareware. A version for Linux is in the works.|
|Reports of dBASE's death have been exaggerated. Along with WordStar and Lotus 1-2-3, dBASE transformed microcomputers from hobby projects into useful tools, and transformed many ordinary people into application developers without them even realising it. Between mismanagement of the product and (you guessed it) Microsoft's uncooperation in converting it to run under Windows (to make an opening in the market for the then-forthcoming Access), dBASE fell on hard times. But it's been taken over by a new company who are working to preserve its worthwhile attributes in a modern, visual programming tool. A version designed to run "legacy" dBASE for DOS applications is also available.|
|Although they were designed more for large-scale client/server applications, there are many powerful, cross-platform database servers based on Structured Query Language (SQL) which you may also find useful for personal projects. They are often free, especially for non-commercial use.|
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