A database is nothing more than a program to store useful bits of information such as names, addresses, and phone numbers, or inventory part numbers, shipping dates, customer codes, and any other type of information that you think is worth storing.
To help you store information in a database, Office 2007 comes with the database program, Access. Access provides two huge advantages over storing information on paper. First, Access can store literally billions of chunks of information (try doing that with a Rolodex file or a filing cabinet). Second, Access makes it easy to search and sort through your information in the blink of an eye.
The three main advantages of a computer database over a paper database are
Massive storage: The largest computer database can fit on a hard disk, but a paper database might take a roomful of file cabinets.
Fast retrieval: Searching for a single name in a computer database is fast and easy. Doing the same thing in a paper database is difficult, error prone, and nearly impossible with a large database.
Reporting: A report can help you make sense out of your data, such as showing a list of customers who earn a certain amount of money and live in a specific area. Trying to find this information in a paper database is time consuming and error prone.
Understanding the Basics of a Database
A database is nothing more than a file that contains useful information that you need to save and retrieve in the future. A database can consist of a single name and address, or several million names and addresses.
A typical Access database file consists of several parts:
Fields: A field contains a single chunk of information such as name, street address, or phone number.
Records: A record consists of one or more fields. A business card is a paper version of a database record that stores fields (name, address, phone number, and so on) about a single person (record).
Tables: A table displays records in rows and columns, much like a spreadsheet. Tables group related records, such as records of all your customers or records of all your invoices.
Forms: A form displays all the fields of a single record onscreen, mimicking a paper form, so that you can add, edit, or view a single record at a time.
Queries: A query lets you retrieve certain information based on your criteria such as only retrieving names and addresses of people who earn more than $50,000 a year and have children.
Reports: A report arranges your data in a certain way, such as showing all customers who placed over 1,000 orders last year or all customers who live within a certain ZIP code.
Access is known as a relational database. Basically, this means you can store data in separate tables and link or "relate" them together to avoid duplicating data in multiple tables. One table might contain customer names and addresses while a separate, related table might contain those same customers' purchase orders.
Here are the two basic steps to using a database. First, you need to design your database, which means deciding what type of information your database will hold, such as names, addresses, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and so on.
After you design a database, the second step is filling it with actual data, such as typing the name Bob Jones in the Name field or the e-mail address BJones@somecompany. com in the E-mail field.
The whole purpose of a database is to store information you need to retrieve in the future, such as names and phone numbers of customers. For example, there's no point in storing the fax number for people if you'll never need to send them a fax.
When you first create a database, you'll probably start out with a single table that contains customer information. Inside the Customer Information table will be multiple records where each record represents a single customer. Each record will consist of multiple fields such as First Name, Company Name, Phone Number, and E-mail Address.
To help you edit and view your database table information, you might eventually want to create a form that displays your fields on the screen mimicking a paper form that's easy to read.
If you find yourself searching for the same type of information on a regular basis, such as looking for the names of your best customers (those who order more than $1,000 worth of products from you a week), you can store this search criteria as a query. Then you can just click on the query name and make Access show you exactly what you want to find.
Finally, you may want to print out your data in a way that makes sense to you, such as printing a quarterly sales report. By saving your printing criteria in a report, you can make Access print out selected data on a page that's easy for you to read and understand.
Features like forms, queries, and reports are optional but handy. Features like tables, records, and fields are necessary to store your information in your database.