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Posted Jun 22, 2010

Getting Up To Speed With Microsoft Access 2010

By Danny Lesandrini

Danny Lesandrini scopes out a bundle of newly released books geared towards getting you up to speed quickly with Microsoft Access 2010.

Back in August of 2009 I wrote about my experience with the Micorosoft Access 2010 beta. I concluded that this was the most exciting release of Access I've seen in some time and my recent experience using Micfosoft Access 2010 Release Candidate has not dissuaded me.

Confession time: I'm one of those Access developers who never actually created anything with Access 2007. Sure, I played with it but built nothing of substance. In part, that was because all my clients were still using Access 2003 (or earlier versions) and there was simply no need. With the release of Office 2010 in May, however, I think that's going to be changing. One client is looking to upgrade 20 licenses of Office XP to Office 2010 and I'm sure others will follow. It's time to get "up to speed" with Microsoft Access 2010.

Start A New Project

For years I've been using Quickbooks 2002 to manage my business but after upgrading to Windows 7 on a 64 bit machine it began to act up on me. I realized I was either going to have to pull out my wallet and upgrade to the latest Quickbooks or build my own business management application. I didn't' want to spend the money and I decided this would be the perfect project for initiation into Access 2010 development.

After extracting my account data from my nearly crippled Quickbooks program, I set off to create an application to manage my accounts receivable and payable. After about 30 hours of tinkering with it, here's what I've got:

  • Six tables with relationships
  • One Navigation form in lieu of a switchboard (see screen shot below)
  • Two data entry forms: expenses and invoices
  • One invoice detail report
  • Two summary reports: payables and receivables
  • A handful of queries
  • A few macros
  • Practically no VBA code
Navigation Form

Project Post Mortem

Honestly, thirty hours is too much time to create an app this simple but remember it was, in part, a learning experience for me. I actually became comfortable with the new Object Navigation Window. For the first time in years, I used wizards to create forms. I even proudly created macros where I would have previously written VBA code. Moreover, I did it all without any either help, from the help system, online resources or published books, which didn't exist at the time.

I couldn't get the table macros (triggers) to work but I found that the new field data type of Calculated Field served me just fine for what I needed. Sure, it breaks the rules of normalization but made it possible for me to quickly add a column to extend [Rate] times [Hours] on my invoice detail table.

The most frustrating thing was the way controls on a form or report behave in design mode. I'd try resizing one control only to see all controls above and below size with it. Right clicking a control revealed some new options, like Merge/Split and Select Entire Row. It's clear that somehow I'd created a table layout that was regulating my control placement. I'd say the greatest portion of the 30 hours I spent on this application was spent resizing and rearranging controls in a layout. At that point, I decided I needed help understanding this new paradigm.

Where To Find Help

Yesterday, I received a box full of books from Wiley Publishing that are destined for the give-away table at the Denver Area Access Users Group However, before handing them over as door prizes, I decided to give them the once-over for myself. Below are the new releases for Access 2010 that I considered. A full description of each is available at the Wiley web site and a link to each book's page is included.

Teach Yourself VISUALLY Access 2010
Faithe Wempen
ISBN: 978-0-470-57765-3
Teach Yourself VISUALLY Access 2010

Access 2010 For Dummies
Laurie Ulrich Fuller, Ken Cook
ISBN: 978-0-470-49747-0
Access 2010 For Dummies

Access 2010 All-in-One For Dummies
Alison Barrows, Margaret Levine Young, Joseph C. Stockman
ISBN: 978-0-470-53218-8
Access 2010 All-in-One For Dummies

Microsoft Access 2010 Bible
Michael R. Groh
ISBN: 978-0-470-47534-8
Microsoft Access 2010 Bible

I started with the simplest book first, Teach Yourself VISUALLY Access 2010, which lists for $29.99 and has about 325 pages. I literally whipped through this book in half an hour and found practically nothing I didn't already know. I did learn a few new shortcuts and found some toolbar features I previously hadn't noticed, but it's not a book that seasoned developers would want or need to read. That having been said, it is probably the best book I've ever seen for users who are new to Access in general.

The term visually really describes the approach. There are more pictures than words and you can see this for yourself in the sample chapter that Wiley publishes online: Learn Visually --Sample Chapter #1

I like the visual approach, especially for someone who is not only new to Access but perhaps a little frightened of it as well. The colors, illustrations, pointer arrows and simple explanations add to the fun of learning Access 2010. I would highly recommend this book as an entry point to Access 2010 for the uninitiated.

Next, I read through the two Dummies series books. It was a little difficult to shift back to reading after having enjoyed the visual experience but the Dummies series bring their own flavor of fun to learning Access 2010. The Access 2010 For Dummies ($24.99) is around 400 pages and Access 2010 All-In-One For Dummies ($39.99) is closer to 700 pages.

As one would expect, both of these books assume the reader comes to Access with little experience. They go into considerable detail and build understanding gradually, in a way that likely won't frustrate the reader. The All-In-One book includes a nice section on VBA and error handling as well as slightly more verbose explanations, thus the extra pages.

I liked these "Dummies" books and they'll make great door-prizes, but as with the Teach Yourself Visually book, they are directed at people new to Access. Conversely, the last book in the list was written by the well-known author and consultant, Michael Groh and is hands down the best of this bunch for advanced Access developers. It's the updated Microsoft Access 2010 Bible and its 1266 pages will set you back $49.99, the most expensive of the bunch, but the most worth it.

If you've read the Access Bible for previous versions, you'll see the similarity. There's a lot packed in here, including how to design a "bulletproof" database and a "bulletproof" application. There's a generous section on debugging and 25 pages devoted to table macros. There are even chapters on using the Windows API and Object-Oriented Programming with VBA for the hard-core programmers.

The Microsoft Access 2010 Bible is no lightweight volume and Michael Groh is a rock star of Access. The single most valuable part of the book for me was chapter 29: Customizing Access Ribbons. As a developer new to the 2007/2010 paradigm, this was the most frightening and dreaded part of moving to the new version but Mike demystifies the Ribbon and shows how one can program to it. Indeed, this is one of the most comprehensive Access volumes you'll find.

Up To Speed Yet?

No, I'm not completely up to speed yet. Lately I've been distracted trying to learn new technologies like Silverlight 4.0 and MVC 2. I also want to use SQL Azure and jump into cloud computing with both feet. Maybe I'll never be weaned from Microsoft Access but most likely I'll move to Access 2010 as soon as possible but I see development efforts moving away from Access 2010 and toward Visual Studio 2010.

In future articles, I'll explore how Access developers can make this move to newer technologies and how skills learned building applications with Microsoft Access can be leveraged to build MVC and Silverlight applications.

» See All Articles by Columnist Danny Lesandrini

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