Although Microsoft Access is the world's leading database system with millions of users worldwide, there are many of us who would still shy away from entering its complicated world if we could get away with using Excel instead. When it comes down to a King Kong versus Godzilla type showdown between Access and Excel, many of us would be rooting for the latter with its familiar interface and toolbars. There are many tasks we can perform in good old Excel, that reliable old Swiss Army Knife of an application, without waking the Access icon on the start menu. But if we look into it, we may find that Access is not quite so fearsome as we thought.

To give you an example of just how easy it is to manipulate data in Access I will use as an example my first brush with it, a database of films available at the video rental store I was the manager of back in the late nineties.

The list of titles had four fields: the number of the film, which was also displayed on the cassette on a sticker, the title of the film, the genre and the year of release.

As the films were listed in numerical order, it would be difficult to search for a particular film as the titles were in no specific order. If someone came in and asked if we stocked a certain film it would be a nightmare scrolling through the hundreds of titles in search of that particular one. There are two easy solutions to this.

One is the Find function. To find the title you want, say Fargo, which was a popular choice back when I was running the store, select the film title field. Go to Edit/Find, or click on the Find button on the toolbar, which is in the shape of a pair of binoculars. Type in the title and press Enter. The film title will now be highlighted. Note, though, that although we have six copies of Fargo in stock, only one title is highlighted - and it is out on loan. Simply re-click the Find Icon and then click the Find Next box. This will move the highlight on to the next copy of Fargo.

Another way of finding a particular title without sifting through reams of text is to use the Sort function. Again select the field you wish to sort, which is the film title one. Next go to Records/Sort Ascending, or click the icon on the Table Datasheet toolbar that is a capital A above a capital Z with a downward arrow to the right. This will sort the data as requested and the film titles will now appear in alphabetical order and it is simply a matter of scrolling down to the ones beginning with F.

So as you can see performing basic functions within Access is not quite as daunting as it seems. You are possibly already familiar with many of the functions and icons through using Excel. In fact the instructions above for using the Find and Sort functions could be copied and pasted into an article on Excel, as the processes are identical. So don't be put off by Access's reputation; take it up and you may find that you already know a great deal of the basics.