In my personal experience I have never used a Microsoft based relational database except Access when first learning about relational databases. Having been schooled in PERL, I often used flat file for simple databases (therefore an extremely dependent data structure design), MySQL databases for larger web based systems or Oracle for large enterprise based multi-site distributed database systems.
As a result, in considering which commercial relational database to research, I decided to look at the much overlooked product of Microsoft Access. This product is considered to be the “little brother” of Microsoft’s enterprise product Microsoft SQL Server as it is based on a “Joint Engine Technology (JET)” database engine (client side processing based on file sharing) and therefore not designed for systems where users need to use data at the same time or on distributed systems or large amounts of data, yet it remains as the most popular database product amongst non-IT professionals. An often overlooked fact is that Microsoft Access does not have to use the Jet database engine and can use SQL server as its data repository. It is true however that this product is made for Windows, not the web.
One the most positive aspects of Microsoft Access is the ease of use as, being integrated into the Microsoft Office suite, novice users can quickly create data sets, process them and retrieve meaningful information. Moreover, Microsoft Access is accessibly cheap to smaller operations and businesses (assuming of course that proper commercial licensing is obtained for other relational databases that could be used freely otherwise).
As a result of the intentional use of Microsoft Access and the way in which it is designed to be used, recent additions and modifications have largely centred around the underlying JET database engine, the graphical user interface and a concentration on performing tasks in a simple manner (in line with Access key user base).
The JET database engine has undergone 4 major release changes over the years and is largely being depreciated as a technology with Microsoft products moving to SQL server (Exchange, IIS, etc.) however JET is a part of the Microsoft Windows operating system and therefore will continue to be supported. The most notable modifications have been made in the speed of creation of indexes and reduction in storage size, thereby increasing system performance, something that is seems to drive all of JET’s development.
Microsoft Access itself is changing its GUI as with every generation however it will be interesting to see how the database community views Microsoft’s attempt to make it more of an integratable web product with the advent of version 2010 later this year when it will be (finally) possible to use Access data via the Web with Microsoft Sharepoint Server 2010, something that may adjust its position in the commercial marketplace.
Coronel, Morris & Rob (2009) Database Systems: Design, Implementation, and Management (9th Edition). Cengage Learning.
Databasedev (2010) Database Solutions for Microsoft Access: Microsoft Access v Microsoft SQL Server [Online]. Available at http://www.databasedev.co.uk/ms-access-vs-sql-server.html (Accessed 4 April 2010).
Microsoft (2010) Access Home Page [Online]. Available at http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/access/default.aspx (Accessed 4 April 2010).
Microsoft Developer Network (2009) Data Access Technologies Road Map [Online]. Available at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms810810.aspx (Accessed 4 April 2010).
Wikipedia (2010) Jet Database Engine [Online]. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Jet_Database_Engine (Accessed 4 April 2010).