Friday, June 18, 2004

The Next Version Of Microsoft Access - Have Your Say

This weblog is run in conjection with an Editorial published in the August 2004 edition of Smart Access. Read more at

http://www.smartaccessnewsletter.com
or at my popular website
http://www.vb123.com/access2006/

The purpose of this web log is to encourage you to blog your ideas here about what you want to see in the next version of Access. We will even review some of most interesting ideas in a future issue of Smart Access. More importantly, though, we’ll collate all of the ideas and send them to the Access development team at Microsoft. After that, who knows? Your great idea might actually make the production version of Access 2006. If you think that you have a good idea, or if you simply want to embellish (or castigate) my ideas blog to this post or visit http://www.vb123.com/access2006 There you can see the latest contributions from our readers or find an e-mail address to send your contribution. Otherwise blog direct to this page to instantly see your idea published.

To help fire up your creative juices, here are my ideas for our list. My first request is to improve the basic forms interface. In my humble opinion, Access in its basic state needs to become a whole lot easier for the na├»ve user to interact with. For example, if you were to create a standard form that worked with a table, and then give it to someone who has never used Access before, that person wouldn’t have a clue what to do. The default form generated by the form wizard comes with navigation buttons way down at the bottom of the form, a well-hidden record selector, and some complex toolbars and menus that are designed for both developers and users and don’t really work well for either. I’ve yet to come across a typical user who looks at the menu bars and toolbars to figure out what to do next (and even if users did that, they probably wouldn’t pick anything that would actually help them). Generally, the inexperienced user likes big buttons that say Save or Find or Add Record. I believe that the form wizard should include these as a default option. In my humble opinion, Microsoft needs to take Access back to the usability labs and rework the form wizards and related items to produce forms that make sense to mere mortals.

My second request is that there should be a database-specific option that prevents people from using reserved words, words with spaces, and special characters (such as percent signs) to name database objects such as tables and fields. This should be turned on by default in new databases. This would make both Access development and upgrading to SQL Server much easier. I also really doubt that inexperienced developers would object to these restrictions. While Microsoft is at it, this option should also be responsible for stopping the control wizards from producing meaningless names for controls like Command17. The wizards should either generate meaningful names (like cmdExit) or give the user a chance to enter a meaningful name. I recognize, by the way, that this complaint probably reflects a good part of my work: fixing the work of other, less experienced developers. These changes would allow me to concentrate on new development rather than fixing up weird and wonderful names -- work that makes programming a chore.

Another area of Access that really needs a lot of work is security. Having spent many months on this topic for my book, my detailed list would run many pages. There are simple things that should be changed: The bypass key (Shift) needs to be controlled, the database and VBA passwords need to be encrypted into a better place in the file, and shortcuts shouldn’t reveal the location of the database or the workgroup file. If security is to remain in its current rickety state, developers need new functions that take advantage of Windows 2000 user and group names and .NET encryption functions. These need to be callable without reference to complex Windows functions. These should work like the intrinsic Office File Dialog and the File Search VBA functions that were introduced into Access/Office 2002. Other goodies I’d like to see include a direct link to SQL Server from MDB files. ODBC is just a complication that one could do without. I’d also love to see Excel become the second report writer for Access. I use Excel through a combination of automation and templates all the time for my Excel-mad customers, and I sure would like to see a lot more integration in this area.

My big plea, though--and one that would probably increase the adoption of Access enormously--is to include Access with Office standard or the Office Small Business edition. Even if this were only a "lite" (read: "crippled") version of Access that was easy to use, it could increase the groundswell of Access users quite considerably. Eventually this would translate into a lot more Access work for developers as the lite databases that actually prove valuable have to be converted into multi-user business databases.

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