Relational database on the cheap
September 13, 2012 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a free/cheap alternative to Access or Filemaker for simple relational database work.

I'm volunteering with a small club that is trying to track the amount of time club members spend on projects as well as some metrics for those projects. We got a trial of Filemaker, and the program does exactly what we need. The problem is cost: buying licenses is outside of our non-existent budget, and if we wanted to access the database through a server, it's way out of our price range.

We would have fewer than 10 people using the database, so scale is not a huge concern for us. We'd have enough records linked in ways that using a spreadsheet is not ideal, but we're not talking about millions of rows—probably less than a dozen tables with at most a hundred or so rows per table.

Features we're looking for:
- Simple interface for creating the database backend as well as forms & reports for interacting with the database
- Cross-platform (Windows and Mac)
- Ability to share the database remotely,whether through Dropbox or hosted on a domain
- Low learning curve (our tech guy can handle creating queries in Filemaker, but SQL is outside our skill sets)
- Cheap, or ideally free

What can the hive mind recommend for us?
posted by philosophygeek to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like what you need is a gui front-end to MySQL. Would something like PHPMyAdmin or mySQLWorkbench work for you?
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:23 AM on September 13, 2012

Zoho Creator?
posted by COD at 9:28 AM on September 13, 2012

Also FileMaker has programs for non-profits. Cost is still > 0, though.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:28 AM on September 13, 2012

Why not Google Docs' spreadsheet with forms?

Not a database but can be used like one.
posted by teabag at 9:41 AM on September 13, 2012

Response by poster: I just poked around PHPMyAdmin, and I can't figure out how to create forms in there. Am I missing something obvious?

Google Docs looks like it would be fine for getting data in but not for getting it out. Is there a way to construct a query in the spreadsheet, besides finding the relevant data manually?

Zoho Creator does look exactly like what we need, although the monthly fee would be a problem for us and we have too many users to qualify for the free version.
posted by philosophygeek at 11:19 AM on September 13, 2012

I have been using LibreOffice Base for lightweight db work. It has a native db format and you could share a file through dropbox. I also use it as a front end to mysql, but have not done any form building for that.
posted by cgk at 11:38 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might want to also look into Visual Studio Express or Lightswitch. With the express edition, you're limited to SQL express or Access databases (if you do not already have Access, LibreOffice as mentioned above is a good alternative). With Lightswitch however, you get a very easy to use interface for quickly building forms.

As for PHPMyAdmin, that is simply a web front end for managing a mysql database server. You'd still need other development tools to build the form applications (or the tools to develop web forms that link to that data if that is a viable alternative).
posted by samsara at 1:47 PM on September 13, 2012

SQLite with a graphical interface might be also a candidate because it is a very lightweight database contained in a single file that can be swapped around using Dropbox and the like.

You might then be able to use a graphical interface to get what you need:
posted by foxfirefey at 5:17 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know any software that meets all your requirements -- the only ones I can think of that have non-techy form creation are Access, Filemaker and possibly OpenOffice Base (free but not very friendly, and buggy in my limited experience). MySQL and web forms would be free, but you'd have to be able to work in code (SQL, HTML and probably some PHP or javascript) to write the forms.
posted by Chris4d at 10:53 PM on September 13, 2012

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