And now for some brief database evangelism.
Time and time again, I see people with a pile of information that they want to put onto a computer. And they use Excel for it. Which is not what it’s designed for. It’s a spreadsheet. For accountants. To do accounting. Database are designed for data to be put in, and more importantly, to use the data when it’s there.
Why people do this isn’t entirely a mystery to me. Most people use Windows. Most windows users have Office. Office has (or generally doesn’t have) a really poor database program, in the form of Access. Other operating systems, namely Linux in all it’s flavours, generally comes with at least one database package. So if you want a database, it’s there for you already, no hassle. You can get different databases (Open Source, of course) for windows too, but that’s a bit more hassle.
The main problem is the two different approaches to data storage – with Excel, things are stored in files, which people can copy and share around easily, whereas databases are server-orientated (whether that server runs on the users own computer or not). So for a quick cut-and-paste type thing, I can see why documents can be easier. Their biggest downfall with them is keeping track of the different versions. Unless you have a master copy, which is known by everyone to be the master copy, then collaborative working on the database will fall to pieces. In a corporate environment, you should be using IT systems properly anyway, but in my experience, IT systems are usually bodged together in a neverenging series of quick hacks, Excel and Word macros, and priceless techniques and practices passed on through ‘orientation’. Or forgotten, and the wheel reinvented.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, a solution to the problem of using Excel instead of a database. If you have access to an webserver, mysql and phpMyAdmin, then you’re sorted for any quick-and-dirty databases you need. A good idea could be for someone to take a database, orientate it towards files rather than servers, and strap a phpmyadmin-like interface to it. Et voila! An Access and Excel replacement, but also free, Free and miles better. Volunteers anyone? Then perhaps I wouldn’t tear my hair out when someone types printed information into a spreadsheet and asks for it to go onto the website, having ‘already done the hard work’ for me.