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Ask Slashdot: Easy-To-Use Alternative To MS Access For a Charity's Database?

timothy posted about 5 months ago | from the take-your-best-shot dept.

Databases 281

New submitter danzvash (447536) writes "I'm doing some volunteering for a street kids charity in Senegal, West Africa, and they need a new database to store all their information for the kids, and to help the funding organizations like UNICEF. The charity staff have a few computers running Windows 7. Being a die-hard OSS geek I'm more inclined to knock up a MySQL backend with a Django (or similar) front-end and run the whole thing from a reliable VPS. But it needs to be understandable by the non-geeks in the charity — there is no IT expertise here. Is there anything that can allow me to design and edit databases, tables, and forms but doesn't require an MS license?"

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SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (2, Insightful)

lesincompetent (2836253) | about 5 months ago | (#47010569)

Do what you said you are inclined to do and then cook up a cunning web interface for your user(s).

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (5, Informative)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 5 months ago | (#47010721)

I assume that if the submitter is planning on building a MySQL and django database system for this charity where nobody else has tech experience, he will commit to moving to Senegal and working for the charity to maintain this db for the next decade+ while the db is in use. All for free.

alternatively, he could build a tool nobody knows how to use, migrate critical data to it, then bail.

my advice from being in similar positions? Just use excel. you can make a VBA form if you feel strongly about it. a single excel file can hold a million records on each tab and it's easy to pull data and summaries. If you're feeling fancy, you can write VBA reports as well. then you can gracefully step away with a clear conscience and let other people handle it.

you say you don't want a ms license. Is this because of the cost or politics? you're running windows anyway. Just dig up some excel 2007 or 2010 licenses or buy off ebay. this way you don't need to do the subscription model that ms is doing now. you say you only have a few computers anyway.

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010805)

you say you don't want a ms license. Is this because of the cost or politics?

It's because of ideology. He is a firm advocate of OSS (and probably hates MS to boot), and wants to impose that personal ideology on this charity--possibly costing them dearly when he leaves. It's a very selfish attitude, IMHO.

Personally, I hate Apple and Apple products. But if I went to work at a place that had a bunch of iPads and MacBooks, I would still work on them.

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (5, Informative)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about 5 months ago | (#47010835)

bollocks. If he's asking for a "simple to use" alternative, the charity is probably not paying anything for it. so a free alternative makes a lot of sense.

If he's knocking up some simple DB, if he was to use the MS product, no doubt it'd be Access or Excel with a load of VBA scripting and macros - and that is usually worse than anything else.

LibreOffice's Base fulfils the same role as Access. just as good, not as expensive.

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (-1, Troll)

sexconker (1179573) | about 5 months ago | (#47011015)

LibreOffice's Base fulfils the same role as Access. just as good, not as expensive.

Star/Open/Libre Office are shit for anything more than the bare basics.
If that works for you, great. But it's not going to work for anyone trying to do anything moderately complex, and to recommend it as a solution for a use case you know nothing about and will not end up testing or supporting is just wrong.

SQL Server Express is free and comes with limitations, but it should easily handle what they need. It's SQL so it's widely supported. And if they do end up outgrowing the free version they can parlay with an MS reseller for a discounted paid version that does what they need.
http://www.microsoft.com/en-us... [microsoft.com]

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (1)

arbiterxero (952505) | about 5 months ago | (#47011039)

How is SQL express a solution when he specifically stated MYSQL was a bad idea due to technical limitations?

With 0 technical expertise, SQL Express is still going to need a custom web frontend for access to the data etc.....

I do'nt disagree, that Star/Libre/Open office base isn't a worthwhile solution, but MYSQL vs MSSQL is the same issue.

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (5, Informative)

praxis (19962) | about 5 months ago | (#47011313)

But it's not going to work for anyone trying to do anything moderately complex, and to recommend it as a solution for a use case you know nothing about and will not end up testing or supporting is just wrong. ... SQL Server Express is free and comes with limitations, but it should easily handle what they need.

So, recommending a solution to a problem that wasn't specified "is just wrong" according to you. Yet you claim that StarOffice won't work for that unspecified problem but SQL Server Express will work for that unspecified problem. Your bias undercuts the recommendations you make.

To answer the original poster's question: I don't know of any analogues to Access in the open source world. What sort of use-cases are you looking to support?

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47011057)

>bollocks
Bullshit. He specifically mentions MySQL & Django (hipster bleeding edge shit) and a VPS (lol cloud buzzword).
He's looking for validation of his pie-in-the-sky-hipster-bleeding-edge solution. Otherwise he would have done a google search and got his answer there.

>free
free isn't free if it costs money to hire a consultant after he's gone.

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (1)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 5 months ago | (#47011245)

free simple to use. note that it has to be simple to use and simple to maintain / expand. Because if this guy bails then the techno illiterati at the organization will have to do both.

the best part of excel is that a lot of VBA becomes total crap but worst case you can just go to adding rows in a spreadsheet tab. it has a very simple fallback position.

this sounds like it won't be front facing or customer facing, just a quick and dirty way to track information in house.

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (1)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 5 months ago | (#47010847)

Uhmm... Office 2013 is available as a standard license, like it's always been...

Re:SubjectsInCommentsAreStupid (2, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 5 months ago | (#47011159)

my advice from being in similar positions? Just use excel.

Depending on the amount of data, and how it is used, a text file may also work well.

There are way too many missing pieces of information:
1. What are they using now?
2. Do they think they need a "new database", or does the submitter think that? In either case, why is a change needed?
3. How much data?
4. How is it being used?
5. Do they have a reliable internet connection? If so, Google Docs may be a good, and free, solution.
6. How long is the submitter going to stick around? Can things be patched remotely? Is there a local enthusiastic teenager that can be trained to be the IT fix-it guy?
7. ???

Filemaker Pro (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010573)

Filemaker Pro, not free, but low entry level, easy to use.

Re:Filemaker Pro (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 5 months ago | (#47010605)

There was this beautiful thing called DabbleDB once. It was almost perfect for the layman, the only problem was that it was a web service that got eventually shut down.

K. S. Kyosuke = "Run, Forrest: RUN!" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47011163)

From a fair challenge like a chickenshit blowhard http://slashdot.org/comments.p... [slashdot.org]

K. S. Kyosuke gets called out & ran (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47011187)

From a fair challenge like a chickenshit blowhard http://slashdot.org/comments.p... [slashdot.org]

OpenOffice or LibreOffice (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010577)

I'm surprised a die-hard OSS geek hasn't heard of OpenOffice or LibreOffice's Base.

Re:OpenOffice or LibreOffice (3, Informative)

FalconZero (607567) | about 5 months ago | (#47010669)

^ This.
MySQL is almost certainly overkill.
It's probably also worth considering if any db is overkill - can you achieve your use cases with a spreadsheet (Calc)? If so - that's a much lower learning curve and less maintenance for you.

Re:OpenOffice or LibreOffice (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about 5 months ago | (#47010751)

For anything you create, the data storage part should be completely transparent to the end users. Something that connects to a database of some kind should handle all the data manipulation they're interested in. The storage mechanism should pretty much run itself as should the application server if you are using that kind of component.

There are plenty of apps that have database backends that don't require a great deal of IT skill to deal with.

They should never have to worry about directly manipulating the data regardless.

Re:OpenOffice or LibreOffice (2)

FalconZero (607567) | about 5 months ago | (#47010923)

Ideally, yes. But bearing in mind that the OP states that "there is no IT expertise here" - if their use case is simply a list of people and a couple of details then best practice system design may be less important than (trivial) ease of maintenance.

Re:OpenOffice or LibreOffice (1)

ahaweb (762825) | about 5 months ago | (#47010753)

More than surprised: perplexed, puzzled, annoyed, contemptuous.

Re:OpenOffice or LibreOffice (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010993)

Sorry, but base is a joke. by far the LEAST functional part of that suite. (And it's too bad. I'd use it for all kinds of stuff, if it were just a little more reliable...)

Re:OpenOffice or LibreOffice (4, Funny)

asylumx (881307) | about 5 months ago | (#47011283)

Sorry, but base is a joke. by far the LEAST functional part of that suite.

How is that different from MS Access?

Re:OpenOffice or LibreOffice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47011321)

No different than the unwashed masses who "Science!" but couldn't pass a 10th grade Rocks for Jocks exam.
 
There's tons of idiots who like the persona that a title brings but don't want to earn the title.

Libre Office Base (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010579)

Libre Office Base is a good alternative to MS Access.

Re:Libre Office Base (5, Funny)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 5 months ago | (#47010765)

Stone knives and bearskins are a good alternative to MS Access.

Re:Libre Office Base (4, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | about 5 months ago | (#47011071)

BS. Access is a terrible database to use as a back-end for real software doing something complex, but it's great as a single-user tool with its own UI.

While a spreadsheet might be more accessible to non-geeks, Access tries pretty hard to give a low-learning-curve to making simple queries and simple GUIs to show the results of queries, or make simple table edits.

I suspect the OP could make a spreadsheet work, however.

OpenOffice? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010581)

OpenOffice has a database thing similar to Access (at least on the surface). Dunno how well it fits the use case, but the product blurb sounds right up your alley: https://www.openoffice.org/product/base.html

Re:OpenOffice? (4, Informative)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47011059)

Its friggen terrible. Really... try it out. I like most of Open Office but Base is a buggy joke.

SQL Server Developer Edition (1, Flamebait)

mistaryte (2446492) | about 5 months ago | (#47010585)

see subject

Re:SQL Server Developer Edition (0)

mistaryte (2446492) | about 5 months ago | (#47010627)

I meant SQL Express

Re:SQL Server Developer Edition (1)

sexconker (1179573) | about 5 months ago | (#47011023)

You meant SQL Server Express.
http://www.microsoft.com/en-us... [microsoft.com]

And you may as well say why - it's free and it's SQL so it'll be widely supported in case they need help after you've left.

Is Access actually better for them anyways? (4, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 5 months ago | (#47010589)

I think the question might be asked backwards, here. If there is really no IT expertise there, then is Access actually going to get them anything? You might be better off setting them up with something much simpler (for example a spreadsheet) unless they need to be able to connect to it from multiple systems simultaneously or have other requirements that a spreadsheet cannot match.

Don't make your problem more difficult than it needs to be... If you give them software that they can't use then most likely they will stop using it once you are on the plane.

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (1)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 5 months ago | (#47010731)

+1 let's be realistic here.

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010747)

>Religion getting in the way of results

A spreadsheet doesn't _easily_ have forms with validation and reporting. Sure, you can build a ton of un-maintainable macros, but why? And building a website? Who's going to maintain it when you're gone? a 90/hr contractor?

Access is simple and easy to edit. If you can find an OSS alternative with the same level of simplicity, great. Otherwise, you are just letting your religion get in the way of actual results.

Slashdotters love to chant "right tool for the right job"...

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010755)

If you have anything even mildly resembling a relational aspect in your data, Access beats a spreadsheet. If you do not have enough scale to warrant a serious database, Access wins with its built in interface.

It's a fairly narrow window, and some managers tend to try to push Access where it does not fit well, but this looks like a viable fit.

As for free alternatives? The LibreOffice Base might work, I haven't checked to see if its interface is as easy as Access, but it at least looks like it is designed for the same scale of use.

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010771)

"...most likely they will stop using it once you are on the plane..."

And why should you care at that point?

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (1)

beschra (1424727) | about 5 months ago | (#47011055)

I hope you aren't serious. If that were the OP's mindset, we wouldn't even be having this conversation since the question wouldn't have been asked.

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (2)

Keviniano (261786) | about 5 months ago | (#47010795)

Agreed. If there is truly no IT expertise and no budget, then I'd say a spreadsheet is what will serve them best. You can help them set it up, and they'll be much more likely to be able to manage it once your gone. No doubt it will be more error-prone and cumbersome than a relational database, but they'll understand how it works. They can set up organizational processes to make up for the lack of built-in data quality checking.

A simple relational database with a simple front end is great if there's support. It's a bane if there's not.

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (1)

Stargoat (658863) | about 5 months ago | (#47010817)

The back half of this comment is what needs to be paid attention to:

If you give them software that they can't use then most likely they will stop using it once you are on the plane.

Just bite the bullet and get Access. Everyone can use it. Training is fairly universal. The next guy through will be able to use it right off the bat with no effort. Do these folks a favor and future proof them with Access.

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (1)

brokenin2 (103006) | about 5 months ago | (#47010975)

Google docs will let you connect multiple people to the same spreadsheet at the same time..

It works pretty well too... as long as the slightly chaotic editing that this creates is OK (like you don't need multi-cell/multi-sheet locking to keep people out of each other's business)..

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 months ago | (#47010999)

Google Forms will probably create enough of an access like experience to get the job done.

Re:Is Access actually better for them anyways? (4, Insightful)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 5 months ago | (#47011317)

google docs may work well... if everybody in senegal has reliable internet connections...

spreadsheets (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010595)

Can't you make it in LibreOffice Calc or something?

Donation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010599)

I mean, call me short-sighted, but it seems to me that even an organization like Microsoft wouldn't be opposed to donating licenses to charities. Is there a reason that alternative wasn't attempted? FOSS is great, and I would not be surprised if an alternative does exist (I myself do not know of one), but if the staff already knows Access or are comfortable with it, then perhaps pursuing an avenue where they might be able to get tools they're already comfortable with would be more productive to both the charity itself and those it supports instead of staying steadfast to FOSS. Even if Microsoft themselves are unwilling to donate to the charity, try other large retail organizations that sell the licenses like Staples, OfficeMax, or even NewEgg.

Re:Donation? (1)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 5 months ago | (#47010839)

it seems to me that even an organization like Microsoft wouldn't be opposed to donating licenses to charities

Not only are they not opposed to it, but AFAICT it's almost standard practice for them to do this for charitable NGO's in developing countries.

Re:Donation? (2)

Talderas (1212466) | about 5 months ago | (#47011329)

I mean, call me short-sighted, but it seems to me that even an organization like Microsoft wouldn't be opposed to donating licenses to charities. Is there a reason that alternative wasn't attempted?

Yes.

To quote the submitter.

Being a die-hard OSS geek

Open Office/ Libre Office (2)

Lumpy (12016) | about 5 months ago | (#47010601)

Take a look at the latest release works great.

Otherwise use a real DB like mySQL and a nice User frontend.

Re:Open Office/ Libre Office (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010675)

Both are free and in that part of the world probably more people use them than here. If KDE is your thing Calligra Suite.

Re:Open Office/ Libre Office (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010789)

Otherwise use a real DB like mySQL

Oh, the irony.

mysql workbench? (2)

wezelboy (521844) | about 5 months ago | (#47010609)

That's the way I like to dumb it down for myself.

Spreadsheets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010611)

I would use spreadsheets

Re:Spreadsheets? (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 5 months ago | (#47011043)

Spreadsheets? Right. One wrong sort and your data is scrambled.

Spreadsheets are not databases, and should never be used as such.

Spreadsheet necessarily are databases (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 5 months ago | (#47011295)

Spreadsheets are not databases, and should never be used as such.

Spreadsheets will stop being used as databases when someone invents a database that is as easy to use as a spreadsheet. Nobody has done this yet. I've never seen a database that was even close to as easy to use as a spreadsheet. Even Access is still MUCH harder to use than a spreadsheet. MySQL & PostgreSQL are severe overkill for a lot of projects. Openoffice Base is useful as an interface between real databases and spreadsheets (I use it for that) but not much more.

Spreadsheets can be simple databases (that's basically what a table is after all) and actually aren't a bad way to prototype a (very) simple database. I do this all the time. I would KILL for a tool that allowed me to easily convert a spreadsheet table into a real database table and make creating forms much easier than it is now.

MySQL Workbench (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010625)

MySQL workbench lets you 'paint' database schemas, and apply them to mysql databases. Workbench can also 'upgrade' existing databases, and it provides a bunch of other handy admin features.. I'm assuming it will also work with MariaSQL

Get a donation (1)

atkulp (611079) | about 5 months ago | (#47010655)

Microsoft donates a lot of software for charities and non-profits. You don't even need to contact them directly. Register through TechSoup.com for donations (or immense discounts) on products from many software companies.

Re:Get a donation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010763)

Why would you want an inferior product donated? I don't get it.

Re:Get a donation (1)

jonyen (2633919) | about 5 months ago | (#47010769)

That should be techsoup.org, no?

Re:Get a donation (1)

sporkbender (986804) | about 5 months ago | (#47011029)

Yes it is techsoup.org. AC, it may be inferior, but it is what the whole office is using already...that's the point of bringing it up anyway. Work with a bunch of technophobes and you'll find that you don't often want to rock the boat.

Re:Get a donation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010897)

I think over the years MS Access has gotten harder to use as they try to make fit everything.

I use MS Access at work because I have to but at home I use Open Office.

If it's a charity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010687)

Then Microsoft may have a program or even offer free licensing. If they need/want Access, then it doesn't hurt to ask.

Filemaker (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010689)

It's pretty powerful, easy to use, and I believe it's availble for the lesser platforms (windows, mac).

Even has a way to make web interfaces.

Salesforce or LibreOffice. (0)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | about 5 months ago | (#47010701)

Not opensource, but Salesforce does offer up a good chunk of their online storage/access for free to charities. And since at the core, Salesforce is just an Oracle DB wrapped with some fancy business logic, you can use it as an easy store of information, with access that can be handled even by total neophytes. Drawback: it requires Internet access and depends entirely on what Salesforce decides to do with its offering for charities.

For an open-source and stand-alone application, LibreOffice Base is the way to go. Just make sure they have some form of backup (hard copies!) and that someone who knows at least a smidgeon of computer stuff takes over after you leave. Otherwise, I'll echo what someone else said: if it's too complicated, they'll abandon it the instance you walk out the door.

Quickbase (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010709)

quickbase.com

Pretty great. Allows non coders to make changes if you want them to, and is all about building a database. May be expensive though.

They run Windows 7? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010723)

And here I am, still using Windows XP to test websites in Internet fucking Explorer 7.

APEX (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010725)

have you tried oracle Apex.. it's free and simple

Google Docs + Forms (1)

andlewis (885878) | about 5 months ago | (#47010741)

Google Spreadsheet + a form?

Re:Google Docs + Forms (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010893)

Google's Forms suck. I once set up a zero-tech-knowledge pre-school with google spreadsheet and their crappy forms, and instantly got burned by the amazing uselessness of their forms. They can't be skinned, they can't be filled dynamically, the output ends up as a line in a spreadsheet, there's no feedback afterwards... it's not anything like what MS Office has been able to do for 20 years.

For anything with no ad revenue attached to it, Google isn't even trying.

node.js + mongodb! (5, Funny)

larry bagina (561269) | about 5 months ago | (#47010749)

use node.js -- it's javascript so you don't need to know any computer science bullshit to use it. But it's also twice as fast as C since it never blocks. Mongodb is also good because you don't need to understand databases or make sure your numbers are really numbers or your dates are valid or any of that bullshit DBA crap like consistency or transaction. That makes it faster than SQL.

Re:node.js + mongodb! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010829)

You sound like my previous manager

Salesforce (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010759)

There is an active nonprofit community around using the salesforce platform for donor/donation managment, programs support, and grant tracking/making. And salesforce grants 10 free licenses to qualified charitable organizations.

http://www.salesforcefoundation.org

PostgreSQL (2)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 5 months ago | (#47010775)

Just use PostgreSQL from the outset, and include some operational procedures for trailing in your project's requirements.

The requirement to allow non-technical people to perform technical tasks without the knowledge and experience is a critical modern mistake. Cars are easy to drive, but we make you take driver's ed. We don't try to dumb down brain surgery or rocket science. Yet in computers and, horrifyingly, food, we often avoid providing proper training.

Fast food businesses often use a dedicated grill operator. The sandwich line never interacts with raw meat, so nobody explains food handling safety to anyone. In part, we assume you know; in part, we just don't put people in that position. That's half-assed risk management.

It's no more acceptable in computers, where you expect people to understand what they're doing yet not understand how to use OpenOffice.org Base to modify tables, or even the command line. People who can't use computers can't complete this task; you put an interface in front of them that does all the back-end work. If you're giving them direct back-end access, they're technical people.

Re:PostgreSQL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010883)

Yet in computers and, horrifyingly, food, we often avoid providing proper training.

About 10 years ago, many states started requiring any employee who handles food to be certified as having passed a food safety course, including employees of fast food places. I don't know exactly how many states require this, but it is more than a dozen (although in some states it is handled by the county) and has been in every state I've lived or have connections to since that wave of law changes.

Re:PostgreSQL (1)

sporkbender (986804) | about 5 months ago | (#47011199)

Well said. Wish I had mod points. And with that being said, if OP wants to find a solution where they could just leave and never hear from the Nonprofit again, maybe consider finding/training someone in their area that could help them out on occasion. At least suggest they find a consulting company, co-worker or good friend that is technically inclined that could answer questions.

OpenOffice + MySQL (3, Interesting)

_hAZE_ (20054) | about 5 months ago | (#47010783)

While I never did get around to implementing it (or really needing it), I was always intrigued by the fact that the OpenOffice "Base" application can connect to a MySQL database (and has been able to for many, many years). You may want to consider investigating that, as it may provide a fairly "user friendly" and "easily supported" interface to a solid database backend.

phpMyAdmin (1)

meta-monkey (321000) | about 5 months ago | (#47010809)

phpMyAdmin? [phpmyadmin.net]

Glom (2)

Jizzbug (101250) | about 5 months ago | (#47010815)

Glom is written in Gtkmm + PostgreSQL. It is a GUI-based DB and app designer.

podio (2)

SiggyRadiation (628651) | about 5 months ago | (#47010821)

For simple tables and forms that can have a lot of social interactions, i have found Podio [podio.com] to be great. Podio is something of a crossbreed between yammer and Access. I use it a lot for to-do lists within projects, small incident lists, notes, agendas and minutes. It's great for tables / forms that contain 10's to 1000's of records... not for millions. First 5 users within a domain are for free. It is a web application though, so your users need to be able to be on-line all the time.

Pff Good luck (3, Interesting)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 5 months ago | (#47010833)

The problem is not the database. We all know Access is no PostGres or MySQL. It is the GUI to build forms and store them.

For example you can create a car parts inventory system really quick and easy for a small shop. You do not have to be an expert developer and an average Joe who knows a tiny bit of sql can develop it and have a working solution within an hour or 2. I wish Access was more used than god aweful Excel to store data, but that and File Maker Pro have filled this market.

I thought about starting a file maker/access clone a few years ago that would be simple and could backend to a SQL database of choice. I never got around to it because I knew it would never compete.

It would be nice to a a gui like Access that can work with a web browser too easily. Until that time there is no replacement for File Maker or Office. (Does Apple even make File Maker anymore ?)

Re:Pff Good luck (1)

e4liberty (537089) | about 5 months ago | (#47010907)

Kexi and Glom look like nice starts in this direction, but are Linux only. The last Glom release for Windows is several years old.

SQLite Studio (4, Informative)

e4liberty (537089) | about 5 months ago | (#47010837)

Take a look at http://sqlitestudio.pl/ [sqlitestudio.pl]

civicrm (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010873)

CiviCRM.org

CiviCRM is web-based, open source, Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) software geared toward meeting the needs of non-profit and other civic-sector organizations.

As a non profit committed to the public good itself, CiviCRM understands that forging and growing strong relationships with constituents is about more than collecting and tracking constituent data - it is about sustaining relationships with supporters over time.

To this end, CiviCRM has created a robust web-based, open source, highly customizable, CRM to meet organizations’ highest expectations right out-of-the box. Unlike proprietary software, each new release of this open source software reflects the very real needs of its users as enhancements are continually given back to the community.

With CiviCRM's robust feature set, organizations can further their mission through contact management, fundraising, event management, member management, mass e-mail marketing, peer-to-peer campaigns, case management, and much more.

Too little information (4, Insightful)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 5 months ago | (#47010879)

There is too little information given to decide what product solution is "best' for this situation.

Note cards work, Spreadsheet is often enough for "simple" databases. Access and similar are good for designing a good front end (not for the database) and so on.

From the sounds of it (reading between the lines), a good CRM like SugarCRM might actually be a better solution. However without more information, any recommendation is pure guessing at this point.

Long term solution? (1)

RDW (41497) | about 5 months ago | (#47010931)

Who is going to maintain this after you leave? Are you making a firm commitment to provide maintenance in the long term? If so, your off-site VPS solution with a web front end may be appropriate. If not, and there is no local IT expertise at the charity, something self-contained that needs only a single consumer software package to work (Access, Libreoffice Base, even an Excel or Calc workbook) has a better chance of remaining useful when you're gone. Since this is personal data, have you considered how the local law may affect how the data must be stored, secured and accessed? e.g:

https://uprdoc.ohchr.org/uprwe... [ohchr.org]
 

Easy to use for who? (1)

donscarletti (569232) | about 5 months ago | (#47010943)

Microsoft Access is designed for people with good intuition in computing but little technical knowhow to be able to build simple databases and database related applications by themself. This is not to say that the systems built are easier to use than something built using a competing system or the databases are easier to maintain, but simply that it takes less learning to build them.

So, if you already know how to use Django/MySQL, then why not? Take the time you didn't spend learning a different platform and spend it designing a better User Experience for your end users, really make it easy to use for the people who use it day to day.

And honestly, whatever tool that you are just hearing about today is probably too obscure and poorly supported to be handed off to a new maintainer in future. Access is well known and well supported with plenty of people familiar with its operation, yet so is MySQL, and MySQL also has ample information online as well as Worbench and other tools to make its operation easier for whatever less technically adept person this is thrust upon when you're no longer there. There may well be more intuitive systems out there, but they do not have the benefit of having 10,000 relavent google results for any question typed in.

Why not use a BaaS provider? (1)

Ronin Developer (67677) | about 5 months ago | (#47010953)

A lot of details missing on what the end-user environment is.
I am assuming they have internet access? Dial-up or faster?

If so, why not consider building a BaaS (Kinvey, Parse, Azure, Amazon) with a simple webapp served up using WAMP or equivalent? I can't imagine this app will run over the limits of the free account providers such as Kinvey and Parse offer. And, you could probably talk to the provider see if they have discounts or willing to donate services.

Wrap everything up in a nice Windows installer. Keep it simple.

SQL Server Express (0)

TheRecklessWanderer (929556) | about 5 months ago | (#47010959)

Has Anyone mentioned SQL Server Express? It's free and does not require a licence. It can work on multiple machines, but it does require a windows license of some form.

Re:SQL Server Express (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47011081)

Good idea, but it's made by Microsoft who is apparently the great Satan here on Slashdot. So open-source guy would rather saddle the users with a custom-made app or some other non-Microsoft solution so he doesn't betray his religious ideology.

Re:SQL Server Express (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47011259)

The problem is one of creating a simple UI that is easy to maintain, which Access is superb at and SQL Server Express does not provide at all.

Also, the OP is asking for something that is open source, not just something that doesn't cost money.

dom

oracle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47010991)

"Is there anything that can allow me to design and edit databases, tables, and forms but doesn't require an MS license?"

maybe oracle

FileMaker (2)

idontusenumbers (1367883) | about 5 months ago | (#47011011)

If the whole goal is to avoid MS, FileMaker is pretty similar to Access from a feature standpoint.

Oracle RAC or MongoDB (1)

krups gusto (2203848) | about 5 months ago | (#47011017)

</ducks>

well (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47011045)

Well, I don't know what you want to use it for.
I'm going to take a wild guess and say you're trying to manage work, tickets, or something to that effect.

I'd try SugarCRM http://www.sugarcrm.com/ [sugarcrm.com]
It's open source and free (without support)
It's the biggest open source CRM I know of.

Every alternative to Access I've seen is terrible. So I'd stop looking for something that replicates Access and start looking for something that does what you're wanting access to do. You might even settle on several applications if you're using access for multiple things.
 

SQL Server Express (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47011051)

SQL Server Express is free for DBs up to 10GB size. Use Access as the front end for forms.

SQL Server Expres (1)

hlt32 (1177391) | about 5 months ago | (#47011069)

SQL Server Express http://www.microsoft.com/en-us... [microsoft.com]

Use Access for the forms as the frontend.

Filemaker Pro 13 Advanced (5, Informative)

aerivus (1658465) | about 5 months ago | (#47011091)

Filemaker Pro [filemaker.com] is the major alternative to Microsoft Access for small business. When you need to hand off this project to the staff members who don't do development full-time, its critical to that the system be as simple to learn for the layperson as possible. I'm guessing this is why you're asking as opposed to going with the pure OSS solutions that you are most familiar with. Like Access, both frontend UI and the backend database are managed from one integrated IDE. Unlike Access, Filemaker Inc. is wholly owned by Apple (its been around for over 20 years), has versions for both OSX and Windows, can be used with a MySQL backend, and doesn't tie you into Microsoft's web of licensing. Also, there is a free app for IOS devices (Filemaker Go) that makes it easy to add iPhones and iPads to the mix. The mobile copies of the database can be designed to sync over USB or WIFI, enabling usage without relying on Senegal's probably spotty 3G coverage. Disclaimer: I've developed several custom Filemaker solutions for small business and then trained the end users on how to use the solution and modify it their needs change. Good luck!

web2py, orientdb, and local storage (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | about 5 months ago | (#47011167)

web2py [web2py.com] , multi platform, well documented, non mandatory web based IDE, good security practices, out of the box has a db admin interface and many facilities for auto generating forms, with relationships, that mind validation rules. It can use sqlite3, mysql, postgres, and a lot other db. It has an integrated webserver for low traffic sites. Backwards compatibility is a design goal, so upgrading is easy.
IMHO it is well worth the little additional work over an access like RAD tool because it has a web client/server architecture.

A distributed db that is very flexible and easy to setup on LANs is orientdb [orientdb.org] , it is based on java. Never tried it a lot, though, but it works as an http server so you can use it plus client side js for RAD apps.

Else some js + local storage enabled web client. Never ever began to explore it, so I dunno how feasible it is.

MS Access might be the right tool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47011219)

Contact Microsoft and tell them what you are trying to do. They may just give you the licenses.

DB vs Front-End (1)

maz2331 (1104901) | about 5 months ago | (#47011221)

I have done extensive work with Access, but almost never used it as the actual storage. Instead, the back-end was on a MySQL, MSSQL, or Postgres server and Access just used as a quick-development environment in the same manner as VB6 would have been.

Nowadays, I usually use MSSQL or Postgres as the backend, and build the front-end in VB.NET or C#. Once your tables are designed, just add a function that has the appropriate bunch of CREATE TABLE statements and initial INSERTs to set up a default schema, and the deployment is pretty easy.

Telling a client how to reach the backend only requires a server name (or IP), database username, database password, and database name. These are variables that are easily set in a simple "setup form" then stored in the registry. Heck, if you want to get fancy, just encode that into a structure and write it to a binary file that they can then load after setup.

You can also roll out an MS Access solution that uses Access Runtime. That doesn't require an MS Office license.

Save yourself the trouble and just buy... (2)

VTBlue (600055) | about 5 months ago | (#47011263)

FileMaker Pro...charity license...done. That'll be $800 of consulting time please :) open source access alternative just isn't worth the man hours to use. Unless you set up a MySQL database and maintain it, Base is not useful as a front end, and definitely not a stand alone alternative to Access.

not really an alternative (1)

znrt (2424692) | about 5 months ago | (#47011323)

The charity staff have a few computers running Windows 7

why on earth does a charity run w7? were those computers a gift?

But it needs to be understandable by the non-geeks in the charity

average computer illiterate users can do absolutely nothing with ms-access. specially smart average computer illiterate users can do utter crap with ms-access in which they themselves will get lost very soon. geeks can use ms-access as they would use any other relational engine (just a very limited one). in short: ms-acces offers zero, it's not really an alternative in this case.

developing something for them (the cited mysql/django approach) is cool but will make them dependent on you. do it only if you reasonably expect you'll be around for a while and are up for the compromise :-)

i second the spreadsheet suggestion. and i would add that probably the best contribution you could make is to train someone in that staff to be self-sufficient in this kind of tasks. it might be substantially more effort but definitely worth it, specially if you make sure he/she passes the knowledge on before quitting. of course, first thing to do is to ask if there's another bizarre requirement for having commercial software. if not, promptly format those bitches and grab free software for them, show them how to start using it.

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