If you’re working from a Mac computer or getting into truly large datasets, Access may not be a viable option as a database manager. (It doesn’t work on Macs, and there are row limitations.) A good alternative is MySQL, an open-source database manager, which Alex Richards of the Chicago Tribune taught on Friday.
MySQL essentially installs a server that runs in the background on your computer. But if you don’t really understand what that means, don’t let it scare you. There are a handful of secondary applications that let you interface with MySQL in a way that may be more familiar than your command line. Navicat, MySQL Workbench and Sequel Pro are all good options.
Much of the layout will resemble Access, but some of the functionality and syntax is different. The biggest hurdle associated with switching to MySQL is often just the installation. For a guide (written for both Mac and PC) with lots of links to further help, Alex put this together: http://bit.ly/nicar2013-mysql
The major advantage of using MySQL instead of Access is size capability. And once you get into it, there’s room to grow. MySQL is used for a lot of web applications, so learning to add it to your toolbelt could eventually help up your game.