Computers have thousands of uses, but in the end, the most important things they do come down to two major and equally important functions. The first is mathematics. More specifically, the computer makes it possible to do complex (or simple) mathematics quickly. The key word here is quickly. Whether it is figuring out ballistic tables to better ensure the trajectory of a missile and cracking complex codes (as was the impetus for the computer's development during World War II) or processing a company's financial information, math is central to every computing operation.
The second most useful function a computer has is storing, sorting, and retrieving data quickly. (Again that word quickly.) Search engines like Google or Yahoo! are a testament to the computer's power of sifting through large amounts of information. In doing so, businesses can locate a customer's address in seconds, even though there may be millions of other customer records in the system. A hospital with thousands of patient records can pull up your medical history in a flash and update it with today's visit. The online bookstore maintains your personal information so you can buy a book with a click or two. A year's worth of financial information, arranged into a clear, concise report, appears on the printer seconds after the company accountant requests it.
As my wife, Sally, is fond of saying, "It's all about the data."
Storing data, or information, if you prefer, is what a database is all about. That's why the addition of a database into the OpenOffice.org suite is so exciting. OpenOffice.org Base makes it possible to create your own databases, retrieve and modify information, perform queries, create reports, and so on. Base can attach to an existing database engine such as Oracle, Microsoft Access, MySQL, and many others using ODBC or JDBC. If all you need your database to do is simple operations, such as creating and maintaining a mailing list, OpenOffice.org base comes with the built-in HSQL database engine.