Microsoft Access: Better Than Ever

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Microsoft Access has always played an important role in developing data-centric applications for the Windows platform. Access 2003 is truly a leap forward from the previous two versions and has morphed into a Web-accessible multiuser database.

Access 2003 is integrated with Windows 2003 Server's Windows SharePoint Services, which allows users to easily connect to an Access application from the Web.

In previous versions, Access users relied on code generated from Forms to create interactive Web pages. This process required considerable server-side code to bridge the functionality of a Web Form with a database. Forms did not translate well to the Web in either HTML or ASP.

To combat this limitation, Microsoft added a Data Access Page object, and in the new version CRN Test Center engineers did not observe any code limitations with Data Access Pages. Code generated by a Data Access Page in Access 2003 is far more sophisticated than code generated by Forms. Through Internet Explorer, users can run many functions innate to the Access environment such as sorting and filtering, and can even perform field calculations on the fly.

For developers, Data Access Pages code can be viewed and written in the Microsoft Script Editor. However, developers must return to the Access environment to check results. Access 2003 includes well over 100 components that can be accessed using a Data Access Page. Developers can drag and drop Web components, link to external data sources and run ActiveX controls.

Access 2003's new development paradigm allows users to design, execute and test VBA code in a separate Visual Basic 6.3 development environment. What's more, with Access Development Extensions, users can package Access applications for distributed deployment using the Microsoft Windows Installer (MSI) file format.

For remote users, Office uses digital certificates to protect macros, queries and VBA code and to confirm a sender's authenticity.

Microsoft's three-level channel program provides training, sales, marketing and technical support. The vendor's technical training is unparalleled in the industry, and its online help and support is also extensive. Microsoft offers joint-development programs, road shows, seminars and online courses. Microsoft did not disclose the average solution provider margin. Access 2003 is priced at $229 for a new install and $109 for an upgrade.

Despite the numerous features added to this version, there is still room for improvement in these areas:

Increase overall file size to more than 2 Gbytes--The logic behind this limit has always been that users should move data that exceeds this limit to enterprise platforms such as SQL Server. However, most client/server developers that write applications strictly for desktop use often stay within desktop development environments. If a size limit is imposed on their applications, they will abandon Access in favor of products such as FileMaker.

Conform Access Queries to TSQL--Since its inception, Access has been a handy modeling tool for SQL Server designers and administrators alike. Since Access 2002, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 92 has been supported in some of the objects. However, Access has never added a function to check whether the objects created conform to TSQL, so there's no guarantee that queries work when ported to SQL Server.

Web-code generation is too complicated--Web-code generation choices between Forms and Data Access Pages can confuse newcomers. Even though Data Access Pages are designed for more direct Web use, the code from a Data Access Page is not simple and not designed to interact directly with manually added server-side code. Forms, on the other hand, can interact with this code directly. A better method would combine Data Access Page and Form objects into a single development interface. That would enable deployment to be handled by a wizard. This method would offer more clarity to developers.

Wrap Access apps as rich client executables--The use of MSI is a step in the right direction for Access, but deployment is limited since Access must be preinstalled. FileMaker Pro creates an executable that can be easily deployed without a previous installation of the software.

COMPANY: Microsoft
Redmond, Wash.
(425) 882-8080
DISTRIBUTORS: ACMA Computers, Ascential Software, Internal Computer Services, NW Computer Supplies

Note: Vendors can earn up to five stars for technical merit and five for their channel program. If the average of these two scores is four stars or greater, the product earns CRN Test Center Recommended status.

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