GCN Lab Review: Do-it-all databases

Despite an array of new features, personal database software is getting easier to use

Choosing personal database software that matches the needs of your organization can be difficult. There are many options to pick from, and they all pretty much do the same thing: aggregate and store data and provide users with a robust mini-search engine to retrieve the stored data.

However, there are six additional criteria that good database software should be able to meet.

1. Easy installation and setup. In the recent past, databases could take hours to install and set up. They also came with complex wizards that could monopolize your afternoon while you got your settings right.

2. Compatibility with other databases. For some reason, a new database will often cause another one to crash. That is most often the case with free databases you find online. Those programs are not tested as rigorously as personal databases from a large company, and they frequently end up costing you more in time and patience than their free price tag would suggest.

3. Minimal training requirements. At least the basics should be easy to perform, such as creating, running and saving queries. Another quick task should be inputting common forms of data, such as contact lists and addresses.

4. Data protection. A good database should keep information safe from program-associated vulnerabilities such as crashes. That feature can be especially important for government agencies.

5. Reasonable price. A lot of bells and whistles are nice to have, unless you are paying by the gizmo.

6. Spreadsheet compatibility. The best features of a good database include its ability to work with complementary programs such as spreadsheets. That capability morphs a simple stand-alone database into an advanced data-mining and analysis tool.

For this review, we developed a 10M mass of data in a spreadsheet to test the interoperability between the databases and complementary software. We reviewed five of the latest personal databases using the six criteria listed above to determine the best overall solution for agencies.

We should note that, despite repeated requests, IBM chose not to participate with its Lotus product.

About the Authors

Carlos A. Soto is a former GCN Lab technology analyst.

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