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Professional Access Developers

P: 104
This isn't a question but more of a discussion point for all of the serious Access Developers out there. I'm curious to hear what everyone thinks about the direction of the market for Access in general. I learned the program as well as VBA in order to develop applications for my own small businesses that I've either worked for or owned. On one hand I feel like that is the intention of Access. Seeing as how it is a part of Microsoft Office and it is very readily available it is a good stepping stone for people who are capable but are not computer science majors. On the other hand I see the value and capabilities of Access as a rapid development platform as something most people don't even know about. An Access front-end can be linked to many different back-end platforms with an ODBC. In my opinion I think it is underrated, but who am I to say? When I talk to IT pros about it they kind of shrug me off and say I should just learn SQL Server or something similar, but there are a lot of reasons why I don't want to bother with that. Probably the number one reason is the cost users have to pay to license that software annually. I learned a while back that the size limit for an Access database is give or take 100 Mb, and it can handle up to 10 concurrent users give or take. There are thousands if not millions of companies out there that would never even come close to reaching those limitations.
I recently finished my first application that I was contracted to build for a small manufacturing company. It was a huge learning experience for me to make something that had to work seamlessly for someone else. Most of my other applications were used by me or my colleagues so I didn't really care if I had to go into a table to edit data or if I threw an error and had to fix some code. After I finished this project I went back to an old accounting database I built for my construction company and cleaned it up to make it more user friendly. It basically works just like QuickBooks. After doing a little research I learned that you cannot offer an Access database as something that is commercially available. I'm just wondering what other developers think about this. I love doing this kind of work (albeit on the side) and I think I've made some applications that could be used by a lot of people.
Do I need to learn another programming language and build my applications on a completely different platform like .net?
Can I export my work into another platform or do I need to start from scratch?
Is there some other work around to this like getting a special license from Microsoft to sell an application?
I'm just not really sure what to do with all of these skills that I've developed. Developing in Access is so easy because there are so many tools at your disposal for creating forms and reports as well as integrating into other Office programs with VBA. Since I really don't have much experience with other programming languages, I don't even know if there are other similar platforms out there. Is there even an equivalent to Access for building basic databases from scratch?
Like I said this is meant to be a discussion point, not a question (even though I'm asking a lot of questions). I would like to keep progressing in this field and I want to know what other serious users out there are doing. It really has unlimited potential as it is, but since it's a Microsoft Office product it seems to have some inherent limitations if that makes any sense.
Apr 3 '19 #1
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5 Replies

Expert Mod 2.5K+
P: 3,283

One correction: Access file size is limited to 2GB (I've even tested it and it crashes with one byte more!). I know of no small business application that would come close to that, with a properly designed DB.

I use Access for the US Air Force, managing Officer Promotions for a major command. It automates countless tasks and manages our entire program. Access has made our office very efficient and nearly error free. I've also used our front end with more than 10 folks accessing at one time, but I've only seen any type of issues when two people are trying to modify the same record (which in our case is extremely rare).

Our problem is this: What happens when I retire? The MS Access skillset (as relatively easy as it is to develop) is a very "niche" skillset. Not many folks have the DB design skills I have developed over the years (and I consider myself "very advanced, but always learning"). I've also found that those who understand well the programs that the DB is designed to engage with make the best DB designers, because they have been in the trenches and know which wrenches ought to turn which screws.

I definitely think Access is the forgotten step-child of MS Office and, unfortunately, not taken very seriously by "professional" DBAs. I would argue that we are just as professional as they are, but have a leg up on them, because most of us have learned through the school of hard knocks. We don't just know the text-book answers for good database design, we've experienced the headaches of poor DB design, so can better explain the "whys and wherefores" of good DB design.

For many of my colleagues who are learning the ropes of the Personnel career field, I tell them, "If you want to be useful, learn Excel. If you want to be indispensable, learn Access!"

Great topic--I hope more folks jump in on this one.
Apr 3 '19 #2

P: 3
I'm not experienced with Access, but as a web developer who's seen the ugly side of cyber space, security is a major concern. Correct me if I'm wrong, but users need direct read/write permission to make changes in Access? Yikes. My advice is move it to Azure or look into PowerApps. Otherwise you're asking for trouble.

Additionally, Microsoft may pull the plug at some point. Sharepoint support was phased out and the market is mainly mobile now. Access can only be installed on Windows Desktop. That leaves Mac and mobile users out of the picture (that's a pretty big chunk of the MS Office market). Just something to consider.

Regarding special licensing agreements (or any kind of partnership outside of standard IT reseller licensing): I'm never one to say don't try, but MS is massive. I highly doubt they'd go for that. It's too high risk, too many resources, and too little benefit for their bottom line. Their subsidiaries don't even do it for enterprise clients. Found that out firsthand. Tech companies used to be more open, but the times are changing. Security is a major problem now. Companies are much more cautious these days. Frankly, it's appropriate (albeit frustrating).

I'm not all that familiar with the MS ecosystem (I mainly work with OSS) but I guarantee Azure and some of the more recent MS software is more secure, flexible, and well supported.

Everyone hates change - but that's tech. It's the nature of the beast. You can fight it all you want, but I speak from experience: there will come a day when you'll wish you hadn't. The further you dig in, the more it hurts. The only way to gain leverage is to write your own software, build your own hardware, and support it yourself.
Apr 4 '19 #3

P: 3
And who knows: you might really like SQL ;)
Apr 4 '19 #4

P: 3
Twinnyfo, I'm grateful for all you do, but please consider removing the name of your employer ;)
Apr 4 '19 #5

P: 104
I find it hard to believe that Microsoft would drop service for Access. From what I understand Access is widely used as a front-end for many different higher level database infrastructures. It is a very intuitive front-end rapid development tool. One of the things I'm wondering is what other front-end development tools are out there?
My take on Access's niche in the market is for small businesses that don't have an IT department and never will. In my own business experience in construction I see so many companies that use Excel as if it were a database. They type up quotes and invoices in Word or Excel, and they save them in a file on their hard drive. I even know companies that use Excel for their accounting. This manufacturing company I just built the application for had a monstrous set of Excel workbooks that were using VLookUps with formulas checking for conditions and communicating between 4 different files with about 20 worksheets each. It was seriously a disaster. I happen to know one of the engineers there and when he showed me their system I couldn't even believe it. I understood the formulas, but I still couldn't believe it actually worked. They didn't know any different. They manufacture wire and cable though; they're not in the tech world. They've been around for over 50 years and they gross about $10 million in sales a year. Maybe someone could have built them a SQL Server database, but then you have to worry about licensing and maintenance. Access was the perfect fit for them. They already had it on their computers because they have Office 365 (who doesn't?). I was even able to teach their engineer how to edit forms and reports for himself and it was easy because it's Microsoft Office. He's also learning how my code works and that's pretty easy to follow also because VBA is very intuitive.
As far as Macs and mobile users, I would argue that a company like theirs and so many other companies out there just don't need that. First of all Macs are a joke in my mind for any type of professional use unless you're an artist or musician (no offense to all you die hard Mac fans, but I don't think there are many in a forum like this). And mobile apps are in the cloud. That may be the only way for the future, but I think that's a long way off and a lot of people wouldn't really want that when you can just have the file on your computer at your office and you know it's there. Everyone uses desktop or laptop PC's, even if they have apps on their phone to help with certain things. Who really wants to type up an email, quote or invoice on a phone?
As far as security, that can be handled like any other file on your computer. Your network should have its own security. Plus there are ways to lock down your database. And at the end of the day, I would argue most small businesses aren't handling sensitive information that anyone would want to steal.
Access is just so simple and cheap. IT pros that bash Access just don't understand this, and people who aren't in the tech world just don't care as long as it works. If you know how to use Access well, you can produce amazing results. I've never had any issues with the program crashing or bogging down, so what's wrong with having an Access back-end?
Apr 4 '19 #6

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