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Ask HN: Why isn't there a modern MS Access clone?
115 points by Norther 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments
HN, this is something that I've always been interested in: Why isn't there a modern piece of software akin to Microsoft’s Access? I know there are plenty of issues in scaling these kind of systems, and that these kind of platforms can feel clunky and unwieldy but I still find it surprising that there isn’t a simple platform for creating CRUD apps. It doesn’t seem like an unachievable goal to me: you need the ability to create forms, design database tables, manage user permissions, manage data workflow (ie: send an sms if <condition>, seek approval from <user role> for <action>), and view/search data. I’m certain these features would be useful for all kinds of business scenarios where building, maintaining, and hosting a custom solution isn’t worthwhile, or would be unideal compared to using a standardised tool. Are there tools in this space that I’m missing? If not, why isn’t this being pursued? Eagerly looking forward to your thoughts.

There are quite a few products that attempt to be a web based equivalent of Access.

The two that seem to be the closest to me are Google's AppMaker (https://developers.google.com/appmaker/) and Bubble.is (https://bubble.is/). I call these two out because they both allow for coding when the "default path" runs into a wall, and both include more than just forms and tables. However, they both still have warts. Appmaker, for example, has a pricing model problem. It's $10/user (GSuite), so you can't use it to build anything that involves casual outside users, like an employment applicant tracking system.

The next tier down are somewhat similar products that have been around longer. Like Quickbase (http://www.quickbase.com/), Caspio (https://www.caspio.com/), Airtable (https://airtable.com/), Zoho Creator (https://www.zoho.com/creator/), Rajic (https://www.ragic.com/), and Knack (https://www.knack.com/). These all work great if the app you're making fits into their somewhat fixed view of the world, but hit a hard wall if it doesn't. Some of them also have the same pricing model problem I mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

The one I really thought was going to emerge as the market leader was DabbleDB. Sadly, Twitter acquihired them and shut it down. Here's one of the demo videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wZmYMWKLkY It was very ahead of it's time back in 2007.

Dabble was pretty neat, and it was written in Smalltalk, too. I think each user got their own Smalltalk image, and their data was saved directly to the image.

I can't remember if I learned that in a video or a post somewhere by Avi Bryant, though. I was really interested in Smalltalk in 2009/2010 and I remember seeing Dabble DB coming up a lot.

Probably this interview: https://www.infoq.com/interviews/bryant-smalltalk-dabbledb

There's a button to view the transcript of the video too.

You missed somehow 3 the most powerfull alternatives, Outsystems, Filemaker and Oracle Apex.

My list is products that were web based, offered as a service, and with up front pricing. That said, I'm sure I missed others as well.

I'm sort of surprised LibreOffice hasn't tried to fill this gap, it would be a nice way for them to earn some income if they do it just right enough. I say this because Open Source projects need to be funded some way, somehow.

LibreOffice Base (http://www.libreoffice.org/discover/base/) fills the gap. It's a combination Access-like local database as well as a ODBC/JDBC client.

LibreOffice suffers from it's terrible scripting language. Compared to VBA it is wordy, non-obvious, and in general a royal PITA to work with.

You mean with a web based database? I thought LibreOffice did have a local Access equivalent called "Base".

It's not that great of an experience out of the box. Non-tech savvy users can make use of MS Access.

Is this Twitter's business model? Buy every company they can and shut them down?

It seems to have slowed some lately, but the whole "Acquihire + Shutdown the Product" model was popular with other SV firms too.


More money than sense

I'm working on such CRUD app builder, which might be interesting to you. It's self-hosted and because it's written in Golang the entire server is a single binary - users can simply download the binary, run it and that's it. The data is stored in PostgreSQL. The form builder generates JSON, which is stored in the database and the server builds the resulting app on the fly. I'm building the first demos as we speak. So far I have an invoicing app with payments tracking, overdue invoices, etc. and a second app, which is Bill of Materials. It can calculate manufacturing costs based on recipes with different inputs like raw materials, processing, other parts and assemblies and so on.

I'll try to put the demos on the site by tomorrow.

It still cannot work with any third-party APIs though, but other than that virtaully anything can be built in a matter of a few hours (maybe a day or two for the more complex and large apps).

Also I've implemented implicit workflows, where what happens is defined in the forms based on what components are inserted into it. There isn't the traditional "when A happens, do B" kind of workflows. IMO the implicit ones are much more pwoerful and flexible.

You can check it here (demos coming soon, currently one one basic tutorial): https://www.formbolt.com

Looks good!

Heads up: Youtube video on https://www.formbolt.com/demos/walkthrough/deployed/ is broken on Desktop Safari Version 10.1.2 (12603.3.8).

On creating an app (locally), app error-ed, but the app was visible after refreshing the page, (sorry I couldn't replicate again to get the exact wording).

Might want to add "chmod +x" to the README for non-technical users.

You might want to link to the apps over at localhost:3000 from the app blueprints table.

Loved the:

- single binary deployment - creation of db using the master pw - the fact that the data is stored locally and is kept in the db if I ever decide not to use the app



Thanks for the feedback, Marcus. I'll look into the issues you mentioned.

I figured we need a summary in here. Open source MS access alternatives (indexed from other comments):

There's MS access of course https://products.office.com/en-au/access

Open Source

  LibreOffice Base https://www.libreoffice.org/discover/base/
  Kexi https://www.kde.org/applications/office/kexi/
  Gnome DB http://www.gnome-db.org/
  Lazarus (better for programming, worse for DB) https://www.lazarus-ide.org/
Web based

  Oracle Apex https://apex.oracle.com/en/
  Google AppMaker https://developers.google.com/appmaker/ ($10/user, only paid users can access app)
  Bubble.is https://bubble.is/
  Quickbase http://www.quickbase.com/
  Caspio https://www.caspio.com/
  Airtable https://airtable.com/
  Zoho Creator https://www.zoho.com/creator/
  Rajic https://www.ragic.com/
  Knack https://www.knack.com/
Other desktop apps

  FileMaker Pro http://www.filemaker.com/products/filemaker-pro/ (predates everything else in this list, beautiful, if somewhat limited, app)
  Embarcadero (Borland) Delphi https://www.embarcadero.com/products/delphi
  DataFlex http://www.dataaccess.com
Really more programming frameworks, but sort-of fit the bill

  Python Django https://www.djangoproject.com/
  Ruby On Rails http://rubyonrails.org/

I think https://anvil.works belongs in your "Web based" category as well.

(Although perhaps with the same note as Lazarus - fundamentally, it's a [Python!] programming environment with a DB attached, rather than a DB with a programming environment attached.)

Outsystems, Mendix, Alpha Anywhere, m-Power, Wavemaker, Microsoft PowerApps and many less known others.

as a former Delphi programmer - seeing Lazarus as MS Access alternative really hurts. :)

Maybe because writing an Access database still requires a programmer, and you can get better value by hiring a PHP programmer to write two pages and three tables.

I think you are right. For soft applications, Excel is a powerful enough database that non-programmers can use. Anything Excel can't do can be done 'easily' by mysql.

I know that I've sat down to learn access (and later LibreOffice Base) but by the time I start into it I just think "there's really no advantage to using this over just mysql and a web page front end" and stop learning.

I'd say that the "new Access" is WordPress or Drupal. They're often used in much the same way - create a bunch of entity types that automatically connect with forms and views.

Yep, this is what always happens with these types of applications. There was a whole slew of these type of tools in the 90s dubbed '4GL' with the idea they were a level above traditional programming (3GL) where business people could drag &drop their way to a new app.

It was a disaster and none of those 4GLs are around anymore. There is no interface that's as easy as sending an email to a developer saying "I need an app that does this..."

They are around though. I did a job at a company that had a 4GL app used by business analysts to generate the APIs, UI and business logic to be used for e.g. mortgage calculations on websites.

The thing is though, you actually require a server and apache etc for the PHP example.

For a front office/business person who doesn't do IT as a full time job but has a reasonable grasp of technology, they can create something "good enough" quite easily, without having to go through the whole Corporate IT process.

This is also why Corporate IT doesn't like the Front Office getting Access, as they still ask for support when their home-brew app goes wrong.

> Corporate IT doesn't like the Front Office getting Access, as they still ask for support when their home-brew app goes wrong.

The Access contraption then gets an ODBC backend to a proper database. Then parts of the Access Visual Basic spaghetti get ported to PHP. Other parts get ported to JSP. It ends up getting entirely ported - but for lack of budget for a full rewrite, the previously developed JSP parts are preserved. The whole thing doesn't take advantage of contemporary UI patterns because it closely matches the design of the original Access database. I'll spare you all the episodes of crippling slowness and the data corruption catastrophes that triggered each improvement increment.

On the other hand, the users managed to build themselves a serviceable tool when the IT wouldn't even speak to them without a ten-months project - and then they foisted it upon IT... From their point of view the ugly ten-years journey has been a success !

Anyone that has ever done, say, a Windows or Office upgrade for a large corporate knows the pain of cataloging all the End User Apps.

Oh yes - I forgot to mention the schlepping of VBS code across two Microsoft Office upgrades during the application's lifetime... And the migration exemptions that last for years while the porting is done - lots of love from the desktop IT department to this application...

Likely correct. I'm part of a grant writing firm (http://www.seliger.com) and in the '90s and early 2000s we ran tons of stuff on Access. Now almost everything we did then runs on Highrise, Constant Contact / Mail Chimp, and the like. Basically, everything we did became a web app that works better and is easier (at least for us) to use.

One of the things several colleagues have said to me over the years is that Access tended to be a dangerous tool in a large organisation: like Excel but on crack.

You end up with a large number of autonomous, undocumented systems built on an ad-hoc basis by personnel who were often not even in a technical role.

Personally I think that sounds like a great way to leverage the domain expertise of lots of different employees...but I guess it can become unwieldy. I know I saw some amazing things built with Access back in the day...

I used to work at JPMorgan. We had an official acronym for these tools... UDTs, or User Developed Tools.

They initially started when ops teams were told a custom report for a client would be too expensive/slow to build properly by tech, so they would DIY a report in excel.

These started to get out of hand, and after a few years they numbered in thousands and had evolved from excel sheets with macros into full fledged Access DBs with ODBC connections into our data warehouse. A specialist team was created in Ops to build and support ever more complex UDTs, they were called the UDT Team.

Problem was that these were poorly documented and often done without consultation with Tech, so we would unknowingly break loads of downstream stuff whenever we embarked on new projects of our own.

Fun times. Plenty of stories.

You also end up with a mess of VBScript code that isn't versioned. When something breaks and someone calls IT, it really helps if IT knows the system exists.

In a large organization, supporting disjointed business processes (or worse, fragile amateurish integrations) costs more than the software. At scale, consistency matters more than performance variance in some areas.

Access is also a nightmare from a security standpoint. AFAIK that's why it was abandoned; there was no way to keep the functionality and easy defaults that users liked while making it secure. It scares companies shitless to have critical financial data sitting in Access databases...

>You also end up with a mess of VBScript code that isn't versioned. When something breaks and someone calls IT, it really helps if IT knows the system exists.

This is one reason why (I guess) largish companies even have or create apps to manage other apps - like an app to manage (as in know about, not really manage as in monitor) all the other apps in the company. Like a list of apps app. Initially I wondered whether it was overkill but later realized that at that scale, such automation can be useful. But I guess it can go to the other extreme too and become a time sink.

Yeah, but these things exist because they started as experiments which did not warrant getting a team of developers to burn through a million dollars for the first version.

Its really hard to know, in advance, which internal applications are worthy of a development team. As for nightmares... there's plenty to go around for everyone. Some of the worst nightmares are created by large teams of highly paid and skilled developers.

> Some of the worst nightmares are created by large teams of highly paid and skilled developers.

Sticking that above my desk

but none if it is easily integrated. you get a lot of data silos. don't get me wrong SQL server has that issue to. a lot of department apps that don't work well easily.

Over here we call those "clandestine Data Centers".

    > ... a simple platform for creating CRUD apps. It doesn’t seem like an unachievable goal to me: you need the ability to create forms, design database tables, manage user permissions, manage data workflow (ie: send an sms if <condition>, seek approval from <user role> for <action>), and view/search data. 
That's actually a tall order that you're asking for.

For the most basic needs, Excel with macros and connections to data-sources like csv files is perfectly adequate. But you want multiple users, multiple forms, data workflows...

In the microsoft ecosystem, the next step up would be using .NET entity-framework with a database like sql-server express (or even localdb). Your application would then consist of a C# or VB .NET desktop application using wpf or forms.

I think you want something in-between Excel and a full blown .NET application. That's a pretty narrow market.

I'd also add, that there are a lot of "database as a service" services around now, when coupled with a javascript frontent, essentially fulfill the role of "front end to a database" that Access was essentially.

I worked for a furniture company that used Access for everything and I mean everything. HR, Payroll, inventory, ordering, dispatching, security, etc. One amusing use was having to make an entry that you took a soda from the break room. Totally on the honor system. You filled out an Access Form that payroll then billed you for (provided they remembered to actually do it).

My job was to get them y2k compliant and then start modernizing them.

Here is how the modernizing went. I was told to upgrade them from Access 2.0 to Access 2000.

Everyday users sucked down data from Oracle to run queries and processes that I developed. Users had access to everything, so a user could modify one of my queries. When it broke, I had to remember what the original query was. I did this by always housing a copy of the Access database on my local machine.

Every Tuesday Payroll was run at 5pm. Guess what? Every Tuesday I was there until 11pm as something always went wrong in the process. There were these misc pieces of compiled code other developers had written that nobody know what it did or had source for. Example: one developer wrote a piece of code in QBasic, compiled it and made it part of the process to strip out white space from data that was read in via a text file. He lost the source. When there were problems with this step he denied it was his code. Every database used this piece of code and everything broke.

I digress. I loved Access for what I could do with it. It served a purpose. It wasn't the best but it is what I had to work with to put food on the table. Now-a-days, using tools like MySQL Workbench and TOAD give me some of the same sense of creating views and queries to re-use but obviously these are not replacements for everything Access allowed you to do.

I'm a developer (officially an "architect" but I refuse to claim the title) and one thing I've learned, is that hardly any problem in the world makes you a special snowflake.

Most of the common problems that people try to solve with their own custom solutions could be better solved by some off the shelf SASS solution.

HR, Payroll, inventory, ordering, dispatching, security,

All of those problems could be better solved with a cheap off the shelf "small business solution" that would probably cost less and be more maintainable in the long run

I've been developing professionally for over 20 years and if someone offered to pay me to write a custom solution for any of it, I would direct them toward off the shelf solutions. There is no way that I could develop something as well as a company that specializes in those areas.

Yeah LibreOffice - Base! Take a look at My Visual Database, VFront, nuBuilder, Kexi, Brilliant Database, MyTaskHelper and many many more. Each of them has different uses and there are web technologies as well.

Borland Delphi was the modern MS Access clone. Ever have seen how fast you can build an DB app with that? I'm sure the newest version of Delphi is still as good today as the 2001/2003 version at that time ;) On Mac it is Filemaker or not?

Pricing killed Borland/Delphi. Unattainable to regular developers and small businesses.

Agreed. They finally have an "express" version but even that was $199. I'm sorry but I'm not going to pay that much money for something that I may never even use, especially for a stripped down version of it.

What about Lazarus?

The advent of VB (and ultimately .NET) obsoleted the advantages. In modern .NET (and VB since 1998), you can pull a DataGrid onto the canvas, configure the DB parameters in the IDE and are basically done for an intranet data entry UI.

Filemaker has many issues: It's not an RDB, it's SQL support is limited to poor, and it's scripting is not nearly as versatile as Access.

Delphi was more of a VB competitor, Borland did have a database product called Paradox which was closer to Access.

As others have pointed out, there are lots of products that fit something like this description. The challenge with Access and other app builders is summed up in Dietzler’s Law for Access (from http://nealford.com/memeagora/2013/01/22/why_everyone_eventu...):

“Every Access project will eventually fail because, while 80% of what the user wants is fast and easy to create, and the next 10% is possible with difficulty, ultimately the last 10% is impossible because you can’t get far enough underneath the built-in abstractions, and users always want 100% of what they want.”

This is why the product I'm working on, Fieldbook (https://fieldbook.com), avoids the “app builder” approach and focuses on just being a spreadsheet-like information tool that supports querying and relational modeling.

FileMaker Pro has been around forever and is still supported with new versions as far as I know.

Not that searching is difficult but I'll put the link here anyway: http://www.filemaker.com/products/

1) I didn't know that Filemaker was still around.

2) I didn't know that it is an Apple subsidiary.

3) Pity there's no Linux version, I'd use LibreOffice Base if you're in Linux as someone else here has pointed out.

That's incredible - I remember FileMaker from the 1980s. Look at the functionality of that app and the great design of the site! If that were a startup run by a bunch of hip Millennials out of San Francisco, it'd be worth a couple billion dollars, easily. (Instead we get one-off, single purpose hosted apps like Trello, and FileMaker languishes in obscurity.)

It is incredible, isn't it? You have become more cynical with old age like myself – but I think there is some truth to what you're saying.

This brings back incredibly relevant memories: my first paid job back in 2002-2003 was maintaining an old Filemaker database and related forms.

I ended up doing an Access database and created a few forms on top of it, including automation for automatically exporting order forms as Word documents. There were a few gotchas in writing VBA but overall the process was easy to pick up and be productive quickly.

I worked on a port of a filemaker database once. During this port but well before the end there was a power outage in the office and the discovered that the filemaker server had entered some sort of silent failure mode where it appeared to be working on the outside but wasn't writing anything to disk. It operated like this for months...

Did you take a look at Libre Office Base [1]? It seems similar to MS Access, though I haven't used it.

[1] http://www.libreoffice.org/discover/base/

Interesting! I was thinking more along the lines of a web application, but it's nice to see an (actively maintained/developed?) somewhat-literal clone of Access.

We're doing exactly this at Sonadier (https://www.sonadier.com). We distill the app-making process down to a simple form builder, while giving technical users the ability to write client and server-side JavaScript for extra interactivity. We're doing a full design refresh in the next few weeks, and that update includes a visual workflow builder. We do have a pretty in-depth permission system already built in.

Further down, someone mentioned that a big problem with Access is the proliferation of "autonomous, undocumented systems" built by different teams. I think we shine here - since we're web-based you can host all your forms on one account. In addition, you can share specific create/read/update/destroy permissions with any other organization on the platform - we want to make data exchange painless.

MS Access is just a FileMaker clone, and FileMaker is still going strong, so I fail to see the problem.

FileMaker seems to have a web based solution too.

Modern XBase clones like Flagship (Clipper clone, sort of), Harbour project (ditto), and many others come close. You still have to do some programming, but it is not too difficult for an IT-savvy non-programmer to pick up. Clipper apps still run many small businesses in India (I know for sure) and likely many other countries too. Data entry in such apps is extremely fast once the operator gets used to the app. They did have a few useful features like drop-down lists, incremental search in that (programmed), etc.

Some of these clones will have a DB CRUD language similar to the original dBASE, some of them might have SQL support too. I know that some years ago, many of the dBASE competitors (and dBASE IV or V itself, plus Foxpro) had somewhat decent SQL support (though not with all the features of a full-fledged RDBMS).

Some medium to large LOB apps have been built with XBASE tech too, in the past. I worked on a somewhat big one several years ago, for a switchgear products company. It was like parts of an ERP. It was in Foxpro for Windows on Novell Netware, and we used the SQL in it heavily. I remember writing tons of SQL reports near the end of the project (after the other CRUD work was done), and getting a bit bored with that at first, until I worked out that there were some patterns of permutations / combinations in the kinds of reports needed (by country, by region, by product category, by product accessory, by date, by order's commercial terms, etc. etc.), and then enjoyed the work a bit more, by working out how to do it systematically, changing one parameter at a time, so as to reuse as much of the previous report's SQL code as possible :)

Company I work at still has their core HR, payroll, security, inventory, customer service, and other systems in a Visual FoxPro application backended by a SQL database.

Long back, I reverse-engineered the dBASE .DBF data format (with only a few hints from some mag or book, plus the use of a hex editor (DEBUG.com)), and then wrote programs in Turbo Pascal to read .DBF files and process them further, generate reports, etc., for a management / marketing game project that I worked on for an Indian conglomerate. Did this without Internet access. That was actually my first freelancing gig and first job. Heh.


I think a lot of the common use case for things like Access were in storing customer databases - I'd imagine that a lot of applications that previously would have been done in Access are now done in CRM platforms like Salesforce - either because Salesforce and / or partner tools directly provide the functionality, or because you can go a pretty long way defining custom objects and fields.

We have created something that combines form builder, process flows, and if-then trigger rules at taskputty.com - we market it as a "build your own CRM system" but any crud or data flow style app should be doable.

We value as much feedback as possible. Single user is free, and we are completely flexible on price - we just would like to see more people using it.

It is loosely inspired by Trello.

I started off my developer career as a MS Access developer, developed CRUD applications that helps a business. MS Access is a very versatile tool and I love it. I even prefer it over Excel. I once made a MS Access application for a client that wanted a web based application as a upgrade to the existing excel solution.

Many alternatives were had as a replacement for one of the apps in MS Office. I did test out LibreOffice's Base. It did not seem to be a proper alternative for the purpose of making a standalone application. The whole application in 1 file.

Access has flaws too in terms of backing up data. That is the biggest drawback and in the web era, Access seems like a relic. VB6 has limits in terms of making a full fledged UI. But it is functional.

The closest successor i think would be a SQLite+electron app. I have not worked on it to see how it will turn out.

In addition to everyone's replacement suggestions, I feel like it's worth noting that Access still exists and is part of some Office365 distributions.

For small-ish companies that aren't very technical, I would think the Office suite still has a strong attach rate. Regardless of whether or not Access is the best tool for the job, inertia is powerful.

Not an MS Access clone, but a good 4GL easy database tool I like is called DataFlex [0]

Very easy to use and you can create basic applications without additional programming. Although of course it helps if you know how-to write code.

There's an embedded database that you can use out of the box. But you can also use any of the main SQL Database engines.

For building commercial applications you have to buy a developers license.

For building your own non commercial applications you can use their free personal license. [1]

Disclaimer: I use the language professionally and run an open source website that has free tools and code examples in DataFlex.

[0] http://www.dataaccess.com

[1] https://www.dataaccess.com/Resources/Licensing/DataFlex-Pers...

That's crazy, I used DataFlex briefly over 30 years ago.

Had no idea it was still going.

Yep, but it has changed quite a bit since then.

30 years ago there was only console mode, albeit in different flavors (unix/DOS). Nowadays the main product is Windows oriented and also has a Web offering. You can still buy a console mode linux version, but it hasn't had updates in over a decade. Yes it runs and works on recent Linux versions, no I would not recommend spending any money on that.

Your 30 years old data files however could still be read. You might need to migrate it to a newer format if you want to extend and change things, but it would still work.

JOIN tables, sparse tables, deeply nested JOINs - all this is needed to code link-following in the relational model. So you need an ORM to handle the JOIN pain for you, but relational db query perf degrades as your joins get deeper, so the ORM needs to make hard choices around caching and database query round tips - but the ORM doesn't have enough information about the UI to make these choices - you end up needing to code the app logic into the ORM via caching and query optimizations. And now you're writing code, that's not links and forms anymore.

At ClojureNYC last night I gave a talk about literally this! Here are the slides: https://github.com/hyperfiddle/hypercrud.browser/issues/4

Dustin, wow. I can see a lot of work went into your talk. I read along for about 80% and you make some great points. Hyperfiddle looks impressive - I signed up to the dev mailing list.

As an aside, do you think traditionally built apps should be moving away from SQL and towards immutable stores like Datomic?

yes! Data driven UI (which is what this thread is about) will never succeed on sql.

I wonder if the small business market is just not that profitable. In that space you are typically dealing with companies and people that are extremely price sensitive. (This is just a educated guess here, but I would be willing to bet that small business customers "cost" more in support costs, too.)

Something like Access is, pretty strictly, a small business play. When you move into the "medium" part of SMB, they are probably going to have complex enough needs that Access isn't going to cut it.

I'm guessing that you can make the small business market work, when it's an add-on to the medium-sized business market, but that it doesn't really work well by itself, at least as far as technology companies go.

Can anyone think of any technology companies that have done well, while focusing on just small businesses as customers?

Although not an exact replacement to Ms Access the types of products marketed by big tech to "technical BA's" appeal to that requirement.

Building apps with clicks not code is the utopia these people are seeking, so the vendors will do everything they can to appeal to that.

There are literally heaps in this category, but one that really started it all is Salesforce and their force.com product, they are selling the dream like no-one else.

More frequently coming up now is MS PowerApps and MS Flow coupled with either SharePoint lists or Microsoft's Common Data Service because they are included for free in the Enterprise Office 365 SKUs.

Dynamics 365 offers a lot in this space but is more pricey (the $10 team license is good value though). Zoho Creator is another example too.

Does Airtable fit? It does for me

I think the OP is looking for something more suitable for creating simple crud apps.

Airtable has forms https://support.airtable.com/hc/en-us/articles/206058268-Gui... but it doesn't have the same UI form builder kind of thing.

Me too. For creating a simple relational database and forms that allow you to exploit the relationships, i've found it really nice.

Try goms (https://github.com/artpar/goms)

These type of softwares are now increasingly known as BAAS - Backend as a service. You can also find other similar products on the github readme.

This is still in development, and I am using this as backend for two of my other projects. The goals are similar to what you have written, plus more.

This is nice! I hadn't heard of this category of services before today. I particularly like the idea of events in goms. Thank you.

Somewhat on this topic, does anyone know if Magic (the 4GL-ish software) is still used, and how it is these days? I had first heard of it when I got to know that a previous company that I worked at, were using it, commercially, for their clients. It was a somewhat unusual (AFAIK) software in that it was supposed to be table/menu-driven, and had maybe (in that early version) only something like 14 operations, using which, the manufacturers claimed, one could build pretty much any common business application. I found that interesting but never got a chance to work on it or try it out.

The company behind Magic was an Israeli one, Magic Enterprises, IIRC.

Update: I googled, this is their site:


and they do have a free/trial version. Will check it out a bit later.

Microsoft makes Dynamics CRM which can do all of this and is extensible with its own Workflow and business rules engine, form Javascript, and .net plugins for any more complex server side logic.

Don't let the sales, marketing, and services part distract you.

fieldbook.com seems to check a lot of your boxes.

it has plenty of rough edges but has a solid relational model and is fun to use.

my only complaint is that api access is really expensive (making it cost-prohibitive to most HN readers) but the main product is cheap/free.

Fieldbook co-founder here, thanks for the mention. If anyone has a particular need for lots of API calls, message us and we might be able to work something out!

That's great to hear, I'll follow up via email.

Great product.

I came across this one recently:


Doing well in the enterprise sector in the UK. Recently acquired, though for relative peanuts:


Then again, I tend to be very skeptical of such tools, having seen them in action in the 00s, where they were very poor as a medium/long-term solution that ultimately hindered, not helped.

Looks interesting, but no pricing..."call for demo". Ugh, hate that.

Office is everywhere. Therefore Access is everywhere. Even if there is (or was) a better piece of software, it wouldn't get any exposure or use (unless it was web-based, perhaps?).

Every day, some random employee starts tracking items or documents in Access as a personal tool, and then more people in the organization hear about it, features get added, and then the company starts running on it, then it begins to fail and they migrate over to a 'real' ERP system.

4th Dimension (4D): http://www.4d.com

Started as a Mac only RDB in the '80s. Now runs on Mac and Win, as a single user, from a server, or can be compiled as a standalone app. Rich development environment, includes web server, PHP, SQL and a lot more. There is a small but vibrant community of developers but is accessible to anyone with some technical experience.

There are lots of them, they're usually just very tailored to a specific type of business so you've never heard of them.

I was never a big fan of Access, it was no so great compared to Delphi, Paradox and even systems like DBase, Clipper, etc. There is a clone of Delphi around, based on Free Pascal called Lazarus.

But honestly this whole thing has moved to the web these days. Something like Django is probably the easiest and fastest way to do a CRUD app these days.

One of the most easiest to approach I think was ClarisWorks/AppleWorks database, simple table DB nice form and report builder. Versatile but definitely limited so users weren't lulled into a feeling they could do everything with it, enough to keep it useful.

Pretty much a FileMaker light. (same company)

May not be exactly what you're looking for, but take a look at https://www.genexus.com/products/genexus?en [disclaimer: used to work there three lifetimes ago]

I'm working on a product like this at the moment to solve exactly those problems. On Twitter @h_carver if you want to chat more! Or if you want to wait 6 months and find out why I shouldn't have been pursuing it ;)

Sharepoint fills the gap in many organisations. CRUD forms pretty quick to create off a sharepoint list/sql database.

There are thousands (tens of thousands) of ERP/CRM systems that include an Access clone as a subset.

guide wire is interesting in the insurance industry. it's built using it's own platform and sold how business users or analysts can write rules using a rules system. but the rules system is just a bunch of if thens with 2 windows for the "if/then" parts.

In time SSD will kill SQL and CRUD so there is no need for another RDBMS.

Forgive my ignorance, but SSD? Do you mean solid state drives?

Yeah, I mean solid state drives.

I could remember using FileMaker Pro back in the day for a few systems.

i am workibg on exactly this, but not just an access clone but DDD point and click for the web. Any suggestions?

rbase still exists. http://rbase.org

Search no more: https://www.contentful.com/

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