As a Microsoft Office user, I suppose I'm predisposed to prefer Microsoft Access over the competition. And, if I hadn't had so much trouble during the installation process (the CD-ROM it came on was apparently scratched or dirty), I would likely be raving about it. I can tell you that, once installed, it ran like every other Office 97 program I've ever used--there were plenty of wizards to easily create the database you need. Microsoft goes way beyond its competition by including database types you might never have thought of but will find useful (asset tracking, music collection and charitable contributions, for example), as well as those that are very pertinent to small-business owners (such as inventory control, expenses and contact management). Microsoft's manual is also the most user-friendly of the group. It explains in plain English what a relational database is, giving examples to help users see the benefits. Here's an excerpt: "For example, you may want to combine information from an Employees table with an Orders table to create a report of total sales per employee for the past month. The two tables share one type of information, in this case the employee ID number, but otherwise maintain discrete data. Storing data in related tables is very efficient because you store a fact just once, which reduces disk storage requirements and makes updating and retrieving data much faster."
In addition to wizards that help make database creation easier, there's built-in assistance that can anticipate the kind of help you'll need and give tips as you go. With Access, it's also easy to share information: You can easily link data from one Office product to the next or utilize e-mail to send Access information to whomever you want as an Excel worksheet, HTML table or text file.
Of course, Access also includes plenty of Internet capabilities, including the ability to easily format and publish a database to either an intranet or the Internet.
Many of you may already have access to a database program that you got when purchasing a suite (such as Microsoft Office or Lotus SmartSuite) or an integrated program (like Microsoft Works), that you have yet to put to work. Why not take some time to familiarize yourself with the power of a database program? At their basic level, these programs can help you organize and track elements of your life (for example, a home inventory or music catalog), while at their highest level, they'll give you the ability to manage your business in ways you never thought possible.