Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Facebook ~ A Discussion On Development

A detailed roundup on whether facebook is important from a developers point of view. The fact that Microsoft has bought in indicates that there will be programming options for Microsoft centric developers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Access and IT Support - How Much Control and How To Improve It

In the editorial of my latest newsletter, I posed a ? to the readers (and got a lot of responses)

Whilst I have been discussing Access databases with managers and IT staff this year, I have often heard the phrase "We don't support Access databases". I then ask the question, do you support Excel and the reply is "yes but we don't support macros (VBA)".So here are three questions to YOU, the readers.

Have you noticed this behavior?
What parts of Access should IT staff support as a minimum ?
What are three things that IT help teams should know about Access so that they can provide at least some support?

Here are responses thus far, I will edit them further later

Peter "The simple problem with MSAccess is that anybody can create a database and call themselves a software developer. There are too many poorly designed databases which are causing companies a lot of grief. I would recommend certification for MSAccess on it owns. The simplest suggestion is recognition as a MSAccess Professional. This way MSAccess could be recognised as a serious database and development platform.

"Have you noticed this behavior? Yes, many times. Practically every firm (both government and private) don't wish to go near Access. On rare occasions we have run into clients/students who say that someone in their Help Desk support area has been able to help them, at least partially. In those instances the Help person has already created a database for themselves and have been able "to relate".

What parts of Access should IT staff support as a minimum ?
Personally I think IT support should be capable of showing/helping users in creating effective tables since good tables properly normalized are a major basis for a 'good' database. Also query basics would be helpful.

What are three things that IT help teams should know about Access so that they can provide at least some support?
1. Good table design including primary key use and normalization through at least 2nd normal form.
2. Query design and criteria use especially with the combination of wildcard use, particularly the asterisk (*).
3. Report wizard understanding, then basic understanding of Report sections, as well as elements such as 'changing a label in place', adding a logo. I don't know how many times we have discovered Help Desk personnel telling end users learn Crystal Reports to do your Access reporting. Incorporating another software to avoid doing reports in Access is ridiculous. The Access report generator is so cool and we've never encountered any thing it couldn't be taught to accomplish.

David "We use Access to a great extent in our organization. IT is not very supportive. We generally know who the Access gurus are within the organization (I'm one) and have a informal network of problem solving. My department has posted tutorials for working w/ Access using the data that we provide via SQL Server databases. There are also plenty of books and classes one can take.

The only Access support we expect from IT is installation support.

Access is too complex an application to expect support from non Access users and IT folks don't use Access or use the the data we use. They maintain systems and networks, plan for future needs, maintain user accounts and security. If an organization wants support on any more then the basics, in terms of software support, they need to provide educators to handle this task, not expect IT folks to do this.

Christopher "Our agency has taken an extreme measure to stop the proliferation of user developed MS Access databases by removing the Access application from the standard software image on computer workstations. The current software image installs the run time version of Access and not the full version. The rationale offered for this action are: (1) Access databases on the network consume too much of the data pipeline, (2) IT does not have the resources available to support user developed databases, and (3) Not installing the full version of Access saves the department money since most users do not use it.

If the IT department was able to support the needs of the users in a timely manner, the users would not need to create their own databases to efficiently manage the agency’s business. Instead, they have disempowered the workers by taking away a powerful tool and replacing it with a process to establish IT programming priorities which requires completion of form that is sent to an IT Governance Committee. This committee meets monthly to review requests and allocation IT development resources to projects they deem worthy.

Unfortunately, the IT dinosaur cannot react in real time to the changing business needs of the users in a timely manner, so they took away the one tool which allowed the user to get the work done themselves. I have a request in with our IT Governance Committee since last May and I still have not received a thumb up or a thumb down response. At least with Access, I could have finished the task and be doing something else useful.

Arvin "I've come to the conclusion that there are 2 types of IT folks.

1. Normal people who do their jobs, and learn what they need to support their networks. Type 1 individuals are basically people who are helpful and supportive. They recognize that their role is to enhance the business process, not supplant it. They do no feel threatened by challenges.
2. And then there are the network guys who need to control everything. They will support new apps only if they chose them and they only choose apps which make their job easier or give them even more control.

From a business prospective, the main difference between the 2 is the health of the business. Type 1 admins are looking for every opportunity to enhance the business, while type 2 individuals think they are the business.

Apparently you've run into type 2. I've been fortunate enough to only work with type 1's this year, although I've had the great displeasure of working with type 2's in the past. I now refuse the work if I sense control freaks. It just isn't worth the aggravation.--

Mark "Quite frankly, I'd rather NOT have the IT staff try to support mydatabases! I will set-up my clients with a backend on a server and each user having their own copy of the frontend. Later, I will walkinto a client's office and find that someone has messed with this. For example, the shortcut I've established on the user's desktop has been replaced by a shortcut to the master copy of the frontend on the server! Sometimes they do this because they just didn't realize what was happening, but other times because they think this is "better"! I have one client where I left detailed written instructions on how to set-up a new computer for accessing the database. Their hardware guy blithely ignores these instructions EVERY time. This has been happening for years!

Bill "I guess I'm the most qualified IT person in my department to answer this. We don't support Excel in any way other than the installation of the software which comes pre-installed on all our machines anyway. No macro writing, no template design, nothing.

As to Access, before I was hired, IT had one or 2 people with power user experience who helped users create reports in a few databases that the users or someone in their department had built, but it was always a favor, not an actual duty of the IT dept.

Once I was hired, that all changed. I took on support along with development for all things Access. I only support the ones I redesigned or databases I developed myself.

We do not support any databases created by people within the hospital. Kinda like "You made your bed. Now sleep in it." Those databases can be requested for redesign by me which would then put them in the realm of IT support.That all makes sense to me from a support perspective. Unless the IT department owns the database it really can't spend the man-hours to make it work right when it never worked right from the beginning.

Tom: At The Boeing Company (at least in the Puget Sound area--I cannot talk about other locations), IT support for all of the Office applications is limited to installation, and troubleshooting of system-related errors, such as a wizard that refuses to work. Any other support, such as how to create an array formula in Excel, design a database in Access, write any VBA code,etc. is up to the user to find help. Several years ago, there used to be an organization that one could go to to get up to 40 hours of free help without first establishing a charge line, but we haven't enjoyed this level of support since the mid 90's. These days, when people call the Help Desk for support, the folks there will often times try, but simply don't know the answer. I've personally experienced having 2nd level Tech. Help folks pass their Access questions on to me many times.

There are about 20 private Boeing e-mail distribution lists that employees can sign up for, which cover various subjects. Two of the more popular ones include:DL DevTalkOffice (covers Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, Project, etc.) andDL DevTalkAccess (covers Access, of course)

There are also lists for SQL Server (DL DevTalkSQLServer), VB Classic,VC++, and a host of other topics. I naturally tend to answer a lot of questions on DL DevTalkAccess.

On the lists, Yes, the lists are Boeing supported. One must be either an employee, a contract employee, or be associated with a related support company in order to sign up. I think we still have quite a few people on the list who are located in Wichita, Kansas, who used to be Boeing employees, before Boeing sold the operations there to Spirit Aerosystems, a Canadian company.

Mike " I work for a UK Government department where the IT support iscontracted out to a three letter acronym. The company is the primepurchasing route for all IT. The support includes desktop, laptop,remote access, desktop applications, servers and networkinfrastructure.

Essentially the contract for support provides for 'best efforts' foranything they do not 'own' or have constructed under contract. Thismeans that any staff having problems with writing or debugging codewritten by themselves or another, are on their own. It also means thatif a bespoke database or spreadsheet is required and the users do nothave the skills to develop a solution there is a development cost tobe contracted for and added to the bill.

We have many solutions provided to us by specialist contractors, asthey have done so for several years. These are dying into a hard coreof experts, as where the contract comes up for renewal the acronym isallowed to put in a bid. The primary supplier is not always successful.

For most day to day work this is not a problem as there are a numberof expert users around who have the skills to handle small systemsdevelopment. These still have to go through a development process tojustify the work and usually are used as a test case prior toextending into a larger development process. A issue can be use ofdevelopment servers, which are not available to staff for databasework, and the constraint of using MS Access or Excel. It would bebeneficial to use Microsoft SQL server is some situations.

The current working environment is such that being a developer is veryhard work. For example no one has a permanent desk, all work is savedto file servers and not all desktops are loaded with more than thebasic Office products which does not include Access. Anyone could bein the seat I occupied yesterday.

A feature of current reorganisation is to employ only key workers fullor part time. This is beginning to mean only policy experts areretained, any 'support' staff are contracted in when needed. Thus theIT knowledge and development skill are being eroded for the core staffand increasingly IT development is being contracted out, and thatincludes all IT training. Interesting times.

What parts of Access should IT staff support as a minimum ?
Advise on product suitability for project being planned.
Installing and uninstalling and testing there is a operating product.
Provision of correct NT/desktop permissions for operation of product.

What are three things that IT help teams should know about Access so that they can provide at least some support?

Differences/benefits for upgrade between last 3 versions and servicepacks;Directions to a least a dozen MVP and quality Access and VBA web siteswhere help can be found;Advice on the key elements of stepping into product development, likea planning and documentation tool.

>Comment You may have divined from my comments above that I am not averse tothe changes taking place. I appreciate what is happening and whybecause I was the Local IT manager for about 150 people for severalyears trying to control the chaos that ensues where uses are givenlots of toys.

I welcome new developers to my desk. They leave, I hope, with morethat what they asked for. Namely links to helpful web sites and a fewpages for documenting the development process.

>In closing So good to see you (Garry) gained the MVP badge. I should have commented on that great result a long time ago. I've seen your good work from afar for the best part of 10 years. Very well deserved.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

SQL Server 2005 Express Edition - Easy Setup

SQL Server 2005 Express Edition - Part 9 - Managing User Instances

This article describes the unique functionality of SQL Server that allows you to distribute and implement single-user databases (typically with applications they support) without the dependency of having administrative privileges or the need for a cumbersome configuration.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Removing Time from a date field

I was faced with a date field (called eDate) that also held time values as well as the date for some entries. To remove the time from the date-time entry, I used the following update query

UPDATE eInvoices SET eInvoices.edate = Format([edate],"dd-mmm-yyyy") WHERE (((Format([edate],"Short Time"))<>"00:00"));

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Open a form and find a record

The Access buttons wizard includes an option to create a button that Opens a Form and find a record(s) based on a filter. This is fine if you want to filter the form but if you want to find a record and not filter try this code

DoCmd.OpenForm "FX_MyNewForm"

DoCmd.FindRecord Me![FieldOnCurrentForm], acEntire

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pickup Only in EBay

I know this has nothing to do with Microsoft Access but I had a lot of trouble trying to specify how to make a cot pickup only in eBay that I decided to pass on these notes.

To apply the Pick-up only option to your listing, please follow the steps below:
1. On the Sell Your Item form, click on Show/Hide Options from the top right hand side of the page.
2. Click on Postage from the left.
3. Select the '3 domestic services' option from the drop-down menu on the right.
4. Click on Save.
5. Scroll down the page, and choose Pick Up Only from the drop down box in the Postage section.