FileMaker and Microsoft Access are common database software choices when a user is considering database creation without knowing or wishing to learn SQL. It's also helpful when creating a relatively low-traffic database for Internet use. While ostensibly reaching the same endpoint, both applications have different ways of getting there, and some functions are easier to perform on one program than the other. At the same time, the intended audiences differ slightly for both applications, meaning that their user interfaces are vastly different.
Support and Training
Microsoft (MS) Access is a popular choice for business settings, partly because there is a significant amount of business-directed training specifically intended to teach employees the basics of database creation. There is also an extensive tutorial system integrated into the Microsoft Access Online Support site. FileMaker has a support site based mostly on a collection of community forum questions and responses.
If a user is working from a Macintosh-based environment, where integration among Apple products is the norm, then FileMaker is the only option here, as Access does not have a Mac version.
Depending on your attitude toward aesthetics, you may find MS Access too drab and dull with which to work. While there are some colour changes or styles that can be altered, Access is quite limited when it comes to appearance. FileMaker, on the other hand, makes aesthetics a top priority, and there are many colour, shape, style, font and other adjustments available. A new user might find FileMaker somewhat more difficult to navigate, as they have kept the button clutter to a minimum on the navigation bar. Access, however, squeezes nearly every possible function into its interface.
Reports and Queries
MS Access tends to pack most of its power in the versatility of reports that it can create, which include both simple and complex comparisons of tables, a query wizard that helps a user throughout the process, and the ability to tweak that report to an appropriate view for any given audience. However, in versions previous to Access 2007, it was somewhat difficult for a user to execute a report without a significant amount of knowledge or reference, as the report and query wizards were not very advanced.
FileMaker can, for the most part, produce the same basic reports and queries as MS Access, but the templates and wizards for this purpose are relatively rigid and sparse in comparison. With some SQL knowledge, a user can override the basic options in FileMaker and produce manual queries, but it requires more expertise than the average user possesses.
Portability and Sharing
Both FileMaker and Access advertise their capacities to publish your database online through some form of web publishing. FileMaker is not intended for high-capacity users in its most basic form (users can upgrade to FileMaker Pro), and supports a maximum of five simultaneous users. Microsoft's Sharepoint service is a bit more flexible, allowing you not only to upload the database to the Internet, but to send it via network or e-mail to other team members, which upon response can directly populate your network without ever having to go online. However, this depends on an environment having an ethernet or other network established that would allow for such sharing.