Database and Spreadsheet Software: Excel, Access, dBase & Lotus 1-2-3

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

Spreadsheet software and database software are both used to organize and manipulate data. Each application has its own unique strengths. Learn about the functionality of both types of software.

Organizations use large amounts of data. Two types of software applications are particularly suited to work with data: spreadsheet software and database software. While both are used to work with data, each has its own unique strengths.

Spreadsheet software is used to organize and manipulate numerical data. Numbers are organized on a grid of lettered columns and numbered rows. The grid itself consists of cells, and each cell can be located using a unique combination of columns and rows. For example, the cell in the top left corner is always A1. The cell in the third column on the 10th row is C10. Cells contain numerical values or text, but you can also leave some cells empty.

Let's look at an example of how spreadsheets are used. Consider a spreadsheet that describes how many products were sold by a store in a single day. The first column is the name of the product. The second column is the unit price of the product. The third column contains the number of units sold that day. Now you want to calculate the value of total sales for each product. Simple enough: you multiply the unit price by the number of units.

How does this work in the spreadsheet? Let's say the second row represents the 52-inch LCD television set. The unit price can be found in cell B2, while the number of units sold can be found in C2. The necessary calculation is B2 times C2, and you enter this as a formula in cell D2 as follows: = B2 * C2. This means that the value of cell D2 is calculated using a formula that includes the values of the cells B2 and C2. Using the values of other cells in a formula is called 'referencing.'

Why is this so powerful? First, if you have a large number of products, you do not have to type out this formula again. You can simply copy the formula used for the cell D2 and paste it into the other cells. With a few keystrokes, you will have calculated the value of total sales for all products.

Second, consider what would happen if the price of a product changes. You enter the new price in cell B2, and the value of cell D2 updates automatically. Clever! Both of these features can save you a lot of time.

Spreadsheets have numerous pre-defined functions. The multiplication function (*) used in the example is just one function. Other examples are functions like SUM, AVERAGE and COUNT. In addition to arithmetic and mathematical functions, spreadsheet software also contains more specialized financial and statistical functions.

The availability of so many functions is one of the reasons for the popularity of spreadsheet software. Another characteristic of spreadsheets is that cells can be formatted for certain types of data. For example, you can work with currency (\$), dates (01/01/2015) and percentages (%).

Spreadsheet software also includes the ability to turn your numbers into charts, such as pie charts, bar charts and scatterplots. One of the earliest spreadsheet software applications was Lotus 1-2-3 by IBM. This software was largely responsible for making spreadsheet software popular in the 1980s. Its popularity has since declined, and in 2013, the Lotus brand was officially withdrawn from the market.

There are a number of different types of spreadsheet software in use today. One of the most widely used ones is Excel, which is part of Microsoft Office. Another one is Calc, which is part of OpenOffice by Apache. Finally, there is Numbers, which is part of iWork by Apple.

Database Software

Database software is used to organize, manipulate and analyze data. A database can contain one or more tables as well as other elements. One database table consists of rows and columns. In database terminology, each row is called a 'record,' and each column is called a 'field.' This provides the basic structure to organize data.

Database software is also referred to by its more complete name Database Management System, or DBMS. The purpose of a database management system is to store and transform data into information to support making decisions.

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