Microsoft Office Access is a popular database package but there are alternatives such as OpenOffice Base.
Databases are widely used. Schools, the NHS, supermarkets, Facebook, Google and YouTube all make use of databases. Any company or organisation that stores large amounts of data almost certainly stores it in a database.
The services and companies mentioned above use their databases to:
send letters or emails to employees, clients or customers
track the products customers buy
serve adverts based on what a user searches for
suggest related videos, depending on videos a user has already watched
know which friends two individuals have in common
Your school probably keeps track of the most popular dishes on the canteen menu so that it always has enough to serve to students.
Databases vs. paper
Databases can store huge amounts of data without taking up any space in the real world.
It is much quicker to query or search a database than it is to riffle through hundreds or even thousands of paper records.
Advantages of using a database
It’s easy to add to or amend existing records.
Data can be sorted easily, eg date first registered.
Other applications can import data, for example mail-merge templates make use of databases to send personalised letters to customers.
Multiple people can access a database at the same time.
Security can be better than paper files, eg using a password to view or edit a file.
The difference between data, information and knowledge
It’s easy to get confused between the three. This is how they differ:
Data is a value with no obvious meaning, eg 9.
Information is data with meaning, eg the average man’s shoe size is 9.
Knowledge is making use of information, eg I’m opening a shoe shop, I should stock plenty of size 9 shoes for men.
Data isn’t just numbers. Someone’s name, address and favourite colour are all examples of data.