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Database, Spreadsheet, Word Processor?

Q: Anonymous asks: I keep my Christmas card list in a word processing document. My grandson says I should have it in a database or spreadsheet. What is he talking about?

A. For a long time, the 3 main applications used on a computer were word processors, spreadsheets and databases. Many of their capabilities overlap but here's what they are best at.

Word Processors - Programs like Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect are the two most popular word processing programs. This is the program that you use to write letters, papers, etc - it replaces the typewriter and adds features like spell check, a thesaurus, multiple columns, the ability to change fonts and add pictures, etc.

As you discovered, you can also keep lists, schedules, and other items in a word processing document.

Spreadsheets - Microsoft Excel and Lotus 123 are the best selling spreadsheet programs. These programs let you enter numbers and words and formulas into rows and columns and then calculate results. For example, you could set up a spreadsheet so that it automatically calculates the miles per gallon your car is getting when you type in some info after filling the gas tank.

A spreadsheet is best suited for numeric calculations and what are called "What If" scenarios. For example, you could set up some formulas in a spreadsheet to determine how much money you would have saved after 10 years if you put away 5% of your paycheck every month. Then by making a small change, you could see the results for saving 7% or 9% or 20%. Or see the results for 5 years or 15 years or whatever.

Databases - The most popular database program for personal use is Microsoft Access. A database lets you design and store information in an organized way and then let you search for specific information and/or pull out information in a report.

For example, you could enter all your Beanie Babies into a database. You could track the name, condition, date you bought it, what it cost, where you bought it, quantity you own, where it is, and so on.

Then when you wanted to find a specific item you could search (database people use the word "query") the database and pull up the information on that item. Or you could generate a report to total, for example, all the money you spent on them. Or a report that lists the Beanies that you don't have yet.

All of these programs could keep your Christmas card list. If it is a large list (500 or more names) you might want to consider using a database program. Otherwise, use what you are comfortable with. But be aware that there are other tools available (spreadsheets and databases) if your needs change.

Answered by Tech Expert Dan Hanson



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