This article was written by George Young, Access developer and .NET applications consultant
Access in a Cloud-First Mobile-First World
This month, we launch a regular series of posts on how Microsoft Access can survive, indeed thrive, in the brave new cloud and mobile world. We’ll start with this introductory post, giving some background and context. Subsequent posts will be looking at specific examples with steps to implement them.
The computing world has changed in the past decade. Since the heady days of Access 2007, Windows ruled the client computing world. But:
There are now more Android computing devices than Windows devices.
Enterprises themselves are demanding applications which can run in this heterogeneous computing world -- remote, mobile, on iOS or Android.
Microsoft itself has pivoted to a mobile and cloud strategy, under Satya Nadella:
Traditional Windows applications have now been released on Android, iOS, and the Mac.
Azure has gone from nothing to being a, if not the, primary growth driver for the company.
Windows 10 was free for the first year or so, and Windows itself has gone from being the focal point of the company to being split into two separate divisions.
Microsoft’s premier development tool, Visual Studio, now has a Mac version, and supports the development of Android and iOS applications. Microsoft has also released Visual Studio Code, which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.
The new strategy appears to have been very successful, as MSFT stock is up over 200% since Nadella became CEO (among other metrics, including employee morale). Microsoft, as of this writing, has overtaken Apple to become the most valuable company in the world (something most would have thought unthinkable a few years ago).
Meanwhile, unlike some other members of the Office family, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Access runs only on Windows. Only people running full Windows, a diminishing proportion of the general computing market, can run our applications.
You’ll recall that Access itself was removed from the Business (as opposed to Enterprise) editions of Office 365, but later returned because of strong customer demand. The latest attempt to “get Access on the web”, Access Web Apps, which launched with fanfare in Office 2013, was terminated less than five years later. Work on the Access client application has been happening recently, most notably with the reworking and expanding of data connections, and with modern charts.
So, Whither Access?
At first glance, things don’t look promising for our favorite database application and development environment. Looking deeper, though, there is great opportunity for Access in this cloud/mobile world. Let’s start at looking at what Access still does uniquely well:
Access is a great RAD database designer. The ease of setting up tables, indexes, relations, and queries are unparalleled. What made Access so popular at the start remains a core strength.
Access generates great rich-client data-driven applications. With the full richness of Win32 at its disposal, Access has powerful and performant application features like a rich set of form controls, validation, form and datasheet views, and so forth.
Access is a great RAD tool for reports and charts. The ease of development and power of Access reports remain a key strength of Access. Modern charts, introduced in Office 365 / 2019 adds to this.
Access integrates very well with Windows and Windows applications, notably other Office applications. Win32 APIs are available to Access, and integration with the full Office applications, such as sending email via Outlook, exporting to Excel, or generating a Word document, is excellent.
These are the key questions. Is it possible to hold on to these things that Access developers have loved for 25 years, and be relevant in the new cloud/mobile world? Is there any way that we can keep Access and yet be relevant on iPads or Macs, or even phones? Or does Access go the way of the dodo bird?
Well, it’s our belief that Access can do fantastically well in the cloud/mobile world. With a little effort, we can have our cake and eat it too.
One of Microsoft’s key points of strategy in Azure’s success is something called the Hybrid Cloud. Essentially, this means the best of Windows and the best of the cloud, working together. It’s not a stretch to say that Access is one of the best things in Windows. In the coming months, we’ll take a close look at how Access can make use of the best of the cloud.
We’ll be breaking this conversation up into three sections: data in the cloud, Access application in the cloud, and extending the application in the cloud:
Access using a cloud database for its backend (and all the corresponding benefits)
Access applications running in a cloud VM (and all the corresponding benefits)
Extending our applications’ feature set and reach (Power BI, ASP.NET web/mobile, and so on)
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!
About the author
George first encountered Microsoft Access when using the thirty-plus floppy disk versions of Office to teach Statistics and MIS in the early 1990’s. It’s been true love ever since. George has worked as a software developer for the past twenty-five years, half of that time at Microsoft (in just about every group other than Office). He is now an independent consultant (Dawson Butte Software) based in the Denver area, working primarily on .NET applications for public- and private-sector clients (often with Access somewhere in the mix), and actually still has a commercial site or two that is driven by an Access database sitting in the web server file system. George is the current President of the Denver Area Access Users Group (http://www.daaug.org/), and has spoken at a variety of conferences, including Access Day in California and Colorado, the 2018 Portland Database Designer International Conference, and the 2019 Microsoft Global Azure Bootcamp in Denver, as well as for a dozen or so user groups, both domestic and international.