Sunday, April 20, 2014

Working with MS Access 2013 Web Apps - The Good

Back in 2009 I joined a group of smart Access users, developers, and technical guide writers in Redmond to preview Access 2010.  The software was supposedly in Alpha phase, but from the look of it, and the way the program managers described most features as locked, I'd say it was closer to a GA preview.  The software felt like a first model year car, not quite the full vision the maker had, and rough around the edges.

I've spent perhaps 20-25 hours all told developing in Access 2010 for the web.  Mostly for internal use, but some for a client.  It does the basic job, but the web forms lack flexibility and finish.  Access 2013 has made some large improvements, the Access team really took a fresh approach.  That is saying something when Access 2010 wasn't even really on the market for more than 2 years.  Overall, the product is much improved for web applications.  In some areas they went backward in terms of functionality, but by improving several key areas, the loss of functionality isn't felt as strongly.

So what are some features of Access 2013 web apps that you'll appreciate

  1. Better support for master-detail type forms.  While a database is meant to efficiently store information, that shouldn't come at the sacrifice of usability.  Access 2010 web apps were hard to easily show related information.  It was possible with effort, but Access 2013 makes it effortless.  In fact, it automatically shows related information in areas much like a subform.  And it supports subforms as well just like 2010.
  2. More control over security.  You can configure, straight from the Access client, whether to allow read/write connections to the tables, and whether it is limited to just one location or anywhere on the internet (security credentials are still required of course).
  3. Modern styling and user interaction.  Access 2010 relied mostly on dropdowns, and styling was mundane.  You had a lot of control over things like font size/color/style, and coloring and conditional formatting of cells and areas on screen.  Access 2013 drops most of that (more on that later).  But while you lose control of the minutae, I expect it will return in the future, and Microsoft incorporated things like auto-complete text areas, elegant form styling, and a limited but passable icon library.
  4. Publishing without anger.  Access 2010 publishing was somewhat like trying to start a manual car uphill as a new driver.  Sometimes it would work, sometimes not.  It takes a lot of effort, you don't always know if you're going to do it right, and when it failed, you didn't know what exactly to do to make things right before sliding backward.  Access 2013 did a few things right, despite dropping flexibilty.  (A) There is no more blurred line between desktop and web tables and forms, so you can't get into trouble as you did in 2010, (B) Hitting save = publishing immediately to the web.  No more hitting "synchronize" and crossing your fingers.  It just works.  (C) No more compatibility checker with confusing, misleading messages.  Say that one 20 times over.
There are some things that will bring frustration and cursing, I'll cover those in the next part of this series.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Transitioning from Access to....?

Let me start with two things:  a) This post is mostly for the Access-only "developer" that doesn't do much with other programming, and b) I started my career working with Cobol developers.  In the late 90's.  By then Cobol was, as it still is, a reliable, solid, trustworthy dinosaur.  Days could be spent debating the merits of any programming language or platform, but let's suspend that discussion and look at the parallel with Access.

Access has been around for nearly 20 years now, and like Cobol, evolution has slowed to a crawl.  You might say that Access 2010/2013 is a sign of evolution, but let's be honest.  2010/2013 contains two apps - one for client development, and one for SharePoint form/list design.  They share the same skin, but fundamentally diverge in terms of design decisions and capability.

Microsoft has done a great job with Access web services for SharePoint users, provided people try not to compare the Access web capability with the client capability, and you don't look at Access web services as a solution for enterprise-grade web capabilities.  But what about the "legacy" side of Access, the one hundreds of thousands of databases use?

My answer is, for better or worse, it's time for us to start transitioning.  In the same way that a lot of really bright COBOL programmers I know have done, we have to realize that the opportunity space for MS Access is shrinking.  The need for rapidly developed, business-user friendly database applications will never go away.  But the number of places Access will be used will continue to decline, and what I'd be curious to hear from readers is where you think people will go to solve the problem?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

PHP Developers - Charts for PHP without Coding

Let's face it, Microsoft Access is in a bit of decline.  The market is moving increasingly online, and Microsoft Access 2013 is more tailored to light-weight web entry via Share Point than the old days of MS Access.  We'll still be supporting and enhancing our world-class Access products, there's life left yet in Access.

But today we announce ChartBuilder for PHP.  A new application that is easy to deploy, and helps create charts for MySQL databases without any coding!  Just embed the chart.php file in your page(s), and define how you want each chart to look.  Simple as that!

Here's a sample of what ChartBuilder can do in about 30 minutes from deployment to completion.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Access Consulting -

After many years focusing solely on building Access tools, we've decided to extend our offering to Access consulting.  We are taking a limited number of engagements, but please check out the list of services:
OpenGate Access Consulting

Whether you have a an aging database that needs renovation, or a new project of any size, give us a call or drop us an email to see if we can help!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Getting Started with VBA in Access

If you're new to programming, but want to make a start of it, Visual Basic in Access can be a great introduction.  In some ways VB can be easier to grasp and use than even Access macros, with enough time. No doubt there is a bit of a learning curve, but not only can you become more productive, but it can open the door to even more complicated programming (if you want to pursue that path).

Getting Started
The easiest way to get started is by example.  Here's how:

  1. Add a new button to your Access form.
  2. In the wizard, choose an option to have the button do something like close your form.
  3. Once the wizard is complete, double-click the button.
  4. In the properties window, select the "Events" tab.
  5. Notice the On Click line has "[Event Procedure]" in the field.
  6. Click the ellipsis "..." next to the box.
  7. The Visual Basic editor will open and you can see the code that Access created for you.
What Does it All Mean?
There is a lot to learn about Visual Basic, but with some simple background you'll know what matters and what doesn't.  In the VB editor, you'll see that your code is surrounded by:

Private Sub CommandButton1_OnClick()
End Sub

The "Private Sub" just means the code only applies to the current form, and can't be "seen" outside of the form.  The "CommandButton1" part just refers to the name of the button clicks.  And "_OnClick()" is the event that fires when you click the button.  You'll see that there are lots of events you can take advantage of, like when a user clicks, hovers over, presses a button.  There are tons of events you can fire in Access.  Finally, the "End Sub" just means it's the end of the subroutine (section of code that applies to the "OnClick" event.

So in between the "Sub" and "End Sub" you'll be able to tell Access what you want to do.

Docmd Is the Workhorse of Access VBA
There is one VB command every Access user should learn: Docmd.  Learning just that will take you very far.  For example:

Docmd.OpenForm "YourFormName"

Docmd.OpenForm will open a form you specify.  You can use the Intellisense to understand what Access needs to actually perform the command. And in many cases, will also give you dropdowns with options to choose from.  In the picture, you can see that the View options will let you open the form in Design view, as a datasheet, Normal, etc.

There's much more to learn, but this should get you started.  Google or Bing searches are a real treasure.  If you need to do something in Access, there's a 99.99% chance someone has had the same need, and someone has an answer out there.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New Google Adwords Tools available

We're expanding our product line!  If you, like millions of businesses worldwide, rely on Google Adwords to reach your audience, AdWords Doctor is for you!  Save time and significantly increase your return on advertising by using AdWords Doctor to analyze your AdWords campaigns, adgroups, creatives, and keywords.

We're opening up a free beta for a limited time where you will receive premier support to get AdWords Doctor up and running.  After the beta, we'll be giving beta participants large discounts on the full product.

To learn more about Adwords Doctor and the free beta, click here: New Adwords Tools

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Myths about Visualization

Since much of people's work in Access and Excel ultimately leads to trying to visualize your data in some way to understand your business or research better, this post is really insightful: