Software development

Joys and Perils of Microsoft Access04 Oct

One of the greatest developments in office software suites has been the desktop database.  People have done some pretty complex things with relative ease using tools like Microsoft Access.  Now, online databases such as DabbleDB and ZohoDB are advancing the tool and allowing companies to collaborate outside their own borders using secure databases.

I have a love/hate relationship with MS Access.  Way back when, I spent a lot of time doing Microsoft Office development and Access was a favorite tool of mine.  I liked that I could easily hook up to the enterprise databases, pull the information I needed and integrate it with any other application I happened to build. 

But people who do Access development full time tend to get trapped into that box.  When the task becomes greater than the tool, they simply find ways to make it work.  And that leads to problems.

Nowadays I spend a lot of time supporting an Access database that has outgrown its skin.  I’m rebuilding the application with a SQL Server back end, and ASP.NET and Sharepoint on the front end.  But it’s a really slow process because there are so many business rules hard coded into the VBA.  Identifying the code that has to be there versus what was done inefficiently is a real chore.  And all the while I spend time helping users through crashes, data corruption, and reports that aren’t tying out.

So, here’s my advice of the day.  Use Access.  Or Dabble or Zoho.  They’re great tools and fill a need.  But when you need more than a couple users, have rigorous security requirements, need sophisticated data entry forms, or have complex reporting needs, it’s time for a different tool.  Don’t put this off.  Your application will only become more complex over time.  And you’ll end up spending a lot of time and money supporting the application instead of improving your business.

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