The Best Desktop Databases

Desktop databases offer flexible solutions for data storage

Desktop databases offer simple, flexible solutions for data storage and retrieval. They're often quite sufficient to meet uncomplicated database requirements for both small and large organizations, as well as for tech-savvy individuals moving beyond spreadsheets for personal data management.

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Microsoft Access

Microsoft Access
What We Like
  • Easy to use, thanks to intuitive wizards.

  • Links easily with major databases like Oracle and SQL.

  • Tightly integrated with .NET for easy application development.

  • Support for multiple users.

What We Don't Like
  • Limited performance when used as a stand-alone database.

  • Difficult to scale up for larger organizations.

  • Very large databases cause slow response times.

Microsoft Access is the "Old Faithful" of desktop databases. You'll find the familiar Microsoft interface and a thorough online help system. The greatest strength of Access is its tight integration with the remainder of the Office suite. It also serves as an excellent front-end for any ODBC-compliant server database, so you can connect to existing databases. Access provides a user-friendly query designer and supports web-based applications.

Access is, however, a complex and powerful program and can pose a steep learning curve, especially for people who are unfamiliar with basic database concepts.

Access is available as a stand-alone product or in the Office Professional suite. Access is also available as part of Microsoft 365, Microsoft's subscription-based Office product.

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Filemaker Pro

Filemaker Pro
What We Like
  • Easy to install and implement.

  • Intuitive user interface.

  • Developer IDE that allows for custom applications.

  • Automation is easy through its scripting functionality.

What We Don't Like
  • Not suitable for large corporations with hundreds of users.

  • The web interface isn't suitable for large-scale deployment.

  • More advanced users may experience slow performance.

  • Printing functionality is more limited than other desktop databases.

FileMaker Pro is popular among Mac users, but it's rapidly gaining market share among the PC crowd as well. It offers an intuitive interface and hides many of the complexities inherent in database management. It's also ODBC compliant and offers some integration capability with Microsoft Office.

FileMaker Pro is part of the FileMaker platform, which includes:

  • FileMaker Pro Advanced, which includes all the Pro features as well as a set of advanced development and customization tools
  • FileMaker Go, which allows iPhone and iPad users access to FileMaker custom apps
  • WebDirect, which allows users to access FileMaker databases in a web browser
  • FileMaker Server for more robust database hosting
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LibreOffice Base

LibreOffice Base
What We Like
  • Free to download and install.

  • Intuitive interface for building reports and forms.

  • Links with all major databases.

  • Available for all major OS platforms.

What We Don't Like
  • Little support for application development.

  • Difficult to scale up when used as a stand-alone database.

  • Lacks more advanced tools and features available in Access.

  • Integration is only possible with other LibreOffice applications.

LibreOffice Base is part of the open source LibreOffice suite and is a credible alternative to the many commercial databases available. The free licensing agreement supports any number of computers and users. 

Base is—well, based on—Apache's OpenOffice Base database product, and is being actively developed and supported, unlike OpenOffice. Base integrates fully with all other LibreOffice products and sports all the features you would expect in a desktop database. Base is user-friendly with a set of wizards for creating a database as well as tables, queries, forms, and reports. It ships with a series of templates and extensions to make database development easier.

Base is also fully compatible with several other databases and provides support drivers for other industry standards including MySQL, Access, and PostgreSQL.

Base is attractive not only because it is free, but because it is backed by a large developer community.

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Corel Paradox

What We Like
  • Less expensive than other alternatives.

  • Easier for software developers to integrate with.

  • Many advanced, robust features available.

What We Don't Like
  • Advanced features are difficult to locate.

  • Expensive for nonbusiness users.

  • Much less intuitive than other desktop databases.

Paradox comes bundled with Corel's WordPerfect Office X9 Professional suite. It's a fully functional database system and offers JDBC/ODBC integration with other databases. However, it's not as user-friendly as some of the more mainstream DBMSs. 

Paradox is considerably less expensive than Access or FileMaker Pro​ but is not as broadly used. Further, Corel is no longer actively updating it; the current WordPerfect Office X9 includes Paradox version 10, last updated in 2009. It is, however, fully compatible with the rest of the suite and may suit your purposes if you need a basic, low-cost database for home use.

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