Database needed for item management

I’m the reviews editor of a large pc-mag and I get a bunch of stuff sent to me. I have to assign it to internal writers or send it out to freelancers.
Unfortunately I also have to return most of it.

What I need is an easy to use database to keep track of where everything is, who sent it to me and when they want it back. I also need fields for print and web deadlines, notes and whatnot.

I have a workable small db made in Visual Basic by one of our technical writers, but it’s somewhat unstable, not good for a quick overview and very fidgety on how you enter stuff.

I was thinking about using Access but afraid that would be overkill (having to learn how to set up a DB first). Any suggestions? It needs to be somewhat customizable but ease of use when making new entries is paramount.

Filemaker Pro has been always popular among non database savvy people that found Access hard to use. Bear in mind that IT will try to kill you if the data ever needs to go into a proper database afterwards.

It’d be relatively straightforward to do something in Access (says the Access Developer).

In lieu of anyone coming up with an off the shelf package that does what you want I could knock something up for you.

Access is perfect for what you want.
I’ve written everything from simple record keeping to full blown applications in Access.
There simply is nothing faster and easier because it’s totally customizable and as complicated\easy as you make it.

Setup a Master table for the data that you need. If you want drop down combos for selecting say recurring people, add a table for that.
Add a form for both, create controls on the form as needed like record navigation, etc.

You can add Macros and create a menu if you feel ambitious.
It’s pretty easy to setup such a simple straightforward database.

I’d go with Access as well. It’s simple enough to use and it’s compatible with practically anything else if you need to move your data around.

I haven’t used OpenOffice.org Base (I actually have Access, Paradox, and OpenOffice), but if you need a free alternative, that might be something to look at, but if Access is already around, stick with it.

Alternatively, if you want a nice shiny web interface, there are a number of free open source PHP frontends to SQL databases out there, as well as ticketing systems if you need something more complicated.

At the University IT Dept. where I work, it’s my job (among other things; student workers are the lowest on the totem pole) to add features to a great piece of open source ticketing software that keeps track of computers coming in to be worked on, going out, who does what on them, phone calls and walk-ins we solve, everything we do. You can set deadlines for the tickets and it will email you if you pass the deadline, among tons and tons of other things, and it’s all operated from a mysql database.

But… yeah. That would probably be overkill. I am very confident that there are a few simple php frontends you could find, though.

You can also add a web front end to Access and post the database on a website too.
Then you’d be able to manage it from anywhere that had internet access.
Overkill? What’s that?
;)

So here’s a question:
If you were a programmer, how much should be charged to create this little database app for Hanzii?

Sounds like two weeks of work, or 80 man hours. 80 man hours at $200/hr = $16,000.

I’d do it for beer. Or, you know, for free, and then I could try to finagle a tech job at the magazine when I graduate. Always thinkin’!!

I’d avoid having someone custom make a web app from the ground up. I would probably charge in the low thousands to do it, and if I were him, I wouldn’t trust any bid that came in much less than that. (Though it all comes down to the required specs)

However, PHP Maker (they have an ASP version also) can spit out no-frills custom database apps, and it’s very cheap. You just tell it all the fields and so on, and it creates a PHP app. It works, but is dull and ugly.

PHP maker is $50, Access 2003 is $200. For something functional that just gets the job done, for one person’s use, commercial software is the way to go, I think.

What kind of stuff do you want to keep track of?

Because if its Movies, Books, Music and Games, then there’s a Web 2.0 (yeah, yeah, I know, ugh…) site called Listal that’s a pretty decent library tracking system, with a simple interface for item entry and it does tell you who you loaned what to. I’ve only used it to enter in existing games/books/movies, so I don’t know if the pre-release items you get will be doable, but you might want to give it a go. I’m also unsure as to whether or not it’s easy to add custom fields like the originator of the loan item.

Similarly, but I think more customizable, there’s the Ant Movie Catalog (also good for other things, check it out), which is downloadable freeware. It also keeps tracks of “loans”.

I honestly don’t know if either of these suggestions help you in any way, but who knows? They might get you most of the way there, and they won’t cost you anything to play with.

How many fields could you possibly be talking about to keep track of?
This sounds like a few hours work for an experienced database programmer.
That would include a menu and the like…

Just how much structure and field relationships do you need, anyway? There are plenty of low-priced outline/treeview databases such as Treepad, Mybase, or Knowledge Base that might be sufficient.

Was thinking that it sounds more like a couple of hours work than a couple of weeks.

It doesn’t sound like it needs to do anything revolutionary or that difficult to work out. Couple of tables, a few queries linked to a couple of forms and possibly a date calculation or two to set reminders to chase for article/return the kit etc.

Open up Access, Blank Database, cancel.
Go New, check out the second tab.
There are sample databases that can be modified if they were installed when Office was…

Excel.