software offers lifeline for all those drowning in data
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First
published in Business
23-29, 2004 Issue 752
The High Tech Office
Information technologies haven't always gotten us information that we
can understand, when and where we need it. But many of us feel as if,
more and more, we're drowning in data. And the tools to keep track of
all these tidbits of information are not always as useful as we might
Big businesses have masses of data, and one of the biggest
of corporate IT departments is managing multiple servers hosting
massive databases. More soon on how Vancouver-based Antarctica Systems
is pioneering a new way to turn vast piles of data into useful
Individuals have data, too. Often, we end up trying to keep
of names, addresses, e-mail, contacts and more using our e-mail
software's address book, or in a Palm or other PDA or in Microsoft
Outlook. We may keep other sorts of lists handy in spreadsheets; the
new Microsoft Office 2003 recognizes this, finally adding a List
Manager function to Excel that the Mac version has had for several
There's been a hole, however, in what's available in between
corporate-level database systems and what's available for individuals,
small businesses or workgroups. Professional versions of MS Office
include Microsoft Access, but it's not particularly easy for most of us
to get up and running.
Intuit, makers of products like Quicken, QuickTax, and
Quickbooks, has a tradition of providing easy-to-use business software.
QuickBase is an online database that is easily customized to meet the
needs of small groups. Databases can be built from scratch or by using
one of the templates, allowing ordinary people to build their own
custom applications without needing to rely on IT professionals. Users
can be empowered to view the database, enter data or to customize the
database and to automatically receive e-mail notification of changes.
More advanced customization is possible for users familiar with XML,
Visual Basic, Perl or Java languages. As well, Intuit maintains a
network of developers to build customized QuickBooks applications -
from US$249 per month for 10 users.
FileMaker's FileMaker Pro is a step up in power from
while still offering mere mortals the ability to build their own
database applications. As with earlier versions, the just-released
version 7 is available in Windows and Mac flavours (starting around
$400); both platforms use the same file formats, so data can be shared
between users without problem. New to version 7: enhanced XML import
and export making it easier for FileMaker data to be accessed from
other applications. A new Container field makes it easy to store any
kind of file within the database; anything from graphics to videos to
Excel spreadsheets can now be included. Multiple windows allow users to
have different views of their data on-screen at once.
As with QuickBooks, FileMaker Pro data can be stored online,
allowing for easy access. Unlike QuickBooks, you don't have to put your
data online. It's easy to query your data: fill in a form to find just
the data that meets your criteria, but it can be awkward to save a
query for future reuse.
A separate Mobile version ($75) allows Palm or Pocket PC
work with recent-version FileMaker databases of up to 50 fields. Users
can view and edit data, which is kept in sync with the parent database,
but cannot create new databases on the PDA.
Neither QuickBooks nor FileMaker Pro offers the analysis
in Microsoft Access (to say nothing of the high-end corporate data
reporting or analysis tools). But many smaller groups may find one or
the other of these products striking a better balance between features
and ease of use.