Most free database software isn’t as good as Microsoft Access. Fortunately, there are a rare few great alternatives. This article covers the five best.
Microsoft Access is a database tool, popularized through its inclusion in most Microsoft Office packages since 1992. Like many database programs, Microsoft Access is a complex tool with a steep learning curve. However, there are Microsoft Access alternatives, and here are some of the best.
Why Use a Microsoft Access Alternative?
Is Microsoft Access your go-to database tool? It is understandable. Access is a core Microsoft Office feature for both Office 365 and standalone licenses. Despite the rise in free Microsoft Office alternatives, Microsoft Access still consistently features in the top 10 database-engines ranking.
Microsoft Access splits opinions, too. Pro-Access users point to its ease of use, the massive range of online resources available for users of all abilities, as well as its powerful querying, filtering, and table tools.
Anti-Access users contest its lack of scalability, its frustrating 2GB limit, its continued use of a solitary file for the database, and potential for database corruption in multiple-user databases. For others, the price of Microsoft Access is a sticking point, too. Other free database options perform as well as, if not better than Microsoft Access.
The Best Free Database Software
LibreOffice Base is a great starting point for those considering a free alternative to Microsoft Access. The open source office suite remains a strong pretender to the Microsoft Office crown, and the latest version of LibreOffice, 6.1.3, is one of the best yet.
Base remains a great all-rounder, well-suited to both home and business needs. LibreOffice Base has a range of handy features, including cross-database support for multi-user databases such as MySQL, Adabas D, Microsoft Access, and PostgreSQL.
LibreOffice Base is probably as close as you can get to a direct Microsoft Access clone. Both are front-end database management tools. You can use Base to make decent database applications or websites, as well as choose between Firebird or HSQLDB for your embedded database framework.
Calligra Suite is an office and graphic design suite developed by the KDE open source community. Kexi is the Calligra Suite answer to Microsoft Access. Kexi offers a decent mixture of database features: data entry, queries, forms, tables, reports, and more. Furthermore, you can use Kexi as the frontend for a database server such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, or Microsoft SQL Server.
Another handy feature for those users looking to make the switch is the Kexi Microsoft Access migration assistant. The wizard helps users migrate databases to the Kexi database framework, persevering data and allowing editing between the applications.
Axisbase was brought to life by a frustrated developer, angered at the expense of forcing his clientèle to pay for Microsoft Access, though development seems to have stopped in January 2011. Axisbase is slightly different from the other entries in this list in that it offers an entire database solution, with a familiar front-end interface that feels similar to Filemaker, Access or Base, but can also act as a database server like MySQL.
Note: Axisbase doesn’t support standard SQL, so be careful!
Axisbase isn’t the most accessible database program to use. You will use Axisbase “building blocks” to develop your database. A building block is “a data subset, list, graph, window, or report.” The building blocks can become incredibly complex, such is the underlying depth of Axisbase.
The best place to get started is the Axisbase Documentation Home. The developer provides an overview of how many of the systems work, how you can implement building blocks, and other vital information for the development of your database.
Symphytum is an open source personal visual database. The biggest difference between Symphytum and the other options on this list is the target market. Symphytum is a handy database tool for personal databases, without any need to learn any programming or complicated structures.
Don’t let that statement fool you, though. You can still use Symphytum to create a large visual database with lots of customization. It is very accessible and has some handy features, too. For instance, you can drag and drop fields with records to arrange the visual layout.
Symphytum does come with a few limitations, mind. The database cannot “handle relational data and automatic field calculations.” Also, the import CSV function leaves a lot be desired.
Your final free alternative to Microsoft Access is also the most basic. In that, you probably won’t replace the extensive functionality of Access with PortaBase. However, PortaBase is free, and you can create a basic single table database without too much effort.
Because it is such a basic program, there isn’t much to learn, either. You create a new database, add the fields that you want, and start filling them in. You can import from CSV, XML, or MobileDB, and export to CSV, HTML, or XML.
One nice PortaBase feature is integrated file encryption. You have the option to encrypt your database using a Blowfish-based encryption library, meaning the encryption is good and strong. Just make sure you don’t lose your password!
Other Microsoft Access Alternatives
There are some notable absences from the Microsoft Access alternatives list.
You also have the option of using other free and open source database options such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, MS SQL, SQLite, Cassandra, MariaDB, or one of the many others. These all represent resilient, powerful database tools suited to an extensive range of database tasks.
However, for relative ease of use, especially for new users wishing to experiment or get to grips with their first database management program, these selections represent a thorough cross-section of the existing market.
Ready to step up from Microsoft Access? Here is how you install MySQL Community Server on your Windows machine.
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