Monday, March 02, 2009

Does OpenOffice Base suck?

Is it just me, or does OpenOffice Base (the database tool in their suite) suck? Or maybe it just sucks on the Mac? Honestly, I'm not throwing bombs just to be a tool. If I'm doing something wrong, please tell me.

For some time I've been looking for a database tool along the lines of Access, but which runs on the Mac and possibly other platforms. It's not that I'm a big Access fan - I've only used it a time or two, but every now and then, I have a task that cries out to be implemented with a database. Creating a desktop application from scratch using something like Swing and JavaDB/Derby seems like overkill (not too mention, way too much work), but I've always thought that there should be a database tool that's based on Java (cross-platform) and some open-source database (e.g., Derby or SQLite).

On paper, Base is just that tool. I heard somewhere that it's written in Java, and I know that it uses HSQLDB, but can use any JDBC database. Looking through the interface it's got tables, forms, and reports. And OpenOffice runs on Macs, Windows, and Linux. Sounds perfect.

Here's just a short list of the issues I've had:
  • The first time I ran it, it crashed before I'd even defined any tables. D'oh!
  • Once, the UI locked up (no visible updates but the mouse still worked) while I was trying to add a List Box. I kept trying until it crashed. When it came back, I had a zillion List Boxes in the spot where I was adding them.
  • After removing the List Boxes, it crashed again. After restarting, the recovery process restored all those list boxes. I removed them all again, it crashed again, and they were all restored again.
  • Eventually, I removed the List Boxes, saved and quit. After restarting, the boxes were finally gone. This marked a new work pattern - save and quit every ~5 minutes. Sometimes, saving alone wasn't enough to prevent work from being lost.
  • The replace form control function crashed consistently enough for me to realize it doesn't work. This is a shame because the form wizard creates text boxes by default, which need to be converted. I had to add new controls, wire them up, remove the original text box, and move the new control into place - all while saving frequently.
  • It took me forever to get a List Box that wasn't tied to a database table or query - e.g., Gender can only be Male or Female (or Gelded on our farm). To do that, you have to turn off wizard mode.
  • There are various UI boogers on the Mac - e.g., list boxes are sometimes not quite tall enough so the text in the box is chopped when the list is not dropped down.
  • The documentation that I could find was minimal, at best. I realize that's a common complaint about open-source projects, but for something as big as OpenOffice, I expected more.
Anyway, it's so unusable, I don't think I can use it for my own personal purposes, let alone recommend it to clients. Quite a shame. I'm thinking to checking out FileMaker. It runs on both PCs and Macs, and it has a free 30 day trial.



infixum said...

Trying to learn Base right now - we use it at work.

The one advantage it seems to have over Access (from what I've seen) is that a Base database takes up about 1/10th the space on disk of an MS Access one. This makes copying files over a network with low bandwith easier.

Charles Anderson said...

I haven't touched Access since Office 97, but I can imagine that the size is much, much smaller. It sounds like you're using it on Windows, since you're comparing to Access. I haven't tried Base on Windows, but I had no luck on the Mac, which still saddens me.

Jason said...