Product Review: Access 2000 makes its move to the Web

Whether you're creating a simple database for managing contacts and customers or building a full-scale relational data system, Microsoft's Access 2000 provides an easy way for users at all levels to find, manage, and share critical business data. This mature version has finally become the corporate solution that Microsoft has been trying to provide since the early 1990s.

Access 2000, which was traditionally a stand-alone application for individual or group databases, now offers an intuitive interface that also acts as a front-end client to more muscular enterprise back-end databases, notably Microsoft's SQL Server. Access 2000 also offers a choice between two available data engines: an improved version of the existing engine called Jet (preinstalled by default), or the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE), which is compatible with SQL Server 7.0.

In order to boost Access' performance of common administration tasks in SQL Server -- such as replication, backup and restore, and security operations -- Microsoft has re-evaluated standard data types for enhanced compatibility. Along with the rest of Office 2000, Access has placed a strong emphasis on Web-enabled features for sharing information. New Data Access pages allow you to extend database applications to your corporate intranet as HTML pages. Similar in function to the classic Reports and Forms, Data Access Pages are data-bound (maintaining a live link to your data) HTML pages that allow you to view, edit, and report your data from within a browser. Because they are stored as independent HTML files -- separate from .MDB database files -- you can send them via e-mail or publish them on the Web. You can also combine Data Access Pages into groups that provide the capability to view related data sets from one HTML page interface. Using the Access Page designer, Access can either create these pages or edit existing HTML files, and even add data-bound fields to it directly. Access also supports Visual Basic Edition and JavaScript.

The simplified Database Window, resembling the left-pane navigation bar found in Outlook, has greatly improved usability and is more consistent with the Office 2000 interface metaphor. New sections have been added to make it easier to locate features, such as Data Access Pages and Database Diagrams.

Many popular Access wizards have been updated to support new Project Tasks, such as creating a new database, report, or form. Using the report wizard, I was able to quickly generate, preview, and print a variety of reports. A nifty Access report snapshot can be distributed via disk, printer, Web, or e-mail, so recipients do not need Access to view.

Access 2000's import and export wizards work well with most common file formats, from Excel to ODBC data sources. But I encountered a significant data-compromising caveat when exporting to dBase. Some dBase table numeric fields were unfortunately truncated from six to five decimal places.

Aside from this glitch, Access 2000 represents a significant step forward, earning a solid place as a business-critical database with a simple interface that has the power to interact with robust back-end databases.

(Geoffrey Hollander (mpouch@teleport.com) owns and operates a direct-marketing database business in Lake Oswego, Oregon.)The bottom line: very goodAccess 2000Summary: This Windows database -- suitable for individual, workgroup, or corporate use -- has added a truly intuitive interface, wizards for all basic database functions, Web-enabled features, and front-end connectivity to heavy-duty enterprise databases (such as SQL Server). These enhancements make it ideal for corporate use, especially in small to midsize businesses.

Business Case: Businesses that maintain databases of contacts, customers, or prospects will find Access 2000 a practical, easy-to-use, and reasonably priced solution that adds the ability to dynamically share information as well as publish and retrieve data via e-mail, an intranet, or across the Web -- with minimal training.

Pros

+ Features instantly available via excellent new interface+ A seamless front end to SQL Server+ Reports, forms, and queries simplified by new wizards+ Dynamically publishes data-bound HTML files and Web pages via Data Access PagesCons- Slow operations, especially large tables- Glitch connecting to Access data via pivot table connection to Excel- Numeric data can be compromised during export to dBase format- Lacks some power featuresCost: As part of Office 2000 Suite: Professional Edition: $US599; Version Upgrade, $309; Competitive Upgrade, $349. Premium Edition: $799; Version Upgrade, $399; Competitive Upgrade, $449. Developer Edition: $999; Version Upgrade, $609; Competitive Upgrade, $649.

Platforms: Windows 95/98, Windows NT

Microsoft Corp, Redmond, Washington; +1 (206) 882-8080; www.microsoft.com

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