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Database Concepts (6th Edition)

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Colin Johnson is a production supervisor for a small manufacturer in Seattle. Several years ago, Colin wanted to build a database to keep track of components in product packages. At the time, he was using a spreadsheet to perform this task, but he could not get the reports he needed from the spreadsheet. Colin had heard about Microsoft Access, and he tried to use it to solve his problem. After several days of frustration, he bought several popular Microsoft Access books and attempted to learn from them. Ultimately, he gave up and hired a consultant who built an application that more or less met his needs.

Colin was a successful businessperson who was highly motivated to achieve his goals. A seasoned Windows user, he had been able to teach himself how to use Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, and a number of production-oriented application packages. He was flummoxed at his inability to use Microsoft Access to solve his problem. “I’m sure I could do it, but I just don’t have any more time to invest,” he thought. This story is especially remarkable because it has occurred tens of thousands of times over the past decade, to many other people.

Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and other database management system (DBMS) vendors are aware of such scenarios and have invested millions of dollars in creating better graphical interfaces, hundreds of multipanel wizards, and many sample applications. Unfortunately, such efforts treat the symptoms and not the root of the problem. In fact, most users have no clear idea what the wizards are doing on their behalf. As soon as these users require changes to database structure or to components such as forms and queries, they drown in a sea of complexity for which they are unprepared. With little understanding of the underlying fundamentals, these users grab at any straw that appears to lead in the direction they want. The consequence is poorly designed databases and applications that fail to meet the users’ requirements.

Why can people like Colin learn to use a word processor or a spreadsheet product yet fail when trying to learn to use a DBMS product? First, the underlying database concepts are unnatural to most people. Whereas everyone knows what paragraphs and margins are, no one knows what a relation is. Second, it seems as though using a DBMS product ought to be easier than it is. “All I want to do is keep track of something. Why is it so hard?” people ask. Without knowledge of the relational model, breaking a sales invoice into five separate tables before storing the data is mystifying to business users.

This book is intended to help people like Colin understand, create, and use databases in a DBMS product, whether they are individuals who found this book in a bookstore or students using this book as their textbook in a class.
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