Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shopping For Shades

The future (of Access) is so bright I'm going to need them.

Although the Access Web App (AWA) has lost a bit of its luster, there are new contenders on the rise. Specifically, Power BI and Power Apps. Or should that be PowerBI and PowerApps. I guess that little detail will be clarified as we move along.

First up, Power BI. I had known about it for a while, but I got a real solid introduction at the recently completed Seattle Give Camp 2016. If there is Give Camp weekend in a city near you, I'd recommend you get involved. It's a great chance to give back to the community by helping a local non-profit with a software solution. But for me, an even bigger boost is rubbing shoulders with the young, smart, diverse volunteers who show up and put forth an incredible effort.

Harit Kalathia, one of those young, smart developers provided a Power BI dashboard for our non-profit's Access database. His Power BI dashboard shows all of their Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) on a highly visual, interactive layout. It really opened my eyes as to what can be done with Power BI, but even more than that, how to make it happen. I was hooked.

Sign up for a free Power BI account and go for it yourself.

Being an old-timey Access guy, it took a bit to get used to the new environment, but I found it reasonably easy to figure out, especially since I had Harit's dashboard as a template to guide me. I soon had a two-page multiple graphic dashboard for one of my own Access Web Apps. That's right. I was able to connect directly to the SQL Azure database behind my Diabetes Tracker AWA and pull the data from it into a series of graphics and tables that summarize nicely the important metrics I track: Fasting Blood Glucose, Blood Pressure and Weight.

You may be amused to note that I track Blood Pressure with both feet flat on the floor and with my legs crossed. I discovered that there can be as much as 10 points difference between the two. Most medical practitioners measure your Blood Pressure with your feet flat. I assume they consider that the more accurate way to measure it. It's part of my obsession with data that I track both, I guess.

More than that, Power BI let me publish the result to a URL that I sent to my Primary Care Physician. He was able to launch the Power BI in his own browser and see up-to-the minute metrics that he normally measures every three months in his office.

Did I mention? I am hooked on Power BI.

PowerApps are the other new entrant into the arena of web-enabled tools coming online. It's a newer, less mature technology, and there's a long way to go before I will be ready to call them a reasonable alternative to anything currently possible with Access or Access Web Apps. However, they do solve one big problem with AWAs: the lack of a decent smart device presentation. I've long been a fan of AWAs. As you might know, I helped write a book on the subject. However, the presentation of any AWA on a smart phone is inadequate for all but the most simplistic of functions. PowerApps are designed out of the box to do that.

I won't try to promote them until I see enough progress to make that a reasonable thing to do. In the meantime, I urge you to become informed, try them out if possible, and prepare for the future.

And, as ZZ Top would agree, get yourself a decent pair of Cheap Sunglasses.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Field By Any Other Name is Just As Good

It's clear that Microsoft has truly renewed their commitment to our lovable little friend, MS Access. They have launched a series of Tutorials aimed at introducing MS Access to a generation that has little or no idea what Access is and how it works.


The initial tutorial, however, set off a small controversy among some of my peers; some of us felt it was a bit lax in modeling good design practices. After a brief discussion, though, it became clear that the overall goal is more important than some minor points--points that can be debated anyway.

If it brings more developers to the table, and if they taste the flavor of our lovable little friend's power, and go on to adopt it as a tool in their own toolkits, that can only be seen as a Good Thing.

So, despite my initial misgivings, I am sharing the link here. I hope you do as well. The more the merrier.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Proof of Life

The A-Team (i.e. the Access development team) at Microsoft have done something unprecedented, I believe.

They've started putting their plans for MS Access on the Office 365 Roadmap. You can read more about it all on Anders Ebro's Blog here: Smiley Coder's Review of the Office 365 Roadmap for ACCESS.

You can find the Roadmap itself here: Roadmap for Future Access Enhancements

Note that the two items mentioned here have been the subject of considerable discussion among the Microsoft Access MVP Group for a long time, and the fact that The A-Team is moving ahead on them sends a powerful message to the many fans of our lovable little database tool.

The inclusion of the BigInt data type increases the compatibility between Access and modern versions of SQL Server. That's a good thing from any perspective.
Restoring the ability to link Access to .dbf format files addresses a HUGE pain point for a couple of industries. Most of us probably shrugged our shoulders when it was deprecated in Access 2013, but to those people who NEED this ability, it was a deal-breaker.

I couldn't be more delighted to see a public announcement... Well, at least not in the arena of software development.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It's Alive!

With a grateful nod towards the late, great Gene Wilder in his classic role in Young Frankenstein, I have the pleasure of noting the stirrings of life in our favorite little database tool, Microsoft Access.

What I hope and expect will be the first release in a trickle--dare we hope a stream or even a wave--is now available.