I never got into Microsoft Access. Maybe this is not the best thing to admit in an online publication like this one, where my admission will be indexed and archived, conceivably, for the rest of recorded history. So, as a note to future employers: By the time you are reading this, I will have mastered Microsoft Access. But for now, I don’t get it.
In the meantime, I still need to use databases on occasion. When I do, I generally turn to the inelegant and probably inappropriate solution that is Microsoft Excel. I’ve even been known to use tables created in Word. What can I say, I have a deep-seated mistrust of numbers and their attendant programs. As I do to solve most problems, I turned to the web for a better answer. That’s where I ran into Grubba.
Besides having a moniker that sounds like an Aussie nickname for something or other, and a disarmingly eccentric front-end layout, Grubba offers online database services and is meant to operate as a viable alternative to desktop-based solutions like Access. It offers a number of support services for people like me who aren’t necessarily database experts to begin with, too, which is what made it such an appealing choice to begin with. Those services include a selection of one-minute tutorials, a quick start guide, and even a form design service (which incurs a fee, of course).
For me, since I’m too cheap to pay someone to design a form for me, and not experienced enough to know how to create one from scratch, the best way to put Grubba to use was to dive into the ready-made templates offered by the site. It was easy for me to figure out how to get started with a template thanks to the one-minute screencast tutorial provided on the subject. Best of all, I didn’t have to worry about any audio instructions, a pet peeve of mine when dealing with online web app tutuorials.
Grubba doesn’t offer a huge selection of templates, so don’t go expecting anywhere near the depth of choice available in many desktop apps. But those on offer will suit the needs of most casual/light web working end users, especially as each template is fully customizable once created, so you can use one to get started, then change things around as needed.
I set up a recipe book, because I want to keep one for personal use, and because friends of mine are thinking about opening up a bakery/confectioner’s business via our local flea market and the web, and could use a database storage tool for recipes. Using the form designer, you can customize each field by changing its name, making it searchable, changing the input type, deciding whether Grubba should check the input on exit for a specific format, and making it required or not. You can also set row color and add help text, which is great if you’re creating a database for use by others.
During the database creation process, you can preview entry fields or your final database entry form at any time, and the results are impressive. Even users with absolutely no prior form creation experience in any medium should have very little trouble creating completely customized entry forms with very little ramp-up time. And for end-users, the little “i” boxes provide a fairly intuitive way to deliver helpful tips without having to leave the page or open a new window.
For users who are already working with other database programs, and who don’t want to start again from scratch when trying out Grubba, the site offers a data import tool. The tool uses industry standard .csv formatted information to import your data, and you can preview the output before completing the operation. Any major database software supports .csv exporting, so transitioning should be relatively easy. Importantly, you can also export your database as a .csv file if you want to transfer it somewhere else, so it’s not stuck inside Grubba.
You can create new users, and set their access level, although it doesn’t seem as though you can customize user level abilities. You just get read-only, read/write and administrator options, but that really should cover all your needs for basic database applications. There’s also a shared to-do list app built-in, which gives you some basic Getting Things Done (GTD) features you can use in combination with your Grubba databases.
If you want a simple and lightweight app to help you create and manage databases, and you aren’t keen on installing yet another system-resource eating standalone app, Grubba is an excellent choice. Not only is it user-friendly and well-designed, it also has a free version that supports most conceivable uses. The free version supports unlimited users, but limits you to a maximum of three forms and 10,000 records. If you need more than that, for $7.95/month you get eight forms maximum, and 25,000 records, plus improved support.
Have you tried Grubba? How does it compare to Access for lightweight database applications?