What Types of Things Can I Do with Microsoft Access?
Access offers a variety of features for different database needs. You can use it to develop five general types of applications:
- Personal applications
- Small-business applications
- Departmental applications
- Corporation-wide applications
- Front-end applications for enterprisewide client/server databases
- Web applications
- Access as a development platform for personal applications
At a basic level, you can use Access to develop simple, personal database-management systems. Some people automate everything from their wine collections to their home finances. The one thing to be careful of is that Access is deceptively easy to use. Its wonderful built-in wizards make Access look like a product that anyone can use. After answering a series of questions, you have finished application switchboards that enable you to easily navigate around your application, data-entry screens, reports, and the underlying tables that support them. Actually, when Microsoft first released Access, many people asked whether the author was concerned that her business as a computer programmer and trainer would diminish because Access seemed to let absolutely anyone write a database application. Although it’s true that you can produce the simplest of Access applications without any thought for design and without any customization, most applications require at least some design and customization.
If you’re an end user and don’t want to spend too much time learning the intricacies of Access, you’ll be satisfied with Access as long as you’re happy with a wizard-generated personal application. After reading this text, you can make some modifications to what the wizards have generated, and no problems should occur. It’s when you want to substantially customize a personal application without the proper knowledge base that problems can happen.
Access as a Development Platform for Small-Business Applications
Access is an excellent platform for developing an application that can run a small business. Its wizards let you quickly and easily build the application’s foundation. The ability to create macros and to build code modules allows power users and developers to create code libraries of reusable functions, and the ability to add code behind forms and reports allows them to create powerful custom forms and reports.
The main limitation of using Access for developing a custom small-business application is the time and money involved in the development process. Many people use Access wizards to begin the development process but find they need to customize their applications in ways they can’t accomplish on their own. Small-business owners often experience this problem on an even greater scale than personal users. The demands of a small-business application are usually much higher than those of a personal application. Many doctors, attorneys, and other professionals have called the author after they reached a dead end in the development process. They’re always dismayed at how much money it will cost to make their application usable. An example is a doctor who built a series of forms and reports to automate her office. All went well until it came time to produce patient billings, enter payments, and produce receivable reports. Although at first glance these processes seem simple, on further examination the doctor realized that the wizard-produced reports and forms did not provide the sophistication necessary for her billing process. Unfortunately, the doctor did not have the time or programming skills to add the necessary features. So, in using Access as a tool to develop small-business applications, you must be realistic about the time and money involved in developing anything but the simplest of applications.
Access as a Development Platform for Departmental Applications
Access is perfect for developing applications for departments in large corporations. Most departments in large corporations have the development budgets to produce well-designed applications.
Fortunately, most departments also usually have a PC guru who is more than happy to help design forms and reports. This gives the department a sense of ownership because it has contributed to the development of its application. If complex form, report design, or coding is necessary, large corporations usually have on-site resources available that can provide the necessary assistance. If the support is not available within the corporation, most corporations are willing to outsource to obtain the necessary expertise.
Access as a Development Platform for Corporation-Wide Applications
Although Access might be best suited for departmental applications, you can also use it to produce applications that you distribute throughout an organization. How successful this endeavor is depends on the corporation. There’s a limit to the number of users who can concurrently share an Access application while maintaining acceptable performance, and there’s also a limit to the number of records that each table can contain without a significant performance drop. These numbers vary depending on factors such as the following:
- How much traffic already exists on the network.
- How much RAM and how many processors the server has.
- How the server is already being used. For example, are applications such as Microsoft Office being loaded from the server or from local workstations?
- What types of tasks the users of the application are performing. For example, are they querying, entering data, running reports, and so on?
- Where Access and Access applications are run from (the server or the workstation).
- What network operating system is in place.
The author’s general rule of thumb for an Access application that’s not client/server-based is that poor performance generally results with more than 10 to 15 concurrent users and more than 100,000 records. Remember that these numbers vary immensely depending on the factors mentioned and on what you and the other users of the application define as acceptable performance. If you go beyond these limits, you should consider using Access as a front end to a client/server database such as Microsoft SQL Server—that is, you can use Access to create forms and reports while storing tables and possibly queries on the database server.
Access as a Front End for Enterprisewide Client/Server Applications
A client/server database, such as Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle, processes queries on the server machine and returns results to the workstation. The server software can’t display data to the user, so this is where Access comes to the rescue. Acting as a front end, Access can display the data retrieved from the database server in reports, datasheets, or forms. If the user updates the data in an Access form, the workstation sends the update to the back-end database. You can accomplish this process either by linking to these external databases so that they appear to both you and the user as Access tables or by using techniques to access client/server data directly.
Access as a Tool to Develop Web Applications
Introduced with Access 2010 was the ability for you to use Access to build web applications, which are applications that can run in a browser. Access’s web capabilities have been greatly enhanced in Access 2013. Chapter 20, “Working with Web Databases,” cover the intricacies of designing and building a web database.