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Dan Moorehead | PowerAccess
Contributor

Access & Office Development Roadmap & Suggestions

In addition to summing up recent Access updates & resources (including those from Access), I've compiled some suggestions & questions for the Access & Office Dev Platform teams (ranging from PowerApps & Common Data Service integration to VSTO Add-in dev, VBA & VBE) here. I've also recapped the recent Microsoft reorg changes along with thoughts on potential implications for Access & Office.


Also, if at all possible, any glimpse the Microsoft Access and Office Developer Platform (VBA, VBE IDE, Office.js, VSTO) teams could provide us with into what they are considering (even if not confirmed yet) as possible future enhancements, fixes and data connectors for Access and improvements for Access developers (automation/macros/add-in development) for Access 2019 / Office 2019 (expected Q2 2018) onward would be greatly appreciated.

 

Promising Trend of Access Updates vs. Cloud-first Focus & Dropped Web Support

Considering, on one hand, the number of promising recent Access updates (summarized below, per Access Day) and, on the other, the deprecation of Access Web Apps (AWA & Access Services for Microsoft-hosted SharePoint Online going read-only by April 2 '18) and Microsoft's recent Cloud-first focus (PowerApps, Common Data Service, Azure) and Cloud vs. UX reorg. shakeup.


Microsoft Reorganization (Cloud vs UX Shakeup) Implications

Also, I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on possible implications of the just-announced Microsoft "Cloud vs. UX" reorgization on Access, Office development and Microsoft Office / Office 365 in general. Specifically, as I will detail in my next post, Microsoft has combined their 4 groups into just two groups, essentially splitting by Cloud vs. non-Cloud - a "Cloud & AI" group, including Azure, PowerApps, Power BI, Dev Tools/APIs, among other things vs. a "Devices & User Experience" group, including Office, Windows, Surface & Mobile.


Recent Access Features & Updates

I'd like to start off by recapping all the recent advancements we've seen with Microsoft Access, at Access Day and beyond.  Considering all the features removed from Access in recent years and toying with removal of Access from most Office editions, it's really great to see that Microsoft ended up (after the user backlash) adding Access to almost all Office & Office 365 editions instead!

 

More than that, its really incredible to see all the new Access updates, such as new Data Connectors (Microsoft Dynamics & Salesforce), Large Number (BigInt) support, an upcoming bringing back dBase support, Access Templates on Office.com (experimentally) and 32-bit SSMA release (with the SQL Server Migration Assistant for Access previously only usable with uncommon 64-bit Office installs).

 

Also, I'm glad to see the Access Accessibility Updates (Screen reader, F6 navigation, high contrast, etc.), which even as I understand, helped lead to Microsoft receiving the USBLN Accessible product design award for tech enabling the over 1 Billion across the world with disabilities. Congrats to the Access, Office and Accessibility teams on that achievement!

 

Access Team's Support & Updates

I also very much appreciate the new content and support from the Access team. For those not familiar with all of it, that includes new resources under and Access Help Center with Docs and Video Tutorials, as well as Access Templates on Office.com and the attention the Access dev team is providing to Feedback & Suggestions on User Voice pages for Access and User Voice for Office Developer Platform (VBA, VBE, Add-in Dev), as well as all the activity in the the new Access blog and Access forums here.


Upcoming Features for Access and Access Day Revelations

I was exciting hearing about the upcoming support for New Chart types and R2 update of Access Redistributable 2016, all covered at Access Day 2018 by Access Program Manager @Michal Bar, as seen in her Access Day presentation video (thanks to @Armen Stein and his post on the new charts).

 

Access Dropped from Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) for .NET Add-in Development

However, there are a few things long-missing or rarely updated which I would love to see to simplify life for Access developers and enable better integration with or taking advantage of the latest, Cloud-focused Microsoft product and developer tool/API advancements.

 

For example, I, and many others as seen in this LinkedIn discussion, would really like to see at least Access supported with VSTO for add-in development again, as well as modernizing development tools/APIs for macros/automation.

 

Specifically, it would be great if at some point in the future we could see updates to the  VBE / VBA IDE (eg. adding tabbed documents, both forward/backward edit navigation, etc. as missing most VS updates since forked from VS around VB6), updates to VBA language (which hasn't seen much in the way of updates since VB6 it was based on), Visual Studio use for VBA (for macro coding, debugging & edit-and-continue), Microsoft Flow automation (eg. using On-premises Data Gateway or VPN connection or OneDrive), Office.js API, and/or VB.NET / C# / .NET for macro coding.

 

VBE (VBA IDE) Issues

There are also long-standing issues with VBE (VBA IDE) like it being unable to handle multiple monitors with different resolutions without ghosting when resizing tool panels. And missing modern text editor features (let alone modern Visual Studio features) like Tabbed Documents, Forward & Backwards edit navigation/history, etc. We ended up seeing and dealing with this for example (in addition to encountering it all the time myself) even during the presentations at Access Day.

 

Automation (Macro & Add-in Development) API Limitations

For Add-in developers and VBA Macro/Automation developers, Access could really benefit IMO from adding events, like for OnAppExit, OnSave globally and for each object/window, access to multiple objects selected in Navigation Sidebar, defining hotkeys via code (vs AutoKeys),  extend the Nav sidebar context menu - to name a few.

I will likely post a compiled list of suggestions later on regarding Access and VBA/VBE Automation APIs.

 

Documentation & Samples Missing

However, developer docs and content is completely missing for Access from samples on Office Developer site and training videos at the Office Dev Center for Access, and Official Office Roadmap (which only has 3 entries for Access: Salesforce + BigInt as completed, and Dynamics 365 connector shown as still WIP/Still Rolling Out) as well as Office Add-in Development docs, Visual Studio Office Development docs and project templates in Visual Studio.

 

Content missing from those last three places is likely due to Access being dropped entirely from VSTO for some reason, but even then there are other ways (eg. COM APIs, 3rd party wrappers, etc.) that could at least be mentioned there, or even include older VSTO docs.  People are developing add-ins with Access, regardless of it being dropped from VSTO, but there is no documentation on how to do that.

 

Making the Access Templates Experiment Permanent

Also, Access Templates should definitely be kept permanently and shown to everyone all the time.  As Michal had pointed out, Access Templates end up being shown randomly (for A/B testing) just for some users on the Office Templates site. However, after refreshing 2 dozen times, trying with a dozen Incognito sessions across several dozen sessions it took dozens of attempts to finally see it, so I'm not sure it's shown as often may be though.

 

Cloud Data Connectors (Common Data Service and Graph) like Excel & other Office Apps

Similarly, I would love to see Common Data Service and Microsoft Graph support (and maybe direct access to Power BI-embedded data) in Microsoft Access.  As Juan Soto had pointed out, Excel and other Office and MS apps provide Common Data Service support, with just Microsoft Access as the one missing out.

 
Access Web App "Replacement" PowerApps Supports Everything Except Access

For other improvements beyond Access/Excel/Office Macros and Developer Tools/API, I'd really think it valuable for PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, and Power BI Online (beyond just Desktop version, for Service / Premium / Report Server / Mobile / Gateway, and without import Desktop to Service hack) to provide direct support for Access databases.

 

On-premises Data Gateway: Possibility for Using Access from PowerApps & Power BI for Web & Mobile

It's frustrating not even being able to setup the On-premises Data Gateway (installed on local PC for "File System" access, shared by PowerApps and Power BI) to support Access databases in PowerApps - just Excel workbooks.

 

Concerns Regarding Microsoft Priorities for Azure & PowerApps vs. Access

However, considering how even Access Services (for SharePoint-Access integration via Access Web Apps (AWA) as well as earlier Access Web Databases) being deprecated and going read-only (April 1, 2018), I wonder how likely that might be that we get further Cloud/Web/Mobile features. Considering this and how Microsoft attempted to even remove Access from most Office editions recently, as well as their Cloud-first focus, it's a bit concerning. It seems like with Access being included in Office there is a lot less revenue to be made from it compared to billing monthly (and by usage) with PowerApps, Power BI, Azure, etc. 

 

I can understand Microsoft's business priorities there, but, considering Access is often used for prototyping databases for SQL Server and Azure SQL, as well as quick, end-user-editable front-ends for them, I think it would make more sense IMO to expand Access' integration with Azure and Cloud Services versus trying to drop it from Office editions and replace with PowerApps which can't even connect to Access (pushing use of Excel spreadsheets for data storage and queries instead, for file system connectors).

 
There is little-to-no support for even connecting to Access Databases from PowerApps and Power BI and even OneDrive/Dropbox deployment not being feasible (unlike Excel, now with its real-time multi-user collaborative desktop editing enabled when deployed that way, let alone Excel Online deployment).

 

Remaining Deployment Options: VPN File Shares & Remote Access (RDP, RemoteApps, Citrix)

Considering this, the we are limited for multi-user deployment to Network Shares over VPN (not feasible if want clients or customers to be able to use, or access from home for many) and Remote Desktop (RDP - though RemoteApp is a pretty good option), or Citrix & other RDP-like options (now that Azure RemoteApp hosting is deprecated).

 

Questions for Access & Office Dev Platform Teams

To sum up, my primary questions (and suggestions) for the Access development team are the following:

 

  1. Is there any chance we may see Microsoft Access integration with PowerApps, Common Data Service, Azure, Microsoft Graph, Power BI Online, SharePoint, Office Online,  On-premises Data Gateway, OneDrive, Dropbox and/or Microsoft Flow?
  2. Any other possibilities to simplify Web, Mobile, Cloud Drive (eg. making OneDrive feasible to use, like with Excel for multi-users), or otherwise simplifying Multi-User use and deployment for Microsoft Access?
  3. Is there any chance we could get Access added back to Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) for officially supported and documented (complete with Visual Studio project templates) for .NET Add-in development for Access, like with Excel and other office apps?
  4. Any possibility of updates to VBA, VBE IDE, or support for Visual Studio for VBA or C#/VB.NET for macro coding, or JavaScript (eg. Office.js), or even Microsoft Flow (eg. via Gateway, VPN, or OneDrive) for automation?
2 Replies
Solution

It was recently reported that Microsoft was reorganizing into just two major "uber-groups".  I wonder what the implications may be for Access, Office 365/2019 and Office Development Platform (VBA, VBE), and Access integration/data connectors with other products from the other group.

 

If I understand this major Microsoft reorg correctly, Microsoft is now split into 2 (vs 4) major divisions, which are:

 

  • Devices & User Experience
    • Combining groups for:
      • Windows & Devices
      • Microsoft Office
    • Including:
      • Office 365, Office Online
      • Access, Excel, VBA, VBE
      • SharePoint, OneDrive, Skype, Exchange
      • Surface, Windows OS
    • Led by Rajesh Jha (Office EVP)

  • Cloud & AI
    • Combining groups for:
      • Cloud & Enterprise
      • AI & Research
    • Including "Business Applications, Platform & Intelligence" (BAPI)
      • Azure, Power BI, PowerApps, Common Data Service (CDS), MS Flow, Dynamics, SSRS, SSAS
      • Led by CVP James Phillips
    • And including:
      • Visual Studio, .NET, SQL Server, Dynamics, MS Graph
    • Led by Scott Guthrie (Cloud & Enterprise EVP)


It seems interesting that Office is being lumped together with Hardware & OS, despite the recent focus in Office on Office 365 and Office Online.

I wonder what the implications may be for Microsoft Access, Excel, Office & VBA, especially with the following products/technologies split across different Microsoft divisions:

 

  • Office Online/365, OneDrive, SharePoint & Exchange (in Devices)
    • vs. Azure & Dynamics (in Cloud)

  • VBA & VBE (Visual Studio fork) (in Devices)
    • vs. Visual Studio, .NET, VB, MS Flow

  • Access & Excel (Online) and (presumably) Power Query & Power Pivot (in Devices)
    • vs. PowerApps, SQL Server, Azure SQL, Common Data Service, Power BI


As @Klaus Oberdalhoff had alluded to, this reorg might already have had some impact on us finally getting a 32-bit version of SQL Server Migration Assistant (SSMA) for Access (as reported by @Juan Soto). This is something that's been long requested, with a 32-bit version being far more commonly needed than the 64-bit version (as it has to match the version of Office installed, and 32-bit Microsoft Office is recommended during install even on 64-bit Windows, in order to ensure add-in compatibility).

 

Considering that the Office EVP was promoted to leading the combined Devices & User Experience group (vs. Surface, Mobile, Windows leadership), and the many recent Access advancements (from SSMA and charts to Accessibility, Big Int, Templates, New charts and inclusion in most Office editions) now, despite Microsoft's recent cloud focus, around the time of this reorg, maybe - despite combining with Hardware & OS, separate from the division with Visual Studio / PowerApps / Dev Tools / Azure - this reorg could be good news for Access database developers?

 

Anyone have thoughts or speculation on the potential impact of this reorg on Access and Office?

 

Highlighted

@Dan Moorehead | PowerAccess

 

This explains why we have not seen anymore feedback from the Access Team in Access UserVoice since March, 2018.  Microsoft is making a big mistake in assuming that everyone is going to migrate to "Everything in the cloud" and pay subscriptions. Several non-MS alternatives are available.

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