Microsoft Access 2007

GCN Lab review: The options are endless ' and the learning curve is, too ' but with Access, you get more bang for the buck than with any other program of its kind

GCN

Access has a reputation for being, well, inaccessible. But with the 2007 version, this seems true only if you're working on an advanced schema or using advanced features.

One of the best ways to get started with the program quickly is to use one of the included database templates. There are dozens to choose from, particularly if you tap into the repository available online from Microsoft.com.

[IMGCAP(1)]Another common complaint about earlier versions of Access was its lack of templates for common database applications.

The new version provides 10 solid templates that you can easily download and start using immediately. They range from an asset database that lets you track resources to templates for faculty, students and marketing-related projects. All are ready to use with little setup or can be modified and re-created to meet your needs.

The appearance of Access 2007 ' and Microsoft Word and Outlook ' is created by an interface technology called ribbon, which improves the user experience by removing much of the clutter. Focusing on a project is a lot easier when you spend less time looking for common tools and features.

Despite Access' similarities to Word and Outlook, stronger commonality exists between Access and Excel. You can place data in an Access cell just as if it were an Excel field and format it later after entering all the data. Columns can be added to a table, just as in Excel, taking seconds to populate your project. Then you can edit the columns without having to switch to the Design view.

A data transfer capability also lets you paste an Excel spreadsheet table into an Access table for easy data transfer. The ability to play well with Excel and a new feature called Automatic Data Type Detection has made schema and table creation easy.

Another neat Access feature is the ability to attach external documents and files to individual records in the data store, which lets you incorporate even more information in your applications.

Access 2007 can save frequently used import and export operations for quick reuse. And a new Navigation Pane provides easy access to all object types, including tables, forms and reports, making Access 2007 one of the most powerful databases in the roundup.

A new tabbed document window displays all open objects in the same window for easier navigation. Just as in Word, you can modify a form layout while viewing the results of your changes in real time.

An obvious advantage Access has over its competitors is its connectivity to data in other Microsoft products.

You can connect to Excel tables, Open Database Connectivity connectors, SQL Server and SharePoint Services sites and use them as live data sources.

One of Access 2007's new functions is the native ability to connect to and export an Access database to a SQL Server database. Exporting to PDF is also a new feature, although you need to install a plug-in, a mistake that burns time for the user because it is important to have this capability as a default.

Despite all the interface changes that make it easier to use, the general audience for Access is still advanced users such as developers. This remains a difficult, albeit powerful, application. Compared with the other products in this roundup, it is one of the hardest to master.

Despite those issues and a hefty price tag of $229, this suite is worth the pain because of its improved and new features, such as the improved instant text search along with title and graphics support that lets you place titles and graphics directly into the report layout and see your changes quickly.

This is especially true if you use a lot of the other Office suites. For example, I live in Excel Pivot Tables, which is a way in Excel to highlight an entire set of data and run an analysis and query on the material.

Access 2007 has PivotTable capabilities that create dynamic views and chart support to help you analyze across data collections.

Also, the new integration with Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 helps you use e-mail to collect or update data in an Access table.

The options are endless ' and the learning curve is, too. But with Access, you get more bang for the buck than with any other program of its kind. This merits a Reviewer's Choice for personal database software.

Microsoft, (800) 642-7676, www.microsoft.com

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