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Databases - What is a Database?

The capability to store, organise, and retrieve large amounts of information is at the heart of the invention of computers. Few tools are more singularly useful to you for this purpose than a database. A database is a record holder and organising system. Databases can be the engine of your business, and the information a database is capable of managing is the lifeblood.

Working with a database is much easier and more empowering than working with a paper-based system. Cart away that file cabinet, pack those file folders, and stop buying all those erasers. Tasks that take hours or days can now be accomplished with a single mouse click. Tasks that once were impossible are now just a command away.

When the Lonely Hearts Dating Service puts the name of its new client, Joe Cool, into its database of nearly 9500 people, for example, it only takes one search to find all 17 women between the ages of 27 and 32, 5' 2" to 5' 10", who ski, listen to Motown music, have a great sense of humour, and like sushi. If you forgot that Joe doesn't like to drive his mint-condition, 1966 fire-engine red GTO too far on a date, one more sort of each match by suburb brings up the right candidates. All the operations described take about a minute to set up and about 10 seconds for FileMaker Pro to accomplish.

Yeah! So what can I use a Database for?

Anything you can organise into a data set can be a database. This category includes the telephone book, postcode, contacts, accounts, invoicing and more.

You use databases everyday of your life in different forms that you may not recognise. Your bank account or chequebook is a database. You may own a personal accounting program, such as MYOB, Money Works, or Quicken, each of which has the structure and features of a database. You could, in fact, create a database that would emulate your chequebook.

When you go to the bank or use an automated teller machine that allows you to draw out cash, deposit a cheque, or check your account balance, you are logging onto a database system that is kept on a large computer. Banks and financial institutions are heavy users of databases and database programmers. In fact, most accounting packages are nothing more than databases that have been specially written for keeping track of finances.

Databases are showing up in more and more places. Consider the computer that sits in your local library, replacing the card catalogue or the computer in the airport or bus station that contains information about the city you're in. And maybe you have seen a computer sitting in an art museum that shows a picture of each piece of art and describes its importance. Perhaps the next time you consider buying or renting real estate, your realtor will put you in front of a computer and show you pictures of homes and apartments to find all the relevant information as you request it.

When you log onto an electronic on-line information service, you are accessing a database. Information services such as CompuServe are databases. This fact may not be entirely clear to you as the user, because it appears that you are communicating with the service.

The capabilities to organise and select data and to output that data in a form or report structure make databases one of the most common business tools in use today. Your favourite direct marketer with his or her friendly 0800 number probably has someone sitting at a computer terminal using a database to enter and process your order. Any invoice, packing slip, or statement you receive has been generated by some sort of database application. Remember the last time you ordered a pizza and they knew who you were and where you lived before you told them. They used a database and entered your detail from the first time you ordered.

Some database programs have been applied to problems. Computers were developed to calculate numerically intensive problems and to access and organise large quantities of information. Computers are needed to track moving targets and to calculate artillery trajectories, and they are needed to collect information about a population so that plans can be made for the well-being of those people (and to collect taxes). Both problems historically led to government investment of the large sums of money needed to develop computers in times of war and peace.

Consider that the IRD uses super computers for data processing-and that a database application was specifically written for the IRD at considerable taxpayer expense. When a database grows to the size the IRD use, the database is processed by a network of super computers that can do calculations at the required rate. The government is a heavy user of this type of database system, both for the public sector and military work. Another example of databases is the order/reservation system used by your travel agent.

Although the IRD's use of a database may not excite you, you can get excited when a database automates your business, speeds up data entry, does paperwork, and saves you enough time that you can get out of the office on a sunny day. By having a quick chat with Toast, you will find potential uses for a database programme.

Cool! I can see where you're coming from but what does Toast Recommend?

At Toast we recommend FileMaker Pro as it is a database with a strong graphical layout and reporting structure. With this program, you can organise data both in a data-entry sense and in a display format sense. You can select stored data by specifying criteria in a find request, organise data in a sort operation, and output data as a report, either in hard copy (print) or as a disk file. You control exactly what pieces of information you want to work with or display.

Built into FileMaker Pro are calculation and logical functions that enter values for you, check the accuracy of a result, or check to see that your new data fall into a range of values you define. Using functions you create, you can analyse data in various ways that are important in all these operations.

To summarise, with FileMaker Pro you can do the following:
  • Display data in a number of ways
  • Search for and find, or select, a set of information
  • Organise your information in new ways
  • Print reports and forms with the data you specify
  • Perform calculations and summaries
  • Automatically enter data and check its validity
You can use FileMaker Pro to accomplish most database applications. These applications include projects ranging from organising your home video collection, creating a bibliography for your dissertation; and putting your town's library books into an electronic card file, to running your business's accounting and order-entry system.

If you can think of a reason to use a database, someone out there is ' probably using FileMaker Pro for exactly that purpose. There are documented cases of FileMaker Pro files with more than half a million records in them. Very large businesses and banks are now using FileMaker Pro as their corporate database.

OK, so I'm hooked, forget the rest tell me more about FileMaker Pro.

Here are some of our products:

Aquabase

Chum

Awsom


FileMaker Pro

At Toast we recommend FileMaker Pro as it is a database with a strong graphical layout and reporting structure. With this programme, you can organise data both in a data-entry sense and in a display format sense. You can select stored data by specifying criteria in a find request, organise data in a sort operation, and output data as a report, either in hard copy (print) or as a disk file. You control exactly what pieces of information you want to work with or display.

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