Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why individual Front End Files

In a recent Microsoft Access class discussion, participants enquired behind the reasons behind splitting the database file and then having one pair of Front End and Back End files and then having individual Front End files for each user. Questions like this force one to re-inspect and itemise the reasons for this Best Practice.

You want individual Front End Files because:

  1. If a single user crashes the system or hangs their machine, the risk of corruption is most at the Front End File - the Back End file is at a much lower risk.
  2. Intense and Frequent file i/o speed as well as temporary data generated by processing data is at the Front End File, not the Back End file. If the Front End file grows big, it can be easily discarded and a new fresh one copied over.
  3. Temporary tables can be set up to use the same name, you don't have to design a system where User A uses tblTempA and User B uses tblTempB - each user can simply be programmed to use tblTemp stored privately in each Front End. There are many approaches where temp tables are a useful technique in processing data.
  4. Even without programming, you can touch a Form or Report such that settings are "dirtied" and need to be saved. For example if you move the widths of some columns in Datasheet View, that Form may need to be saved so that you can maintain that width the next time you open it.
    Table data are multi-user out-of-the-box in Microsoft Access. Forms and Reports are not.
  5. If you mix Access 2010 and Access 2007 for example, after some time, you may notice that Access 2010 designs in Forms and Reports may render the .accdb un-openable in Access 2007.
Food for Thought.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Windows 8–The Whole Deal

It’s been an unexciting weekend. Windows 8 was launched. Windows 8RT was launched. Windows 8RT Tablets were launched. Modern, the Interface Formerly Known As Metro came. And went. Office 2013 was Released To Manufacturing to MSDN and Technet Subcribers. Yeah. Shrug. Yes. Shrug. Some mainstream news outlets picked up the goss and reported either the Beginning of Microsoft Dominance in Tablet Space or The End of Microsoft As We Know It. Then they got occupied with Mitt Romney (who’s he? I’m not American). The Storm called Sandy. Maybe even the violence that intruded into Eid.

So, What Is Windows 8?

It’s the next evolution of Microsoft Windows. The previous one was Windows 7. Heck, some organisations are just getting that deployed. So is there a deal? I mean should we make any hoo haa over Windows 8 Desktop (otherwise known as Windows 8 for Intel chips)? The story goes like this.

Windows 3.x evolved to Windows 95 to Windows 98. That was a good vintage, Then came Windows NT (which was a new redesigned Operating System). Windows NT eventually evolved to Windows XP. That gave way to Windows VISTA (yuck!) and then Windows 7 (that’s a good vintage). Windows 8 is Windows 7 with some nice icing on the cake. And a kludge to embrace The Touch Space.

So What’s The Touch Space?

It goes that Bill Gates was very keen on The Tablet. Except that he used a Stylus – because it was hard to point with a fat finger. Tech was sooo primitive then. But he still yearned to have the Padds that Star Trek Next Generation crew would toss at The Holographic Doctor. Even with massive pushing, the idea would not gain traction. Not enough units were sold. The displays were meh. The devices were heavy enough to give you forearm ache after 15 minutes. The Intel Pentium chips were not fast and batteries went flat after one and a half hours. Real meh. We did the stylus thing with Windows CE devices too. Those that looked like Windows but weren’t really Windows, they were wimps. And they didn’t run Microsoft Access. Or full versions of any Microsoft Office apps.

Close your eyes, go to sleep and do a Rip van Winkle. Open your eyes. Suddenly Nokia isn’t a brick anymore. In fact Nokia is nowhere anymore. It’s all iPhone, iPod, iPad. With Android devices rooting away. Even your 80 year old Gran knows how to touch Angry Birds and Facetime to you.

What to do? In true Microsoft fashion, provide “Real Soon Now” touch input devices – mice, touchpads, desktop screens. Touch Enable .net – Result? No traction, Dude! People now make Apple the bigger company in dollars. What The! And no one’s talking about desktop Windows. Nobody’s buying or more particularly lusting to buy new PCs even though Microsoft Partners call their new shiny silver things Ultrabooks, like in MacAir. Ok, push out some Atoms – they’re Intel chips but low powered enough to survive 4-6 hours of use. But performance is, sort of meh. So Intel makes portable versions of Core i3, i5, i7 to make the notebooks like go really fast. Battery life is like 2 hours though. Which causes people to keep buying and lusting over the danged Coretex ARM powered tablets and smart phones that cost less.

Like, what’s Ballmer gonna do? Bill’s gone to Pakistan to give away money and left him running the shop. Ray Ozzie had a fight over who owned Cloudspace with Sinovsky and just called it quits. Yeah. “I’m dying here guys”, I can hear Ballmer say. Sinovsky and Jensen Harris to the rescue.

They come up with a whooo! A New User Touch Interface. Like Tiles. Nothing near a Apple’s legal spitting distance of circular icons on a field of black.

Bing! A Brilliant Idea

How about this? Create a Universal User Interface running Platform Agnostic (well Microsoft Platforms anyway) over Intel chips (desktop), ARM chips (Tablet Space), Windows Phone. Well, that’s what Windows 8 is! Just Brilliant! Brings The Desktop To The Modern World. Microsoft will be Happy. Microsoft Hardware Partners will be Happy. Microsoft Software Partners will be Happy. I mean we could even wake up the old Microsoft Store so that these Partners can sell things. Because that’s what they do. Sell things.

Got it? Good!

But, you say, it doesn’t do that much more on the desktop on the desktop. I mean, a 16 year old could program a supplementary program for Windows 95 that does Trays and Drawers or Multiple Desktops. Yeah. Sucks right? It’s early days. More will come. Give it a chance.

Microsoft has always been Real Soon Now.

Get used to it. This is how it goes.

If you have a current Windows keyboard, mouse, non touch screen and are using Windows 7

Windows 8 and the new Metro Modern Tiles don’t bring Big Bang to the desktop. What is nice – the odd Metro app will make full screen casual browsing of news (ditch the paper newspapers and mags) pretty nice. The famous Start Menu / Orb is gone. Whenever you think Start Menu, think Modern Tiles – they appear whenever you touch the Windows Key like a Charm. You could press lots other keys too. Microsoft Office 2013 is really worth updating to though. Easy Skydrive Cloud Storage. OneNote 2013. Excel is ah, even more feature rich.

If you want to get a new PC

Don’t go and buy a discounted classic PC running Windows 7 because it is heavily discounted old stock. Get a new PC with a Windows 8 compatible Touch Screen. Really. Night and Day Difference. Get a transforming one though. Or something that does not feel that if you tilt the screen the whole PC will fall onto your face.

Microsoft and Software Partners will be working night and day to make XAML + HTML5 + .net apps that mash into various web services.

If you want to get a Tablet

iPad is The One. Lots of apps. There I said it. Get a Droid if you’re a Geek. A fair number of apps too. Microsoft Surface is available. It runs Windows RT for ARM chips. Windows RT is not desktop Intel chipped Windows classic. Microsoft Access, Project, Outlook isn’t on Windows RT. I have not seen whether the Word for Windows RT and Excel for Windows RT is blow for blow the same as Windows 8 Desktop Edition. There are already some tablets running Windows 8 desktop edition. They’re really cool. But they’re not el cheapo tablet priced. In fact Windows Surface tablets are not cheap either. Because they’re new hardware, just developed and sold direct by Microsoft with some standard of quality. Wait for Chinese or Taiwanese Windows RT Tablets to come on the scene if you want cheap.

If you want a Phone

iPhone 5, despite the jokes about getting lost in the mapping, is it. Or get a top Droid if you’re a geek. Get a Windows Phone if you think this is how to be extra cool to the corporate Microsoft Exchange Server. Or you want to keep Nokia from going under.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Prime Cuts for Windows 8

Windows 8 retail was officially launched yesterday. I’ve been driving Windows 8 for a while but didn’t enjoy the Metro factor until I came across Scott Hanselman’s video and checked out these keyboard shortcuts from Derick Campbell and Microsoft IT Showcase list hosted by Amit at LabNol.

(I’ll update this information as I find and figure out more and more accurate details.

You're gazing at the Metro tiled screen.

  • Just start typing the name of a program and the screen will shortlist the icons that are relevant.
  • Tap on the Windows key to return to the last used open program.
  • Windows key + Tab to cycle through the list of running programs including Metro
  • Windows key + Minus to zoom out, Windows key + equals to zoom in
  • PgUp or PgDn to scroll the tiles horizontally
  • Win + X - Quick Menu
  • Win + R - Run command
  • Win+E - Explorer

You are on the Desktop want to get back to the Metro screen

  • Tap on the Windows key once to bring up the Metro screen, tap again to return to your last used running program
  • Move the mouse quickly to the bottom left corner of the screen to display the Metro button hovering

Killing a Running Task

  • Windows Key + Tab to nominate the program and then tap the Del key without releasing the Win+Tab
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del will as usual display a small menu and then you can proceed to the enhanced Task Manager

You're running a Metro App and want to bring up the bottom App Commands Bar

  • Windows key + Z

You want to switch between Metro Apps and classic programs

  • Holding the classic Alt+Tab shows a dialog listing running processes inclusive of classic programs and Metro apps. The titles of these processes are not descriptive enough and the visual for each process may not accurately reflect the program's screen
  • Windows key + Tab - displays a vertical panel on the left of the screen enumerating Metro apps
  • Windows key + dot / Windows key + Shift + dot will
    • Snap the App
      • If there are several running classic apps, they will tile into a vertical strip
      • If you are running a Metro app, this app will fill the vertical strip
    • Subsequently press Windows key + Tab to put another running Metro app into the main screen
  • Windows + D to switch to Desktop

Charms and Stuff

Win + C Open Charms (also shows Date/Time/Power/Net).
Win + F Open Search Charm on Files.
Win + W Open Search Charm on Settings.
Win + Q Open Search Charm on Active App
(on right side only if supported by App).
Win + H Open Share Charm.
Win + I Open Settings Charm (plus Start Settings and Metro Help).
Win + K Open Devices Charm.
Win + P Control second screen
Win + PrintScreen Screen capture AND creates a .png file

Not aware of pre-existing Windows 7 Shortcut Keys? 

- See Computer Productivity - Windows 7 Shortcut Keys

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Microsoft Office 2013 RTM now available for download for Technet and MSDN subscribers

I got wind of the availability today through the Into Windows third party website.
A few quick points:
For incremental news updates on my adventures with Office 2013, circle me on:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Windows 8 Blogpost by veteran Scott Hanselman

Scott Hanselman has been kicking .NET tyres and Microsoft things for a long time. He's just written a blogpost on Windows 8. Have a read.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Microsoft Lament

Let’s hope there is a turnaround. It isn’t that Microsoft is like Kodak where the retirement of film in the face of digital imaging completely changed the paradigm of photography. After all, Microsoft is in IT and IT is IT. Or is it?

Excerpts from the Australian Financial Review

Here’s a question you don’t often hear asked: whatever happened to Microsoft? To many people, it will seem a silly question. Microsoft, they point out, is still around – with a vengeance.

Microsoft dominates the market for PC operating systems and Office software, products that are still licences to print money: its Xbox game console sweeps all before it; its server software is a big seller in the corporate world. In 2012, the company’s net revenues totalled $US74 billion.

In the quarter ended 31 March 2012, the iPhone had sales of $US22.7 billion. In the same period, Microsoft earned $US17.4 billion from everything it sold. So a single Apple product, which didn’t exist five years ago, had higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer.

Cue the predictable storm of protests that this is a misleading comparison: apples and bananas and all that. Smartphones are not office systems, you can’t run the NHS on iPhones, blah-de-blah. All true.

So we have the upcoming Windows 8. And Office 2013 / Office 15 / Office 365.

Don’t blink, Microsoft. I hate it when giants blink

Catch me on Figuring out Windows 8 and Office 2013

Friday, August 17, 2012

Windows 8, Microsoft Office 2013 and more

The sleeping giant has finally awoken and new products are releasing release stage. The next blog entries will be aggregating news from the various Windows fan websites.

Update: I believe it is more convenient for me to write single points as they come to mind quickly on Google+.
Additionally people can provide feedback and responses easily (you would have to register yourself as a Google user).

Let’s give it a go. The Google+ Page for these discussions is Figuring Out Windows 8 and Office 2013

The Windows Live Suite of free products – Windows Live Gallery, Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Mail has been updated to 2012 status. You may still get the 2011 range, search the web for the updated suite

Outlook now has an Xobni client to work with Skydrive files. This allows the sending and sharing of large attachments.

Windows 8 Info

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Instant SQL Formatter

Instant SQL Formatter works with Microsoft Access SQL - finally a text and syntax colouriser and formatter for that ugly word wrapping SQL Code in Microsoft Access queries

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Quick note on updating Word field codes

A quick follow up note on Word Field Codes. This Addictive Tips article describes how to insert Cross References in Word 2010

After you have inserted a bunch of cross references, and edited your document some more, you will want to update all cross references. You could Select All (use Ctrl+A) and then press F9 (update fields). This might miss out on any header or footer instances of cross referencing.

It seems that one way to ensure that Word does update all Cross Reference Fields, is to ensure that Word updates before printing (Options > Display > Update All Fields Before Printing) and simply Print Preview.

Now, it may be that you are puzzled by some heading text in the cross reference field not updating to reflect the edited text in the heading source content.

Turns out if your heading text was Travels With My Aunt and you edited the text to be Travels With My Aunt In Hawaii, the cross reference has captured the phrase up to My Aunt.  It has no idea that you have added words past the last character. If you edited the phrase in the middle, the cross reference understands. If you added more characters after the end of the original phrase, Word does not understand this.

And the joke from today - the remote control for the video show projector that has an On/Off switch.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Visualisation Comes First

I was leading an Excel Intro class the other day and one of the participants asked "how do I graph four variables in one graph? I was not ready for that question and puzzled over it. I responded that 2D graphs show two variables, 3D graphs show three variables but 3D graphs may look good for a marketing or show and sell presentation, not really for serious mundane comparisons. I suggested a bunch of 2D charts on worksheet acting as a canvas.

The participant wasn't satisfied and said that someone in the firm had "done it before" and so I said, "well show us an example and we can figure out how to make it so". To which the reply was "well, you're the Excel guru, I thought you of all people would know how to make one".

After a while, someone asked about Pivot Tables, what they were and yes, light bulb went on in my head and I showed them how to make a Pivot Table and a Pivot Chart as a quick example, with variable number of variables chosen at will and plotted on one or more charts.

I went home thinking - "How you do it doesn't come first, what comes first is your creativity in identifying what you want to communicate and then finding keystrokes / mouse actions is just simple".

Of course, this applies to Powerpoint Presentations as well. Here's a TED Talk which is just bang on target.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Microsoft Results just in - does it need another Bill

For your reading pleasure, here are excerpts from the famous Bill Gates memoes at the Seattle Times. Windows 7 hacker just noted some Microsoft results. Nothing like the heady yesteryear. The fountains of money - Windows and Office, are now down to one - Microsoft Office. Windows is selling lots but the income isn't as high.

The Server and Tools business is doing ok, the Entertainment business is doing ok. Sort of correlates to my perceptions. Server and Tools are moving Microsoft upstream to the IT Department and away from their core business supporters - the ones who buy PCs. Is the end user computing dead? Not by a long shot. But Microsoft's slice of the pie is getting smaller.

Remember, lots of gurus were predicting the death of the personal computer by the onslaught of terminals linked to servers? That didn't happen - but now it's mobile and tablet devices linked to the cloud - and that's real, not imagined. What share does Microsoft have in that? Some share of the server business (who, we, the end user don't see) and zilch in the tablet and the phone (devices that are everywhere).

Xbox? Yeah, that's ok but the console games business is terribly competitive and prone to fashion.

Will Windows 8 herald a new coming? Right now, I doubt it. Bringing "fat finger" from hand held mobile devices to the desktop is just uncomfortable - the desktop has the strength of precise pointing and a clean screen at arm's length.

Will Microsoft Office continue its monopoly? For me, yes because I am so, so used to the richness of functions that Excel, Access provide. But better and better web based office administration products are more than capable of making mindless robots out of workers.

Food for thought