Microsoft Access is not an easy piece of software to learn and some people find Access courses to be frustrating as a result. The question some of them ask is whether Access might be overkill for what they are doing. Excel has simple database functions, so couldn't you just use that instead? The answer is a definite "maybe".

Relational vs. Flat File Databases

An Excel database is a flat file database. All of your information is kept in rows and columns as though on a piece of paper. The classic example of a flat file database is a list in which each line contains name, address, and phone number. This could be customer records or an employee internal extension list.

If this is all you need from your database then Excel will work just fine. You can even perform simple database functions like extracting a list of all of the customers who live in a certain city for targeted mailings.

Access is a relational database. The structure of a relational database is more complex. It consists of several tables, each like a flat file database, but the tables are linked to each other by common identifiers.

Most businesses need to keep track of more than just customer addresses. A second table of all orders placed would link to the customer address table by means of a customer ID. This would allow you to perform searches such as people who ordered blue widgets in December 2006 or who ordered more than