Some years ago when I was going through Oracle training, I chose Access as part of my dissertation for developing a database for my University. I was just curious and was not really giving serious thoughts to Access at that time (it was Access 97), especially as compared to Oracle. I was so wrong, I soon discovered. Access was one of the best software package I ever enjoyed to learn (I was doing it on my own without any help). There are practically millions of Access users around the glob that are very very helpful (thanks folks) and you can find hundreds of excellent books written on Access on a varying level from absolute beginners to advance users. Free code and free training material is available on the web as well. I personally have used it for everything from simple Employees salary calculator to fully fledged Client-server databases (using SQL Server 2000 as a back-end) complete with web-driven data access pages, data entry forms, and data analysis tools like charts and pivot tables. Not only that but the rapid application development allows for creating/generating quick prototypes of the systems. At the least, I have used it to create Entity-Relationship models for my company clients for a head start in database development. Invaluable for students to learn and value-for-money for small-to-medium businesses that do not wish or afford Oracle or SQL Server. Still if they do use Oracle etc, the existing databases can be upgraded or upsized.
Access 2003 itself is the best incarnation I have to say. It contains the latest functions (and libraries) and has excellent charting and data access page creation tools that solve almost all of the small-to-medium size business problems. Access 2003 also makes it a lot easier to design queries, forms and reports as compared to the previous older versions, for example by providing you with the smart tag options to design your own tags. A must have as a total office solution.
There are two problems with purchasing Access 2003 though. If you already have Access 2002 then perhaps stay with that. If you have the full MS Office 2002 Professional and you want to upgrade, then upgrading to Office 2003 Professional would be more advisable. Secondly a stand alone Access 2003 is a bit strange to have because most students/businesses would already be using at least MS word and MS Excel. So again in that case upgrade the whole office package instead of buying Access 2003 alone. Enough Said!!!
Access is the best database for a PC. If Access can't do it, then you should not be using a PC.
However, a word of warning. Beyond very simple databases, Access has a VERY steep learning curve and requires considerable skill with Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) to get the best out of it. The results are worth the time and effort though.
I have been developing in Access and VBA for many years and Access 2003 is the best version. If you really want to get the best out of it, then there is a learning curve but for RAD it has to be number 1 in my book. It's a shame Microsoft made 2007 so much of a transition. I still develop in 2003 and then update, as I find 2007 too different to work with at the same pace.