Monday, 23 April 2012

The Access Developer's Dilemma

A Brief History of Time Wasted

In late 1992, Microsoft released  Access 1.0, its first attempt at a desktop database application. for the Windows operating system. My initial excitement was soon tempered by massive disappointment: there was a lot to like, but Access was little more than a toy. In 1993, Microsoft released Version 1.1, primarily to make Access compatible with other Office offerings, but far more significantly, to introduce the ability to write code in Access Basic. This version was chock-filled with bugs, and I recall being torn between the tried-and-true Clipper language, even though it was DOS-bound, and what was clearly the path to the future, Windows. But after about a month of frustration, I tossed Access 1.1 into the junk pile.

Later that same year, Microsoft released Windows 3.1 and along with it, Office 4.3 Pro, a suite of applications including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access 2.0. Although not without problems, this version of Access made developers sit up and take notice. Back then, your average hard disk could store about 10 Megabytes of data – laughable by today’s standards, but back then it was a big deal, and even though this ruled out anything that might be considered a serious database, there was plenty of room for the power users who would eventually become paid consultants, writing custom database applications for small business. Back then, it was even possible to regard Microsoft as leading the way for developers – providing a database system easy enough for amateurs to try, and inevitably make mistakes, and paving the way for developers to come in and redesign their amateur efforts. Indeed, a market was born, and before long freelance programmers were trolling for contracts doing custom database development in Access.

In 1995, Microsoft released Windows 95, a huge leap forward: the move to a 32-bit operating system, and a complete revision of the graphical user interface (GUI). Beneath the pretty giftwrap lay something much more powerful and intriguing to developers: the introduction of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), a game-changer. Both Windows 95 and Office 95 had problems, certainly, and hindsight suggests that Microsoft had finally figured out how to make users pay for beta releases. In 1997, Microsoft released Windows 97 and Access 97. Both were unqualified successes.  With Access 97, it became possible to consider serious database development.  Indeed, “The Access Developers Handbook”, by the soon-to-be-legendary three amigos, Paul Litwin, Ken Getz and Mike Gunderloy, was a huge success, and led the way for many thousands of developers to do some serious programming in VBA.

On the operating system front, Microsoft released Windows 98, the truly lamentable Windows ME, and eventually the much more stable Windows 2000/NT. On the applications front, Microsoft released Office 2000, and with it, Access 2000. If Access 97 was considered a game-changer, the Access team outdid itself with Access 2000. Perhaps the most notable feature, from the viewpoint of professional/serious Access developers, was its integration with SQL Server 2000. Access introduced a new type of file, called Access Development Project (ADP), which provided transparent access to SQL Server databases. At the time, I was learning to program SQL databases, and was satisfied with Enterprise Manager, the GUI used to administer SQL Server databases. I remember with shock and awe how superior Access ADP was over Enterprise Manager. The ADP format gave developers full access to tables, views and stored procedures within SQL Server. 

Thus began my deep dive into the world of SQL databases, from a springboard I was already expert at, Microsoft Access. It was a marriage made in heaven. At the time, I was employed by a very specialized and highly successful travel agency, where the initial application I developed blossomed into a full-fledged enterprise application, used by over 70 employees simultaneously, running four branch offices scattered around the continent, all connecting to a server running Terminal Services and housing a SQL Server database. It was a thing of true beauty, and remains one of my proudest achievements. There were problems, of course, but they were all caused by the success of the application and the company itself. For several years in a row, sales doubled, and I, as the sole designer/developer and database administrator, enjoyed something approximating star-status in the company.

The next release(s), Access 2003 and Access XP, consolidated the gains made by Access 2000, even among the so-called serious database community, which was already using Access as a reporting front end for “serious” databases including SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase and others. Indeed, one of the beauties of using Access in this capacity, besides the Rapid Application Development (RAD) it afforded, was the portability of skills and code. Thanks to ODBC, an Access developer could write a custom front-end application, and change the back end from SQL Server to Oracle or vice-versa simply by changing the connection string.

But then, the Access development path began to lose its way. (Some would say that the very success of Access held back the big-picture game plan of Microsoft – that Access was meant to be a toy, from which serious developers would migrate to more serious and expensive tools such as Visual Basic 6, C++ and eventually, Visual Studio and Visual Studio.NET.)

Access 2007 and 2010 seemed to confirm this perception among developers. Access 2007 introduced a whole new interface (the ribbon) and provided numerous enhancements, almost all of which were aimed at end users and almost none of which addressed the needs of developers. Rumours began to circulate among the Access developers’ communities that Microsoft had semi-officially abandoned Access developers.

Where to now, boss?

Access developers were (and are) faced with a dilemma: there seems to be no future in continued Access development.
  • Microsoft appears to have abandoned this community.
  • The alternative provided by Microsoft, Visual Studio.NET, is by anyone’s standard,  large and complex (perhaps not as large and complex and unwieldy as Java has become, but that is another story). Even with professional training and years of experience programming in other environments, a developer has little to no chance of becoming genuinely productive (e.g. able to bill for hours worked) in less than a year or two.
  • The world is moving rapidly away from desktop applications to web-based apps.
  • If all this were not enough, now the developer is faced with the problem of developing apps for smart phones, tablets, and other new technologies.

There still exist opportunities for Access developers; but no one can deny that the pool is evaporating, and rapidly. As a professional Access/SQL developer who is well-known in the community, I can readily attest to this. Many of my colleagues all over this continent and around the world, report much the same story. Some are lucky enough to be employed in organizations whose managers are patient enough and foresighted enough to finance the further education of their developers. Most Access developers work freelance, however, and time spent learning C# or VB.NET, not to mention programming for the Web and for smart phones, etc., is time spent not earning money to pay the bills.

I know a few developers who have bridged the gap by taking evening courses in C# and/or ASP.NET. It’s a legitimate path and sure beats running on the spot, but the path to billable hours is even longer this way, since it involves only a few hours of learning per week. Still, it’s better than nothing.

Scanning for a New Squeeze

After thirty years of life as a developer, I have experienced a few watershed moments. I began in the world of DOS, first using dBASE II and then moving on to Clipper, with a little BASIC and C tossed into the mix. DOS was my first watershed moment. Before that I had programmed in CP/M, the ill-fated forerunner of DOS.  There’s a famous story about IBM executives planning to meet with Gary Kildall, creator of CP/M, with a deal to buy or license CP/M for inclusion on its forthcoming IBM PC. According to the story, Kildall was too busy flying his plane to meet with the fellows from IBM, who then went to Redmond to meet with Bill Gates. Gates bought the DOS operating system outright for $50,000, and did a deal with IBM giving that company the rights to package DOS on all its PCs, for a per-computer license, a deal that made Microsoft a giant in the software business.

If DOS changed the world of the PC, Clipper changed the world of DOS programming. Ironically, its creator, Brian Russell, was formerly employed at Ashton-Tate, maker of dBASE II, then the dominant PC database. Brian had approached A-T management with his idea of creating a dBASE compiler, but the company saw this as a threat to the sales of dBASE itself, and nixed the idea. How prescient they were! Brian left A-T and joined the fledgling Nantucket Corporation, where he and his team created the first release of Clipper. It changed the world of PC database programming, and stole almost the entire community of dBASE programmers.

Then came the Macintosh (well, first the Lisa), and although I never bought one, it was clear that the paradigm had shifted to graphical computing. Microsoft at last caught up with its initial release of Windows. At the time, I was an acknowledge expert in Clipper programming: I wrote two books about it, plus several monthly magazine columns and several hundred articles on database-related subjects, for various publications. Nantucket Corporation, makers of Clipper, tried unsuccessfully to move into the Windows world with an ambitious product called Visual Objects (later renamed CA-Visual Objects, after Computer Associates acquired Nantucket) – a very ambitious project but ultimately too buggy for serious development, not to mention too great a leap for most Clipper developers.

Other graphical database systems emerged, and I tried most of them without falling in love. I did what I could with Access 2.0, but withheld my full commitment until Access 97. From that point on, I considered myself an Access developer, especially after the release of Access 2000, with its connection to SQL Server and other serious database engines.

Until, that is, Microsoft released Access 2007. I continued to work with it, although most of my clients stuck with Access 2003/XP. But I was determined to learn the new ribbon technology, and grateful that Microsoft had preserved the ADP file format and its direct connection to SQL Server. But I was not alone, by any means, in my queasiness over the future of Access. Many if not most Access developers felt abandoned by Microsoft, and Access 2010 confirmed our misgivings. For one thing, it is riddled with bugs; for another, there is almost nothing to point at that is an obvious benefit to developers. Still worse, the only avenue toward development of web applications lay in a marriage to SharePoint, a very useful product to be sure, but also price-prohibitive for most small businesses, the bedrock of Access developers.

A little while ago, I joined one of the Google+ groups, a community of Access developers, and became an active participant there. Eventually I received an email from Richard Rabins, co-chairman of Alpha Software, makers of a product called Alpha Five, now in version 11. Mr. Rabins approached me, I guess, because thanks to my numerous postings on various Access newsgroups, I have acquired something of a reputation as a seasoned Access+SQL developer. He offered me a free license to Alpha Five v.11, which I accepted.

Since I received my serial number a couple of months ago, I have spent more and more time with Alpha Five v.11. I’m not yet ready to call myself expert, but I have dived headlong into the product and its development language. At this point, I think that I am ready to declare another watershed moment in my career.

In a word, I love Alpha Five v.11. It answers every demand I currently place on a development product:
  • 1.       RAD – in spades. You can do significant things more quickly in Alpha Five than in any other development environment I know.
  • 2.       Programming language – Alpha Five is built on XBasic, a solid programming language which also happens to be cross-platform. Among its virtues are:

a.       Familiarity – XBasic is a lot like VBA, but more powerful and more concise. Access developers will feel comfortable almost immediately. There are differences, of course, such as slightly different names for events and properties, but these are easily handled.
b.      Classes – XBasic implements true classes, as opposed to the tricky, shoddy, half-assed implementation in Access.
c.       Wizards and Genies – Alpha Five comes with numerous wizards to guide the developer through various tasks required to build an application. Genies are akin to super-wizards: code generators that can build complete chunks of an application automatically, based on the structure of the database. Also worth mentioning are Actions. Roughly equivalent to macros in Access, Actions perform tasks without requiring code. However, they can also be converted to XBasic  code for further customization.
  • 3.       Database connections – Alpha Five has its own native database format, but also provides easy connections to Access databases, and ODBC connections to every serious database you’ve ever heard of, and one or two you may not have heard of.
  • 4.       Web development – this is where Alpha Five really shines, and frankly blows the doors off Access (not to mention numerous other platforms). At the outset of a project (or for that matter, anytime during development), the developer can choose whether this project is for the Desktop or the web. This choice affects the Toolbox and the tools it offers. The Desktop toolbox will be most familiar to Access developers; the Web toolbox contains a host of web-specific tools and controls. All this will be new to many Access developers, but not to worry: it will all become familiar very quickly.
  • 5.       Tutorials – here Alpha Five blows the doors off Access. While Access does provide some sample applications, probably the most advanced is a simple Time and Billing application. Alpha Five goes much further, in both quantity and quality. Its sample apps are professionally designed and coded, not only to illustrate language features, but also to perform real-world tasks. One could take the Alpha Sports application, for example, tweak it here and there, and ship it to a client as a finished custom project. The samples are that good. Besides the sample apps, there are also a number of templates for projects such as invoicing.In addition, the Alpha Five web site provides a collection of video walk-through tutorials to help new developers grasp the steps involved in various tasks.
  • 6.       Performance – I’ve tested Alpha Five against Access in several contexts: native/native, Access back ends, and connections to SQL Server and MySQL. In every case, Alpha Five outperforms Access by far.
  • 7.       Runtime – this is a significant concern to Access developers. Microsoft includes a free Runtime package that allows the developer to create an application, then deploy it with the Runtime, such that the end user of the application need not have a copy of Access in order to run the application. Alpha Software’s approach is slightly different. Instead of a Runtime, it provides an Application Server, which is included in the software but not free for distribution. Instead, the Alpha developer purchases an additional license, for a modest fee, and then has the right to distribute Alpha Five applications to an unlimited number of clients.
  • 8.       Community – as Access developers know, the community is a vital component in successful development. Access enjoys several communities where developers can turn when they have development problems or merely “How do I…?”  questions. The Alpha Five web site provides such a community as well.


After much looking around and experimentation with several of the development products currently available, I’ve made my choice. I’ll continue to develop in Access, not least because I am frequently called back by past clients who are in need of enhancements to previous projects. But from here on in, I’ll be recommending Alpha Five for all new projects, and I am confident that I can present a strong case for it.

This is especially true if the project has any current or future plans for deployment on the web and/or smart phones and tablets. In that case, there is no contest. Access offers nothing. Visual Studio.NET offers plenty, but at significant cost, plus abandonment of existing code, not to mention the significant hurdle of mastering a completely different language. Finally, while Access maintains its ADP connections to serious databases, this seems increasingly like an afterthought, whose inclusion is merely to placate those developers who’ve made the commitment to master it. Alpha Five on the other hand takes obvious pride in its support of serious databases.

I’m sold, in short. I would strongly recommend to every Access developer faced with the same dilemmas as I was, to download the trial version and kick its tires. I’m very confident that they will be very pleased with this offering from Alpha Five Software. For more information and to download the trial version of Alpha Five v. 11, visit

One final thing: Other than having been granted a free license to investigate Alpha Five v. 11, I have no relationship whatever with the company. Mr. Rabins has graciously answered some of my questions by email, but beyond that I have no ties to the company. I was not approached to write this piece, and in no way will benefit financially from its publication.


  1. Excellent post Arthur - Many thanks for taking the time to write this up in such detail.


  2. Very nice summary of Access (d)evolution. I am a very happy Independent Developer and Alpha Five expert since 2005. Since I started, Alpha has become MORE geared towards developers while a novice can still kick out something decent. Check out my website and blog -

    1. Steve,

      I just visited your website. Very nice indeed.

      And thanks for the comment.

  3. Well presented, thank you.

  4. Very informative and bang on target!

  5. On top of the mentioned the sharepoint does not support vba. We keep an eye on alternative techniques, thanks for sharing!

  6. As for the developer road or lack of features in Access? I don't see the product of having changed it road and roots that it always had.

    If you compare a time frame, say 2007-2010 compared to a MUCH longer period of 97 to 2003 (5 versions vs 2), then I am hard pressed to think of what developer versions you spoke of that appeared over time in the 97 to 2003 era compared to the last two versions?

    In other words, if you are telling me back then new features were "more" developer centric and now they are not? I don't see it this way at all. You telling me that back then the road was more developer then it is today?

    In fact, I see MORE developer centric features having been added in the last two versions as compared to the previous FIVE versions.

    Looking at recent features, we now have store procedures and table triggers for the first time in the product's history. It would seem rather laughable that store procedures and table triggers are an end user feature? How does that make sense?

    Another long time developer complaint was picture handling. Again in 2010 we now have in additional to linked picture and embedded picture options (we had from day one), a third new choice called "shared" picture is now available. This means if I insert a corporate logo, then only ONE copy is required to be inserted into the application. Thus the ONE same picture reference is used over and over. So management is built in to allow you to change that ONE picture so the 50 forms will now reflect this change (eg: change the new corporate logo – it will apply to every form and report).

    We see support for picture transparency and now no more picture bloat. And new "shared" option means re-using the same picture throughout reduces bloating even more. Continues forms can now display different pictures (and do so without code). This means we now don't need any third party controls such as list view to create a grid of data with pictures.

    Access 2010 also sports a new version of VBA (vba 7). This is the is the first new version of VBA since 2000.

    With computers and platforms moving at full speed towards 64 bit computing, Access has already crossed that bridge. And this 64 bit option also includes a 64 bit option of the data engine. As more applications move towards 64 bits, then any application automation will require a 64 bit version. VB6, FoxPro, and MANY others will NOT cross this bridge.

    Does your developer tool box and recommendation have a x64 bit version?

    We also now have native PDF creating in Access. That means no printer driver code or nothing else need be installed except Access (or the free runtime). And the addition of rich text support was also long overdue and is a GREAT option for custom text and help files in Access.

    I am hard pressed to think that having a new 64 bit version of VBA, store procedures, table triggers, native PDF support and this list goes on. In other words, I count FAR MORE developer features in the last two versions of Access then I do from the MUCH longer time frame of Access 97 to Access 2003.

    So, I quite much respectively disagree that there been no new developers tools, and in fact the short list I just outlined above quite much shows that the list of features that I consider more for developers is LARGER in the last two versions of Access then the previous 5 versions from what I can see.

    The option of web publishing with Access is a big step forward, but MORE important is that platform it runs on and the low cost. Just like office and windows was a GREAT platform to sell your skills and software into, the same goes for companies now moving to the web. Cloud computing means VERY low cost . So office 365 with Access web publishing starts at $6 per month.

    You need to pick more than just a tool, but that of a future platform. While Cloud computing is not the answer for everyone, it is an important choice and one that you want to keep in your tool box of choices and one that now Access has.

  7. I think the story is a typical story, but I don't really think the story plays out due 2007 or 2010 not having developer features? And while many people had great success using ADP databases, my experience is that a rather large portion of the Access community thought that ADP was a bad play. (I never used ADP projects, but to be fair I still think ADP's were still a good idea).

    So the flip side of this coin is that much of the Access developer community really did not give ADP's a chance, but then again I think much of Access community did not think that ADP's were such a good idea despite your success and great 'war' stories having used ADP's.

    The longtime and preferred road from the developer community was generally to use ODBC, and with the depreciation of oleDB in full swing, we see the trend even with the cloud based edition of SQL (Azure) that our longtime friend and recommended technology choice remains ODBC.

    I should point out that Access 2010 has baked in support for SQL Azure (another developer feature?).

    It is nice to look to the past 'old' days of FoxPro or clipper. This kind of reminds of the people that resisted color monitors or even the mouse + GUI. In fact a good number of people I knew at the time simply left the industry due this this change to the GUI.

    I think the experience of people starting out with FoxPro or clipper or Access and moving on to greater challenges is nothing new. In other words I don't think the story is limited to Access and some 'developer road' or lack of such a road.

    I mean, if this was just about developer features, then what happened to FoxPro? You have to explain why FoxPro died a slow death when all they did was add developer features based on input from their great developer community? (and it was a great community that I was part of, and I loved FoxPro).

    I always thought that a natural progression beyond Access was moving to tools like .net, but you STILL have to explain to everybody why FoxPro never really went anywhere, and continues to die a slow death when all it did was cater to developers?

    The reason why FoxPro continues to die a slow death IMHO, is because going out into the marketplace and selling FoxPro skills does not cut the mustard. In other words, who wants to adopt a technology road to nowhere?

    When is the last time you seen a job posting for FoxPro? Or even for Alpha 5?

    One of the great things about learning Access was the fact that you learned a PLATFORM and set of technologies that was a marketable skill.

    That marketable skill was the Office platform.

    This was NEVER just about Access unless you explain to me why we never see jobs postings for FoxPro developers?

    The office eco-system and windows is what always drove Access use and adoption.

    Access and Office is moving into the low cost affordable cloud computing platform called office 365. This is ALSO where MANY businesses are now moving their systems and software into.

    So, just like in the past I was selling my Office and Access skills into the windows platform (not the Linux or Mac Marketplace), the SAME is occurring as business move towards using and mastering web based technologies.

    In other words I see my customers and clients without any direction or consulting from me are moving toward adopting cloud based systems and specifically Office 365.

  8. In the case of Access, it's it often adopted by businesses because it's part the office suite. So Access is part of that office eco-system.

    Office is moving towards the cloud and that platform play is based on office 365 which is essentially based on SharePoint technologies. However, it really just the next logical step and bus stop for office developers.

    Now, looking at job postings? One of the BETTER marketplaces to be working in these days is of course SharePoint. And that SharePoint market's going through another round of really amazing upgrades now that office 365 is on the block.

    Just like I spent the time to learn VBA, learning office 365 means now that the SharePoint marketplace opens up for me. So office 365 and SharePoint is probably one of the best job skills and hottest tickets you can get in the whole IT industry right now.

    Learning SharePoint and now office 365 is turning to be one of the BEST decisions I ever made. In effect, just like I got a free ride as business adopted Office, they are now adopting cloud computing and 365, and that is where the future of office lies, but more important is where the future work will also occur.

    And what's more important, of course is that Access is going along for this ride JUST like it always did with office on the desktop.

    In other words the PLATFORM called office 365 is saving my skills. Can you develop applications that automatic go "off line" and then start to sync their data on-line? And can you do this with existing applications and tools? And can you offer this ability to your clients WITHOUT having to learn a whole bunch of new systems and tools? You can with Access!

    And of course since that data is going into the cloud, then I can now use Access to build web forms to work that that data. (and those forms become zammel (xmal) based). And if you using SharePoint (hosted or local), then Access reports for the web are converted into RDL and run by using SQL server reporting services.

    In other words I can now use my set of skills of I've learned over the years, and develop even more amazing applications with Access.

    Once again listen CAREFULLY to the above story, and it's not about Access, but about the platform you adopted.

    It is ALWAYS the platform that drives the work and demand for your skills. FoxPro ran out of breath because it did not become part of a platform that developers and MORE important what BUSINESS and developers were adopting.

    In the case of Access, it's it often adopted by businesses because it's part the office suite. So Access is part of that office eco-system.

    Office is moving towards the cloud and that platform play is based on office 365 which is essentially based on SharePoint technologies. However, it really just the next logical step and bus stop for office developers.

  9. In fact a recent longtime client of mine had one of their servers that was far too old and far too under maintained meltdown and finely kicked the bucket. And in their server room beside that old beat up clunker of a Dell server was an identically old dell server that had been stripped and ravaged for parts to keep the whole system going MUCH beyond anyone with brains would have recommended.

    To make a long story short, when that server croaked and melted down, the amount of loss of down time, the hassle of re-installing of software, and the efforts and troubles was so great that the business said NEVER again. To be fair, I think it had been about 8 years since anyone on staff had been in that server room!

    So what did they do?

    They dumped the server and went with Office 365. They are now hosting their exchange system online.

    To say that the business does love this new setup is an UNDERSTATEMENT.

    No more servers, no more calling in that silly IT silly guy.
    The whole thing just runs and they love it.

    Now, while I was not the one who told this company to adopt 365. However, for me an Access developer? Them choosing office 365 is fantastic! All of a sudden I can walk in that door and take those 10+ year old Access applications and have Access DANCE with their office 365 setup.

    Not only does this create new work for me but I get to keep working with a customer (that I had not seen in 10 years!). So I get to use and keep my Access software skills.

    With them running 365, then all kinds of doors open up. For example we can now take some of their older existing applications written in Access, and push the tables up into office 365. Now the applications will run in off-line and in a disconnected mode. This means now all of a sudden without ADDITIONAL investment into servers and platforms we can install Access applications on laptops.

    Those laptops when sent out the door can now run anywhere and anyplace with an internet connection. In these cases I did not have to setup SQL server, and in fact such a process was LESS work then having to adopt SQL server to get this kind of connectivity.

    So all the bits and parts I needed were ALREADY built into office 365.

    Even more amazing? The laptops run my Access application run WITHOUT an internet connection (try that with SQL server!). The instant I get an Internet connection, these applications start to sync their data up into office 365. And MORE amazing is the older legacy VBA based Access applications required ZERO code changes.

    In other words the PLATFORM called office 365 is saving my skills. Can you develop applications that automatic go "off line" and then start to sync their data on-line? And can you do this with existing applications and tools? And can you offer this ability to your clients WITHOUT having to learn a whole bunch of new systems and tools?

    And of course since that data is going into the cloud, then I can now use Access to build web forms to work that that data. (and those forms are xmal based). And if you using SharePoint (hosted or local), then Access reports for the web are converted into RDL.

    In other words I can now use my set of skills of I've learned over the years, and develop even more amazing applications with Access.

    Once again listen CAREFULLY to the above story, and it's not about Access, but about the platform you adopted.

    It is ALWAYS the platform that drives the work and demand for your skills. FoxPro ran out of breath because it did not become part of a platform that developers and MORE important what BUSINESS and developers were adopting.

  10. So it might be fun to sit around and talk about your old war stories about FoxPro or those ADP projects. And I sure I would love to take a swig from that bottle of whiskey while wearing some Ashton-Tate t-shit (we used to call swag) from some old trade show that no longer exists.

    The idea of adopting a platform without a cloud computing option, without 64 bit choice, and without a platform and job market to sell your skills into does not really sound like a formula for success.

    Now I certainly plan to give alpha 5 a try (and I been offered a free license also).

    However, at the end of the day without a cloud option, without a 64 bit option, and without a platform that business are adopting to sell my skills into? Hum, at this point in time alpha 5 remains a curiosity more than what I would be recommending as a career move.

    Albert D. Kallal (Access MVP)
    Edmonton, Alberta Canada

  11. Ignore Albert's rant. Alpha Five is a pleasure to work with. It does have a learning curve, but it is a lovely platform to work with because it does so much of the work for you and allows you to focus on the important stuff.

  12. I have come to the same conclusion as ArtfulOpinions.

    I am a developer by training. I built a very busy practice around Access then about 18-24 months ago I started feeling pressure from clients who were asking about web apps. I spent months and months evaluating various options such as the Access/Sharepoint option, Visual, ruby, PHP, Ironspeed, Windev, Servoy, Morphik and others. I was getting pretty despondent because I could not find a solution for web development that was powerful and also very productive. Productivity is key for me, because the time taken to build apps for the web is directly correlated to the profitability of my practice.

    Fortunately when I was about six months into the search, a friend of mine who worked in IT recommended that I check out Alpha Five. After about a week working with it, I was sold.
    I find Alpha Five to be very productive and also extremely robust and powerful and complete (html and pdf reporting, mapping, scheduling, multimedia support, strong connectivity to SQL database, powerful language, built in security and excellent search.)

    The learning curve was not bad at all and now my consulting practice is booming and I am expanding

  13. Arthur, if Microsoft cannot convince a few million people to use databases in the cloud, your direction to a product like Alpha Five is probably sound. I will await the early numbers and the associated press about Access 15 to see what transpires. If there is a solid take up, I will go with Albert. If there isnt, I will ignore the cloud world and support the millions of normal Access databases that are still in need of support. Either way, I still might have a dabble in Alpha. Garry Robinson Access MVP since the mid 2000's

  14. I agree with you Completely. I didn't want to start a War on this thread, but rather to report my findings from the trenches.

    OTOH, my missive seems to have struck a chord, and I've been told from some people on this thread (who are under NDA) that this missive has been circulating in the MS groups. Let us pray that the weight of my original Send and the collective weight of all your responses, might somehow have some leverage over there in Redmond.

    I am hoping that this is possible. I'm not holding my breath, but I am ever the optimist.

    Dear Access Team: take a look at Alpha Five and either bail out or learn from a team that can do it Way Better Than You.


    1. I am running out of easy responses to this thread. What is obvious is that I have plucked a chord in the Access-Dev community. Sadly, that's the best that I have done, and our collective efforts amount to Squat in Redmond. Let's face it, we are the 1% in the pond, and the marketing people don't give a fork about us. We are the 1% and that is that.

      After a couple of decades investing in these technologies, frankly I feel ripped off, Somebody somewhere has made some decisions, and i and perhaps you have been left out of the future.

      I can live with that. But guess what? I am abandoning both Windows and Office, in favour of Mint 11 and Libre. This is the path to the future. Later, MS! Go die in a pile of your own excrement.

  15. Arthur,

    Excellent post that brings back lots of memories over the past 20 years. Can't believe it's been that long. As someone who was there when Bill Gates launched Access at COMDEX (, I share your joy and frustrations with Access.

    I would differ with you regarding the lack of new developer features in Access 2007 and 2010 but that may be a definitional issues. I'm focused on the solutions I can deliver to clients and whether it's available directly from the UI or VBA doesn't matter much to me. For me, some of the big steps forward in 2007 include Report View to allow end-user filtering in reports, PDF output, totals on datasheets, tabbed displays, multi-value filters on column headers, improved UI for end user filtering on a field (especially date ranges), etc.

    The value of creating a solution on Access as opposed to a lower level platform is that from time-to-time, the vendor (Microsoft) improves it and allows developers to offer new features for free or low cost. It behooves us to offer it to our end-users.

    I know some people are still upset about the Office ribbon introduced in 2007. I would suggest that had that not been added to Access 2007, it would surely indicate the product is dead.

    Just because VBA isn't enhanced doesn't mean there isn't developer support. People don't say the Excel market is dead even though the product's VBA hasn't evolved significantly over the years.

    It comes down to the correct tool for the correct problem. Access fulfills a wide range of those problems that are between Excel and the web.

    I certainly share the developer community's frustration that Access is not useful for creating a web solution. We've used .NET and recently Lightswitch with SQL Server to create web applications rather sucessfully. The challenge for Alpha Five is getting the market share to be successful. The .NET community is much larger and has Microsoft's support. I don't see how Alpha Five is competitive or superior to that.

    Now, if our customers indicate they want us to use Alpha Five, that's a whole different story. Over the years, I've learned to listen to their requirements more than my philosophical biases.

    All the best and thanks for the memories...

  16. Luke,

    Sometimes the customer thinks they know best and it would be your job to consult them in the right direction. Cost is a huge factor for many companies. You would be amazed at how much time you would save (once you are proficient) using Alpha to develop your customer's applications.


    You are 100% correct. There are millions of Access databases that need support. You would be amazed at how quickly you can import the data and create powerful web applications (when needed) for your clients.

    We definitely do not intend to start a war on the blog. NOBODY is being told to dump their skills and clients. I think what the Alpha community is saying is that if you invest some time in Alpha you will realize the return.

    Feel free to contact me for anything.


  17. I sure see a lot of familiar history in this exceptionally relevant post! As an instructor and, to a limited extent, an Access developer, I reached similar conclusions several years ago, but with less clear reasoning to justify mine. I know several more Access developers who have come to similar conclusions.

    I have only recently learned about Alpha Five and at this point I don't have a strong opinion on whether it's the answer to our prayers, but initial indications look favorable.

    While I respect Albert's right to voice his opposing position, in his extremely lengthy, redundant, and difficult-to-read replies, and I recognize some legitimate points he makes, he isn't doing his cause much good by writing in the manner that he did.

  18. Well said Arthur,

    I stumbled upon this post through a LinkedIn group. I share the same dilemma and I will have a closer look at Alpha 5.

    I have an enterprise Access solution running in a public hospital which does the job really well, however there is "pressure" to re-write it as a web app even though there not cost/benefit.

  19. REALLY!!!! Alpha five has many bugs, even very simple ones are not addressed many many many years, the browse controls is cheap, it contains bugs when you enter 20 or more records, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha it is limited to 10 records saved in a browse control, very very cheap product, the small details on the desktop cannot be fixed by alpha five,, how much more for the web part!!!alpha five is cheap, fix the browse control and it will be a very nice development tool.

  20. Dear Unknown.

    Firstly the browse control exists in the part of Alpha Five designed for building Windows Desktop Apps. If you need us to look at any issue you might be having please email me at

    Alpha Five v11 is primarily about building browser based applications for the web and intranets.

    Alpha Software is very committed to product quality and responsiveness to customers and has a very strong reputation built over many years.

    You may want to look at the presentation given by a 10 person development shop (Start-Software) in the UK to the National UK Access users group last week. The presentation is at (go to slide 7 where they talk about Alpha's responsiveness and quick turn around on fixing any bugs.)

    More information on Start-Software's experience with Alpha Five and how it is helping grow their business is detailed here

  21. ArtfulOne,

    You say:
    "But guess what? I am abandoning both Windows and Office, in favour of Mint 11 and Libre. This is the path to the future."

    If that is so, then Alpha will be of no use to you since it is a Windows-only product. What exactly are you telling us?

    With respect to Alpha Sports, I disagree, it is old, boring and uninspiring, but yes, it is better than nothing at all. Alpha also tends to be a somewhat quirky and inconsistent with respect to the developer's UI. But that is small potatos.

    Otherwise Alpha generally seems to fix bugs promptly, but only for the current version. They never support older versions. And lately, they have begun pushing "subscription" packages, meaning if you don't subscribe, you don't get certain features. This has upset many people. Their sales model seems to be somewhat shaky. They have been around for 20-years or so, I believe, but few people have ever heard of them. Go figure?

    That said, it is a solid product with an extensive and robust feature set, excellent report writer and much cutting edge technology (look at their amazing implementation of easy to use powerful Google Maps customization as one example).

    Like any product, it has strengths and weaknesses for sure, but overall, serious developers should be pleased with a serious development platform.

  22. Alpha Sports is just a simple tutorial

    Another example is shown here

  23. Here are some more examples

    Some examples of web/intranet Apps built rapidly with Alpha Five v11

    Dashboard built in Alpha Five v11(as part of a case management system)

    Health Care App Built in Alpha Five v11.

    Login, account list and dashboards

    Work Queues / Queries

    Account Management up to field visit

    Account Management up to linked

    Account Management up to UB04

    Account Management to end

  24. Hello, I liked your post. I am an Access developer since version 2.0, and I followed all the changes between these versions.

    Can I translate this post and put on my website? I think my friends (Access developers too) would like to read this.


  25. Thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

    Oracle SQL

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