DATABASE SOFTWARE

GCN Lab Review Reviewer's Choice: Microsoft Access 2007

Pros: Versatility with the templates and compatibility with other Microsoft suites.
Cons: Difficult to master
Features: A+
Performance: A
Ease of Use: A-
Value: B
Price: $229

GCN Lab Reviewers Choice small logoAccess is no longer inaccessible — that is, unless you are working on a complex schema or using some of its advanced features. The key to Access 2007’s new accessibility is its robust and intuitive database templates. There are dozens to choose from, particularly if you tap into the repository of templates available online from Microsoft.com.

A common complaint about earlier versions of Access was its lack of templates for common database applications. Access 2007 provides 10 solid templates that you can easily download and start using immediately. The templates range from an asset database that lets you track resources to templates for faculty, students and marketing-related projects. These templates are ready to be used with little setup, but they also can be greatly modified and re-created to meet your needs.

Access 2007 uses a technology called ribbons to create its appearance. The ribbon interface is common to Word and Outlook and makes the user experience easier because it removes much of the clutter from the interface. Focusing on a project becomes more manageable because you spend less time looking for common tools and features.

Despite its similarities to Word and Outlook, Access shares its strongest common bond with Excel. You can enter data in an Access cell just as if it were an Excel field, then format it later after adding all the data. You also can add columns to a table, as in Excel, taking seconds to populate your project. And you can edit the same columns without switching to the Design view. In many ways, this combination makes you wonder if one day, the Microsoft Office suite will consist of only three main programs.

Another common element of Excel and Access is a data transfer capability that lets you paste an Excel spreadsheet table into a new Access table. The ability to play well with Excel, in addition to a new feature called Automatic Data Type Detection, makes schema and table creation easy. I also could run pivot tables and PivotChart views in Access, eliminating the need to export the data to Excel to run these functions.

Access was by far the easiest and most robust database in the review for uploading, expanding and analyzing my test data.

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

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

An advantage Access has over its competitors, the software can connect to data in other Microsoft products. You can connect Access 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. Forcing users to install the plug-in is a mistake that burns time because that capability is important to have as a default.

The new and improved features, such as title and graphics support, which lets you place titles and graphics directly in the report layout and see your changes quickly, and the improved instant text search make this suite well worth the price.

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. It merits a Reviewer’s Choice for personal database software.

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

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