databases and spreadsheets (or, every nail looks like a thumb)

Dear Lazyweb,

At the club, we keep most of our records in a Filemaker Pro 6 database: stuff like attendance and cash register totals for each night.

(And when I say "most" I mean "except that a bunch of our data lives in QuickBooks instead, for some reason that none of my employees has ever been able to explain to me in a way that I understand.")

Anyway, something about this Filemaker situation is so hellaciously complicated that it's like pulling teeth to get any kind of sensible reporting out of it. I don't know if this is a property of Filemaker itself, or the database schema we are using, or just that nobody here knows how to use the damned thing.

It strikes me that all we need here is a spreadsheet: one axis is "date", and the other axis is a bunch of keywords and values associated with that date (e.g., "register-1", "box-office".) Then some simple computed fields (e.g., "total=A+B+C"), and a bunch of different views onto that grid (e.g., show a report of all dates where "event-name" is "Foo", with some columns totaled or averaged or whatnot.)

Surely the sensible thing to do here is for me to extract this data into some kind of tab-delimited text file; import that into a simple spreadsheet; and throw Filemaker away, right?

So my questions are:

  • Is this, in fact, a sane line of thought?
  • How do I extract this shit?
  • What's a simple, free-or-very-cheap spreadsheet for OSX that will suck less than Filemaker?

I don't even know if I'm asking the right questions here, because I don't actually use this software; my employees do. But when I ask them for different kinds of reporting, it takes way too much work for them to deliver it, and when I ask questions like "if this is so hard, why are we using Filemaker instead of something else?", I just get blank stares.

Tags: , , , ,