Spreadsheet vs. Database?
January 29, 2012 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I've been using a spreadsheet (actually, three or four different spreadsheets....) to keep track of names, contact info, and task completion for a large number of people. Would switching to a database ultimately be easier and less stressful? And if so, what would be the best software for a database newbie to use? Or is there some other perfect solution out there?

I've messed around with Access a bit but not found it terribly intuitive, and I've used Zoho Creator but mostly as a sort of glorified spreadsheet to track what I've read. I'm relatively tech-savvy but not Computer Science/Tech worker savvy.

What I'd REALLY like is something that I can integrate with gmail/e-mail, so that when someone completes a task and emails me about it I could look up the next task matching the right criteria and send an email to them telling them what to do next with a minimum of effort on my part. It seems like something like this should exist, but I haven't stumbled on it if it does. Ultra-ideally I should be able to import my existing spreadsheets into it with a minimum of fuss.

I'm running Windows 7, and would prefer a free/low cost solution. Browser-based or installed-on-the-harddrive are fine.
posted by kittenmarlowe to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think project management software is what you're looking for. There are many, with a wide range of features, at just about every possible price point.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:38 PM on January 29, 2012

Access would be great for this. Just sit down with it for a few days and you'll be able to figure out the basics (tables, one to many, many to many, forms, reports, etc.). If you have people in your firm who do this stuff, you could even have them build you an interface so that you didn't have to deal with it at all, besides entering info and running reports or queries.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:41 PM on January 29, 2012

The best product for you is most likely Filemaker Pro. It's not cheap - $299 but would fit you perfectly. You can also take a look at High-rise and Baecamp.
posted by brorfred at 12:42 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Databases are really meant to be accessed by a piece of software designed for a specific task. Using them directly is painful and asking for trouble.

I don't know of any particular piece of software that sounds like it would exactly meet your criteria. But I would second Lyn Never's suggestion of looking at project management software. Or just continue to use excel. It's really not that bad of a way to represent data.
posted by aychedee at 12:43 PM on January 29, 2012

You in no way require your own database, of the Access of Filemaker or any other variety. This is, as Lyn Never points out, a very very very solved problem. I prefer Teamwork to Highrise or Basecamp, which I loathe.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:48 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well - SharePoint (2007/2010) with Task lists and integrated incoming/outgoing Email - if your organization has it. Access 2010 + SharePoint 2010 Access Services would be another possibility. (Oops - missed the free/low-lost and possibly local request)

You mention gmail - what about Google Docs/Spreadsheets - do they have email integration? Shared calendar/tasks?

Within Outlook 2007/2010 you can assign tasks to people and request email updates - I think you can even tie that back to project plans in Project 2007/2010. (And Outlook does fairly well with managing contacts)
posted by jkaczor at 7:45 PM on January 29, 2012

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