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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
*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.