Free Windows-Based Database That Is Still Free For Government Use?
April 28, 2010 10:41 PM   Subscribe

I need a free database. Difficulty: EULA needs to permit government usage.

In my state government work I am part of a small team which (that?) is in part responsible for the logistical coordination of technical and machine parts and equipment throughout the region.

Due to internal faffery, a lot of the old hands have hit the road and we're left with a whole bunch of documentation, but not a lot of technical nous when it comes to the terminology and nomenclature surrounding the equipment we deal with. Government, amirite?

So I have been tasked - or rather, I have tasked myself - with assembling a relatively simple database of product and equipment suppliers, linked to the products they actually sell (as well as contact details, part numbers, costs, and other bits and pieces, perhaps even jpgs of the equipment itself). I was going to do it in Excel but, er, no, and I haven't the patience for Access. I checked with IT to see if they had any old copies of MS Works floating about as the database provided was that was quite simple and easy to use, but alas, they are barren. I asked if I could install some freeware/open source stuff and they said sure, provided I could show them the part in the EULA where it said it was permitted for government use.

So my question to you, wise AskMefites, is: can such an application be found? I've been Googling and there's a fair bit of stuff out there, sure, but I wanted to check here anyway on the chance that somebody knew of something off the top of their big beautiful heads. It's going to be used by two people, three at the absolute max, so doesn't need to be particularly powerful, just sweet and simple.

Thanks in advance.
posted by turgid dahlia to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
"provided with that was quite simple", rather.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:41 PM on April 28, 2010

Explicitly permitted? Because I mean, most open source applications don't go excluding people on the basis of endeavor. Who did you ask, anyways? Unless it was a lawyer, they're probably unqualified to say who is and isn't licensed for what purpose.

Free databases that come to mind, without any consideration of GUI and usability:
* Postgres
* Firebird
* SQLite
* Base
* Wikis

If you need explicit permission, I think a written notice can be procured for free if you get in touch with the right people, particularly for software owned by a Foundation rather than held by individual contributors.
posted by pwnguin at 10:50 PM on April 28, 2010 has a database component called Base, but if Access is too fiddly then Base probably will be as well. On the other hand, there is nothing at all in the LGPL that would prevent any class of user, Government or otherwise, from running as many copies of Base as they like.
posted by flabdablet at 11:00 PM on April 28, 2010

Then again, you might not need to install anything at all.
posted by flabdablet at 11:04 PM on April 28, 2010

To clarify, the EULA specifically has to say that it's OK for government use? Or merely not prohibit such use? Virtually any standard open source license allows government use under the exact same terms as any other use, but few say anything specific about the government because really, why would they?

If they are giving you the runaround here, there must be some existing open source software being used somewhere within your organization? If you can cite that, show that the license is the same or similar, and that's a leg up right there.

Seriously though, if this turns out to be a major hassle, I would suck it up and just use Excel. The project is a simple solution to track your suppliers. Excel isn't ideal, but it does the job, and might not be worth fighting over.
posted by zachlipton at 11:11 PM on April 28, 2010

You won't find anything in the GPL about who is allowed to use the software because it's not there. The GPL (and in fact most Free Software licenses) only covers how the software may be distributed and modified (and how those modified copies may be handled.) Most everyone working in Free Software despises the notion of limiting how you can use software (and the whole idea of an end-user license that must be accepted to run the software), only how it may be distributed since that derives directly from copyright law.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:07 AM on April 29, 2010

To clarify, the EULA specifically has to say that it's OK for government use?

That was the impression I was given, I will have to clarify. You're right that it sounds a little runaroundy. I too figured that if something was "open", to paraphrase, then it was open for everybody regardless.

I appreciate the recommendations and advice given so far. I'm after something a little more GUI-based than the open source SQL stuff but I think that it's simply going to be a matter of finding something I can get up and running with quickly and easily with minimal hassle from the IT crowd.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:22 AM on April 29, 2010

Many EULAs (including some free software ones) include some boilerplate about government end users and references to various CFRs. I have no idea what that's all about but it's quite a common blob of text in commercial software EULAs. Is that the kind of thing your IT guys are looking for?
posted by hattifattener at 1:27 AM on April 29, 2010

Also, FWIW, I've seen some projects attempting to impose database-like relations onto a specialized wikiwiki; this seems like a worthwhile endeavor to me, but I don't know if any of them are solid enough for your purposes. For example, though I think I've seen others. Though, even just using the stock mediawiki, you can get some simple database-like functionality with categories and "what links here".
posted by hattifattener at 1:37 AM on April 29, 2010

Oh, here I am: the key phrase seems to be "structured wiki". Free, commercial.
posted by hattifattener at 1:42 AM on April 29, 2010

...boilerplate about government end users and references to various CFRs

hattifattener, I'd suggest that's precisely the sort of thing they are looking for.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:16 AM on April 29, 2010

If it helps at all, from my delvings in Sourceforge looking for the right sort of thing, I guess I'm looking more for an inventory/asset management tool, rather than a proper full-fledged database.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:28 AM on April 29, 2010

I think Access (or Filemaker Pro if you have it) is the way to go here. There is a template for inventory control in Access that looks like it would get you most of the way there. A little tweaking is much better than starting from scratch.
posted by SNACKeR at 5:21 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Access. It's not that hard to learn, and will be easy to pass onto another person in the future. Lots of people have it, and know how to use it. Anything else is asking for unnecessary trouble down the road.
posted by schmod at 6:42 AM on April 29, 2010

For what it's worth, that's a slightly odd requirement, in the sense that free licenses don't care who you are or what you do with the software. GPL, for instance, is only concerned with distribution of a product, not with use of it. You can do anything you want with GPLed code, and the GPL part only kicks in when you want to give your application to someone else. At that point, you must also transfer your source code, also under the GPL, so that the party receiving it can do anything that you can do.

However, in your specific use case, unless you're actually modifying the original code in some way, it's not likely that it would apply to you. Writing a C or Python or PHP application that simply talks to a database over a network isn't going to obligate you under the GPL, since your code isn't a derivative work of the database... USING the database is not the same as INCORPORATING it. You would only need to GPL your code if you're distributing both it and the database at the same time, as a unified, end-user product.

BSD code has no limitations at all, beyond including copyright notices IF and ONLY IF you distribute source code. You don't have to distribute source to anyone, but if you do, you must include the copyrights.

You should have some kind of legal resources available to you, so you may want to talk to them in addition to your IT department. Perhaps you have unusual legal requirements that I'm not aware of... I assume you work for the Australian government, and I have no clue how things work down there. But it sounds like the IT department might be a little confused about what licenses they need to deploy software internally.

Also note that most free software databases aren't really intended for end-users, they're intended for use by programmers. You access them via a command-line or a programmed interface. You may be able to assemble something that does what you need from various pieces, but I'm not aware of any single unified product that resembles a Works database or Access very much at all.
posted by Malor at 6:49 AM on April 29, 2010

In other words, on that last paragraph: spending the time to learn Access is likely to be a much, much better use of your time than rolling your own from free software.
posted by Malor at 6:51 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're after inventory specifically, I know of a few GUI tools geared for this process when we were looking at a student hardware checkout app. There are a number of collection managers out there, that are written primarily to manage nerd's collection of games and movies. But random PEZ dispenser and Star Trek CCG nerd's demands have generalized some of these tools enough that you can bend them to your needs.

I'm assuming you need windows support, which eliminates Tellico.

The other big one I'm familiar with is GCStar, which has a windows build. The license is GPLv2, which doesn't care whether you're government or not (your IT dept is probably Linux somewhere, which is the same license). GCstar allows you to define new collection types. It doesn't appear to support intertable relations, so a vendor table seperate from an inventory table won't work. Mostly this just means you'll have to duplicate some data, probably not a huge deal unless you and your coworkers already know SQL in and out.
posted by pwnguin at 11:30 AM on April 29, 2010

MySQL, Postgres etc requires you to be a programmer.

I recommend FileMaker Pro as I know several non-programmers who have created databases (such as your examples) without too huge trouble. And you can use the database from several computers at the same time as FileMaker has network sharing built-in.

And there is a large number of FileMaker Consultants, so if you need something you cannot figure out yourself, you can easily get help.
posted by flif at 6:09 PM on April 29, 2010

Really appreciate all your help and advice guys. When I got to work this morning I decided to just bite the bullet and give the bastard thing a whirl in Access and I'm pretty much done already, just need to do a bunch of tweaking and enter the actual data.

Thanks again.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:22 PM on April 29, 2010

« Older alternative to AVCHD format for hi-def card based...   |   One problem is enough Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.