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Excel vs Access: What Program to Choose?


Excel vs. Access aka David vs. Goliath

Many novice users do not understand the absolute power and speed that Microsoft Access possesses and the limitations that exist in Microsoft Excel.

Let’s start off with the basics…  Excel is a flat file whereas Access is a front-end and a back-end relational database utility.  Access uses a coding language called SQL (Structured Query Language) that can search for records simply with criteria that the user specifies. Although Excel has the infrastructure to interpret this language too, there are reasons why Access is paramount.

In both Access and Excel, you can:

  • Run queriesto sort and filter your data for desired results
  • Run complex  calculationsto derive a specific outcome
  • Use pivot tables to work with your data interactively.
  • Generate  reports basedon your own data and view them in many different formats
  • Add and use  formsto add, change, delete, and navigate your information
  • Create a Microsoft Word  mail mergeto mass produce labels or automate emails
  • Connect to dataexternally and view, query, and edit it without having to import.
  • Import data from external databases (MS Access, SQL Server) and many other file types

Both programs organize data in columns, which are also called  fields, that store a particular formats of information, or  data types. In Excel, the top of each column is used to label the column. A difference in terminology is that what is called a  rowin Excel is called a  recordin Access.  Access  stores and queries data in tables which if developed in a ‘normalized’ structure by using proper coding techniques, will allow all records to be found using different combinations of criteria.  The way it does this is byusing unique keys (unique identifiers for records) which creates a much more scalable infrastructure allowing for dynamic improvements with ease.  Excel uses cell references to relate to data, an approach that is not normalized

The Bottom Line

If you have more than a few sheets of data, you most likely want to use MS Access.  If it makes sense to store your data in 1 table and the amount of data is not overwhelming to your PC, then Excel can be your answer.  With any type of process that data intensive, Access is almost always your best bet.  Though, both are very powerful tools, people often misuse Excel when they should be looking at the bigger picture and building an Access database for their process.

Take a look a Microsoft’s writeup on this subject.

Customer case study: Excel to Access conversion

If you have a project in mind and are not sure what application is best suited

for it, please feel free to Contact Us.