- Customize experience with UI macros
- Create custom database applications
- Database collaboration amplified by SharePoint and OneDrive
- Cumbersome for new users with major learning curve
- Only available for PCs
- Database file sizes capped at 2GB
Microsoft Access 2016 is the latest database management system (DMS) for the Office 365 productivity suite. Built as a tool for various purposes and uses, Access is a sophisticated yet useful platform for accessing and analyzing massive data sets and repositories.
The possibilities using Access
Microsoft Access has gone through significant changes over the years. Being in its latest iteration, Microsoft’s signature database management software is a highly versatile tool that can amplify even the most complex data sets.
You can create several types of database applications and forms with relative ease starting out. Users can also share final products and database back-ends with colleagues through OneDrive so that collaboration can be fostered.
Being a relational data management engine, Access can also be deployed with customized relationship mapping, UI macros to streamline and automate processes, and create forms and modules. HTML and web-native forms can also be linked to an Access database application, among other web-based data sources so that your databases continually updated.
SharePoint integrations and external data sources
Integrated with other Office 365 applications, like Excel, and other external DMS systems and applications (e.g., Intuit Quickbooks, Microsoft SQL Server, external CRMs, etc.), Access is an intuitive engine that creates database applications that fit the needs of your organization with multi-sourced data scenarios driving the back-end.
Data can also be sourced from SharePoint and the Outlook Customer Manager application, track and source contact data, identifiers, and additional information to enrich your database applications.
One of the most prominent setbacks that Access hosts is the fact that the tool is only functional as a desktop application for PCs running Windows. Mac OS users are given the “short end of the stick” when it comes to this. Consequently, there’s a body of “homebrew” and hodgepodge solutions like launching Access in a virtual machine to run the application on Apple hardware.
Plus, Access isn’t available on mobile devices. Third-party developers have created several applications to provide basic viewing and lookup functions for Access databases on mobile; however, both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store lack official Microsoft Access applications.
The learning curve
Due to its jam-packed functionality, Access is one of the most robust office productivity tools to learn. Without having, frankly, a relatively decent understanding and background in either database management systems or SQL servers, Access is a challenging tool to learn and adapt too. The user interface and the functions’ layout isn’t intuitive for new users, whatsoever.
This learning curve, however, can be addressed through extensive use and the rich body of “how-to” and tutorial materials available through Microsoft and third parties.
Other key setbacks
Some other problems with Microsoft Access include functional qualms. For one, Access limits the file size of databases to 2GB. Though this setback could be considered a minor oversight, other problems can be seen in actual interaction with data universes and datasets inputted into the platform.
Search queries and exporting could be lengthy processes if the volume of a data set grows too large. Large datasets and manipulation of these sets could also result in deteriorating application performance unless you’re willing to improve performance through additional data integrations, transfer of data to new databases, etc.
Pricing and the other guys
To get the best value for Microsoft Access, you might want to sign up for a Microsoft Office 365 business subscription. Only the basic and premium business plans include Access with the full application load-out including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. Plans begin at $8.30 per user per month (paid annually) or $9.90 per user per month (basic) to $12.50 per user per month (paid annually) or $15 per user per month (premium). Customers can also outright buy Access for $129.99 from Microsoft’s website.
Amazon RDS, a cloud-based relational DMS that competes with Access, is free for up to 750 hours of Micro DB Instance on a monthly basis per year with up to 20GB of storage included. Plus, RDS runs on Amazon’s AWS servers so that space is restricted to your cloud use. You can’t go wrong with trying Airtable either, which is an accessible web-based relational DMS that functions like a spreadsheet and offers a free plan with progressive pricing.
Microsoft Access is a primo DMS and a staple to any fully-integrated Office 365 experience. Despite the significant learning curves for beginners, its insufficient cross-platform migration, and some slight volume-performance issues, Access does get the job done.
However, if you’re not willing to pay the (generally affordable) price, or you want a better user experience, try one of the listed alternatives above. Notably, Airtable is a beginner friendly platform that can integrate with several applications.
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