MICROSOFT has posted a white paper about what to expect in the next version of Access. For the past two years, we here at Smart Access havebeen guessing about what you’d need to know next. It’s gratifying to see that those guesses have turned out to be right. You can find the full article at http:// msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/ en-us/dnacc11/html/odc_acov.asp (or just go to the msdn.microsoft.com site and do a search on “Access 11”).
We’ve done two articles on SharePoint Team Services in the past year, and it looks like we’ll be doing more in the future. Currently, you can use Access to display SharePoint data, as Nikander and Margriet Bruggeman showed you in their articles in the September and October 2002 issues. However, with Access 11 you’ll have many more options in how you work with SharePoint. For instance, you’ll be able to move Access data directly into a SharePoint list and vice versa. From an Access developer’s point of view, though, importing and exporting to some other format are, at best, second best to having data in a table. With Access 11, you’ll also be able to link to a list in SharePoint and have that list appear as a table in Access. With either tool, you’ll be able to use Access as a front end for SharePoint Team Services.
Of course, this is only interesting if you want to use SharePoint. To my mind, Microsoft has invested large amounts of technology and support into SharePoint but hasn’t done a good job of getting the SharePoint message out. Microsoft has also made considerable changes to SharePoint over the product’s life, which has confused developers. It’s unusual to find someone who really knows what SharePoint is or why it’s important to users or developers. Unless Microsoft can do a better job of telling people about SharePoint, Access’s integration with SharePoint is, well, irrelevant. Microsoft certainly believes in SharePoint but not a lot of other people share that belief.
Still, I remember when I first heard about Microsoft’s plan to create a competitor to dBase (a project called Cirrus). I couldn’t imagine how anyone could beat dBase. And I remember when Microsoft was going to come out with a competitor to the Palm operating system. At the time, I said that Microsoft couldn’t gain market share against an entrenched force like Palm. So, I’ve been batting zero. I’ve come to realize that, with a few exceptions (I’m thinking here of the operating system add-on “Bob”), Microsoft just keeps on coming. SharePoint Team Services may be the next beneficiary.XML integration also increases with Access 11. As I pointed out in my article on XML support in the current version of Access (back in August 2001), the interface to the XML wizards strongly suggested that the Access team intended to allow us to import and export multiple tables at a time. That comes true in Access 11 with the ability to export related tables in a single step. If the main purpose of XML is to move data between systems, then the ability to move all the tables that hold customer data is a lot more useful than the ability to move a single Customer table.
I’m a big fan of XML but it’s not a perfect tool. One of the limitations of XML is that you’re restricted to whatever format was designed by the XML document designer. As I also pointed out in my XML article, the XML format used by Access is... different. If you export your Access data into XML, import that XML data into Excel, and then export it from Excel, you’ll end up with a document that can no longer be imported into Access!
There is a solution. The XML technologies include XSLT (eXtensible Stylesheet Language-Transform), a programming language designed for converting XML documents from one XML format to other (even nonXML) formats. With Access 11, XSLT programs are much easier to use when exporting or importing XML. You may have to learn some XSLT, but you’ll be able to export your XML data directly into any format that you want.
The one major change that we haven’t discussed in Smart Access is Smart Tags (which is too bad, as there are probably lots of great puns we could make between Smart Access and Smart Tags). That’s because you couldn’t use Smart Tags with Access. With the next version of Access, the Smart Tags that have been available in other Office components like Word and Excel become available in Access. Like the menu and assistant objects, this is another tool that you’ll be able to use to expose functionality to your users. You can expect to interact with Smart Tags as an Access developer—the Access team is using Smart Tags to enable new error checking and correction features.
Notable by its absence is any suggestion of further improvements to Access Data Projects. If that’s true, it’s too bad. I certainly believe that developers are going to want to move to using Access Data Projects but, as we’ll be discussing in future articles, there are some important pieces missing from the ADP technology set.
Don’t go away—I’ll be discussing some other features in next month’s Editorial.