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Comparison between 2 major database front ends: LibreOffice Base and MS Access




Many of us are familiar with MS Access. As a minimum we would have come across the program and have seen other people use it. And what about it’s younger open source sibling LibreOffice? What are the differences between LibreOffice Base and MS Access?



Proprietary vs. Open Source


This truly is the crux of the matter, and defines much of everything else. MS Access is a proprietary software (with no open development), while LibreOffice (a fork of OpenOffice) is a community developed open source software (though its original roots go back to 1985 as StarWritter, which was later bought by Sun Microsystems as StarOffice in 1999).


Why does it matter whether the software is developed as proprietary or open source? Because it defines the product itself (gives it its own character) and because of the price tag! And this matters: if you’re a company with say 10,000 employees or a government office the amount of money spent on software licenses can be very substantial. Or even a small office of 10 but no budget available from management for software purchases. MS Access stand-alone can cost around USD 100, while MS Office Professional (including MS Access) costs around USD 400! On the other hand LibreOffice is free. Unless you happen to run the printing press for the US Treasury then this will be  a very real economic factor to be considered.




Question: Is MS Access and LibreOffice Base the same? No. LibreOffice Base has a very distinct feel compared to MS Access. If you’re used to MS Access you will have to go through a brief learning curve to re-orient yourself on how to go about LibreOffice Base. And vice-versa.


While personally I will always favor open source software, and have very successfully used LibreOffice Base in a commercial environment for a number of years, in that particular case we eventually moved to MS Access so as have the data tables in MS SharePoint (as opposed to in a separate data file in the network like we had before). However if not for SharePoint we would likely continued to use LibreOffice.






Which one to Choose: LibreOffice Base or MS Access?


So which one to use will depend on your application, the environment that database is going to be deployed under, your personal inclinations and budget. While different both MS Access and LibreOffice will actually fulfil your needs. If you’re a basic user, then LibreOffice Base is a great place to start. If you want to understand databases and experiment (for example have a front end and a separate database engine as the back end) LibreOffice will also lend itself well. Likewise if you have a very limited budget, or simply don’t want to fork out a small fortune on licenses.


However MS Access offers in some ways a more complete product, a little bit more refined, and to my thinking a very unique ability: it can link to MS SharePoint lists. Of course you would need to have SharePoint and admin rights to it. But if you do you can do very interesting things. Having the data in SharePoint works very well whereas data can be accessed quickly from any location.





Both database products are very mature and competent. One can deploy a database successfully from either platform. However which one to use will depend on a number of factors. First of all it’s cost. MS Office suite is expensive, thought it’s a very robust and refined product. And on the other hand LibreOffice Base will happily churn out any database as necessary. And you can always run the database back end via another 3rd party database engine instead of the built in HSQL (my own favorite is the H2 database).


So for first time database users and Open Source enthusiasts LibreOffice Base is a great choice. For users wanting to develop/ deploy a database  in a corporate environment MS Access is a solid choice - even if it’s only because many  users will be familiar with the software (however I have personally deployed LibreOffice Base in a concurrent multi-user environment successfully, so either software will work).


If you have particular questions please feel free to email us directly at




*Disclaimer (just in case this article upsets someone with a stake in the referenced products): The above statements reflect personal opinions only and are not intended to be interpreted as facts. Etc., etc., “small print” follows as necessary.


LibreOffice Base vs. MS Access


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