What Can Replace MS Access on Linux?

After writing a column on MrProject, an up-and-coming project management

tool, I received a very interesting email message. The author of this

email suggests that one of the reasons Microsoft Project gets so

entrenched in organizations is because users can access the project data

as an MS Access database.

Access provides a low-end database with the ability to quickly make

form-based applications to edit the data. While Access certainly has

limitations (if you have ever used an application built on Access, you

will know), Access still makes creating applications easy.

Faced with this quandary, I started to look for Access alternatives that

could run on Linux. One of the first to come to mind is Intuit's

QuickBase (http://www.quickbase.com). QuickBase is a low-end Web

database that supports a number of features, including the ability to

make data-entry forms. Although this isn't specifically a Linux

solution, you can run it from your Linux Web browsers with an Internet

connection.

For a more Linux-based approach, the first step is to take a look at the

available databases on Linux. A good starting point is

http://linas.org/linux/db.html, which provides a comprehensive list of

Linux database resources. You will find a fairly long list of databases

that run on Linux, relational or otherwise, along with drivers to access

the databases from various programming languages such as Perl.

PostgreSQL (http://www.postgresql.org) is one of the two most popular

Linux databases. It includes pretty much everything you need in a

database. MySQL (http://www.mysql.com) forms another of the most popular

Linux databases. Both PostgreSQL and MySQL come with many Linux

distributions.

SAP made their enterprise-class database, SAP DB (http://www.sapdb.org),

available as an open source package. SAP DB has quite a lot of robust

database features. However, I really like the free database McKoi SQL

(http://www.mckoi.com/database). Written in Java, McKoi SQL supports

most database features and runs the same on all systems that support

Java 2, including Linux and Windows. What I like most about McKoi SQL,

though, is the easy installation.

Among commercial products, you can purchase Oracle, DB2, Informix,

Sybase, and others from the database market. In addition, a small

commercial database named mSQL (http://www.hughes.com.au/products/msql)

may better fit into the MS Access model for small, lightweight data

needs.

All of these databases give you the ability to manage your data. Missing

from many of these packages, though, are the handy form-building

features offered by MS Access. Even though Access does a poor job at

managing data, especially in a multi-user situation, Access does well at

creating simple form-based applications. In the Linux world, about the

closest you get at this simple form and data management application

would be the Perl scripting language, combined with the Tk graphics, and

the DBM data library or a DBI/DBD module combination for a given

database.

You might also want to create form-based Web applications by combining

the Apache Web server, the database of your choice, and a package such

as PHP (http://www.php.net) or PHPNuke (http://phpnuke.org). You can

access databases using SQL from PHP. Perl also works well for Web forms.

Know of any better solutions? Please send me a note and I'll summarize.

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