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
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
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
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
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.