As I mentioned in my last post, I have been doing some work in Access 2007. This product has come along way since the early days.
I actually remember when I did my first Access 1.0 project. I had been working in the Paradox for DOS world (3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5) and all of us database developers were starting to think about the transistion to Windows. At that time, Windows was still new on the corporate scene. It required fast computers (386 with atleast 2 to 4 megabytes of RAM :-) and even then these Windows databases were slow. Many of us were trying to figure out the next step for us: Stick with Paradox on Windows, or move to its competitors: Microsoft Access, FoxPro and a few others.
The thing that sold me on Access was VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). At the time it was called AccessBasic, but was very similar to Visual Basic for Windows. The second thing is Microsoft had a solid vision: all future version of Office applications would support VBA. We were sold! Learn VBA in one product, and then all you had to do was learn the object model of another application to be productive. Of course, it took many years for this vision to become a reality, but it did!
By the time Access 2.0 rolled around, Access was the clear winner on the Windows desktop for database development.
As I started to work on some of my recent projects, I began to reflect on what made Access so succesful. It must have been more than just VBA right? Of course! My love for VBA reveals my nature as a programmer. Always thinking about the development possiblities.
While VBA was a big help, what made Access so good is that the average user could create amazing applications. Over the years I have seen people with no programming skills create database in Access used by entire departments that manage multi-billion dollar businesses and also by people at home to manage their own little interests and hobbies. Some developers really dislike that Access was used by “non-programmers” and for many reasons (a.ka. IT department support nightmares). However, I think its wonderful. Access unlocked the creative genius of the average person.
Here are some of the reason I think Access was successful:
The “Runtime”: Microsoft bundled Access with Office. This put Office on desktops of most users. This made it easy then to develop and distribute a solution. (Today MS has put the .NET framework on almost every windows PC. In the early days of Access, Access was the RUNTIME!)
All things to all people: Access has a unique blend of database components, programming components and presentation components (forms, reports). Its not just a database engine. Its not just a programming langauge. It not just a reporting tool. Its a hybrid of all of these.
Office familiarity: While Access was a strange new beast for most computer users, it was housed in a familiar environment. It used the same menu, toolbar, help and programming sub-system as all the other Office environments. If you had acquired basic skills in Word or Excel, you already knew 20% of what was need to work with Access. This greatly reduced the pain. On the contrary, if you tried to use Paradox for Windows, you had to learn everything from ground zero. What a pain!
I am sure there are many other reasons. What do you think?
Do you ever write an article and think you just aged yourself drastically in the eyes of your readers? :-)
One more thought before you leave:
I often found in some large corporation in a department that generated millions of dollars of revenue. They used a small database to track their product and customers. The database was developed by the department secretary, and now everyone used it and they couldnt survive without it.
Granted, the database she created was visually unappealing, broke many normalization and development rules. But! it worked! That is what mattered. By the time I was called in, they realized they needed profesional help to take the database to a new level. However, not only had they successfully managed their business, but in effect her databased functioned as a working prototype that showed us how their business operated and how a desktop application could further help.
I am a keyboard fanatic! Don’t get me wrong, the mouse is everyones friend. But the keyboard is all about speed and efficiency in navigation. I have always trained myself to learn keyboard shortcuts in any program I use frequently. The small investment eventually yields a great deal of efficiency over the work month. It is also amazing how quickly the keyboard shortcuts become a habit. I don’t even think about them any more, they are just a natural extension of using the computer. (How often to you consciously think about it when you use ALT+TAB. Its instinctive after frequent use)
I recently did 2 small projects in Access 2007. I have always loved Access and 2007 is even better. It is much easier to format forms and reports and it is possible to do so fastly.
However, when working on forms or reports I find myself constantly switching between design and form or print preview mode. It seems like a lot of clicking to go between different views and to navigate the Ribbon for formatting and other features.
I thought to myself, it is time to learn the keyboard for Access 2007. In Office 2007 you can press the ALT key and you get a nifty list of tooltips that tell you what letters to press to select a feature in the ribbon:
However, to switch design views on the ribbon required pressing: ALT, H, W, and then one more key for the view you wanted. Ok, now this is faster than taking my hands of the keyboard and using the mouse. But pressing 4 keys sequentially is just too much work. It is like playing the game twister with your fingers.
Well I then discovered that the shortcuts on the Quick Access bar all get keyboard assignments as well. So I added my favorite form and report design commands to the quick access bar. Here you can see the shortcuts Access has assigned:
So now I only have to press ALT plus the key Access has assigned. In my case, either ALT+2, ALT+3, ALT+4 quickly move between my favorite views. Easy and cheap (well actually no extra cost).
Maybe there are even faster ways of navigating the Ribbon. If so let me know.
Our good friend and fellow Zealot Steve Hansen had another whitepaper published on MSDN. Steve is a brilliant BI expert, one who has many years of data analysis in his portfolio. So its exciting to see him share some of his insights.
You can read the whitepaper at MSDN.
Microsoft Visual Studio 2005
Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the Microsoft Office System
Microsoft Office Excel 2003
Microsoft SQL Server 2000
Microsoft Analysis Services 2000
Summary: Develop and implement a business intelligence application quickly with Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the Microsoft Office System, Microsoft Analysis Services, and Microsoft Office Excel 2003. In this FoodMart Analyzer Solution, you target the Document Actions task pane to provide users with a rich, context-aware user interface. (22 printed pages)
Work Essentials lives on Office Online. It is a free service that offers:
Power users, small business workers with little available resources, as well as busy IT managers who need useful resources in their back pocket find our site helpful. There is also a Work Essentials webcast series twice a month, which delves deeper into using Office within the context of a worker's job.
- Job role-specific solutions designed to help users do more with the Microsoft Office
- Tools, tips, customizable templates and business processes to help individuals and teams be more productive
- Content created with industry leaders and subject matter experts
Work Essentials URL - http://www.microsoft.com/workessentials
Work Essentials webcasts - http://www.microsoft.com/workessentials/webcasts
Its amazing that a product in limited beta like Office 12 can create so much buzz, but it is! The main reason is that Office 12 will be a major leap forward in productivity and innovation for the average user. Now, I realize that we probably say this with every release, but this time we really mean it! :-)
The main thing that is so exciting is that Microsoft is taking some giant leaps in User Interface, Server integration and support for XML. In other words, no matter who you are, whether you are a user, IT admin or a developer, all will benefit.
The crew here at OfficeZealot.com is doing its part to help bring attention to this exciting next release of the Microsoft Office System with our new Officer 12 Zone. This zone features bloggers, news and articles exclusively related to Office 12. This zone is just getting started and will grow tremendously over the next year. The main challenge at this point, is that all beta testers are under a non-disclosure agreement regarding Office 12. So the only people that can blog about Office 12 are Microsoft employees. Yes, this bites! (Hey why can one group in microsoft have no NDA on their early betas, like the VS team and the Office team does???? Is one more important than the other? Is anyone out there listening from Microsoft?)
Well anyhow, the NDA ban on information in theory is to be lifted with the next beta. At that time, we expect the Office 12 zone will probably have a 3x to 5x increase in traffic. Keep your eye on it!