Introduction to Microsoft Access
The Microsoft Access Interface
Microsoft Access is a computer application used to create and manage computer-based databases on desktop computers and/or on connected computers (a network). Microsoft Access can be used for personal information management (PIM), in a small business to organize and manage data, or in an enterprise to communicate with servers.
Like any other computer application, in order to use Microsoft Access, you must first install it. After installing Microsoft Access, then you can open it. There are various ways you can open Microsoft Access. It gets launched like the usual products you have probably been using. As such, to start this program, you could click Start -> (All) Programs -> Microsoft Office -> Microsoft Office Access 2007. You can also launch it from Windows Explorer or My Computer. To do this, locate its shortcut in Windows Explorer or My Computer. By default, Microsoft Access 2007 is located in C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12 and its shortcut is called MSACCESS.EXE. Once you have located it, you can then double-click it.
If you have a Microsoft Access database such as an E-Mail attachment, a file on a floppy disk, on the network, or in any other means, once you see its icon, you can double-click it. Not only will this action launch Microsoft Access, but also it will open the file.
Whenever you find out that you are using a particular program or file most regularly, you should have an icon on the desktop that can lead you to it quickly. This icon is called a shortcut. There are various techniques used to create a shortcut. Probably the first thing you should find out is where your application is located. You can find out by doing a search on the computer. You can create a shortcut from the Programs menu.
To create a shortcut from Windows Explorer or My Computer, you can right-click the MSACCESS.EXE icon, position your mouse on Send To -> Desktop (Create Shortcut).
When Microsoft Access opens, it displays an interface divided in various sections. The top section displays a long bar also called the title bar.
The title bar starts on the left side with the Office Button . If you position the mouse on it, a tool tip would appear:
When clicked, the Office Button displays a menu:
As you can see, the menu of the Office Button allows you to perform the routine Windows operations of a regular application, including creating a new database, opening an existing database, saving an object, etc. We will see these operations in future lessons.
On its right side, the Office Button displays a (short) object called the Quick Access Toolbar . If you want to hide the Quick Access toolbar, you can right-click it and click Remove Quick Access Toolbar.
By default the Quick Access toolbar is equipped with three buttons: Save, Undo, and Redo.
On the right side of the Quick Access toolbar, there is the Customize button with a down-pointing arrow. If you click this button, a menu would appear:
The role of this button is to help you decide what buttons to display on the Quick Access toolbar. To add a button to the Quick Access toolbar, click the Customize button and click the desired button from the menu. If the available buttons are not enough or if you do not see a button you want:
Any of these actions would open the Access Options dialog box:
To add a command, click it in the middle list and click Add. Once you have selected the desired options, click OK.
The main or middle area of the top section displays the name of the application: Microsoft Access.
On the right side of the title bar, there are three system buttons that allow you to minimize, maximize, restore, or close Microsoft Access.
Under the title bar, there is another bar with a Help button on the right side.
The main area of the Microsoft Access interface is divided in three sections. The left side displays a column of various links with the top labeled Online Templates.
The middle section itself is made of two sides. The top part allows you to create a database. The bottom section displays some promotional information from Microsoft.
The right side displays as a column with the top title labeled Open Recent Database with a More button under it. By default, the area under the More button is empty:
The bottom section of the Microsoft Access interface displays a status bar.
A Microsoft Access database is primarily a Windows file. It must have a location, also called a path, which indicates how the file can be retrieved and made available. Although you can create a database on the root directory such as the C: drive, it is usually a good idea to create your files, including your databases, in an easily recognizable folder.
When you installed the computer (or when it was installed), it (the operating system) might have created a folder called My Documents that provides a convenient place for you to create your files. If various people use the same computer, there is a different My Documents folder for each one. When you log in, the computer (the operating system) locates your corresponding My Documents folder and makes it available.
In our lessons, we will learn different techniques of creating a database. For now, a database is first of all a Windows file. It is mainly created from Microsoft Access. If you have just started Microsoft Access, to create a database, you can use one of the links in the main (middle section of the interface).
You can proceed from one of these options. Like every file in the computer, a database must have a name that identifies it. This name must be specified when creating the database.
In our description of the Microsoft Access interface, we saw that the right section displayed an empty area. If you start creating a database as we will see in the next sections and lessons, the right side gets filled with some options, such as prompting you to name your database.
Many techniques allow you to create a database, the fastest of which consists of using one of the provided templates. To create a database using one of the samples, in the left section, first click Local Templates, then, in the main section, select one of the samples under Local Templates:
The templates are organized in categories. To access a sample by category, in the left section, you can click Business, Personal, or Education. When you click a category, its templates display under Local Templates and you can choose one. After selecting a template, in the right section, you must give a name to your new database in the File Name text box. By default, Microsoft Access suggests a name you can use. If you do not like it, you can provide your own. Also, by default, Microsoft Access suggests that the database be created in the My Documents folder. If you want it located in another folder, you can click the Browse button . This would open the File New Database dialog box where you can select an existing folder or create a new one using the Create New Folder button . Display the folder in the Save In combo box and click OK. Once you have specified the name of the database and its location, you can click Create.
Unlike some other programming environments, Microsoft Access considers a database as a single Windows file with a name. We will eventually learn that this file can contain various objects that actually make up a database. Therefore, a Microsoft Access database is opened as a normal file.
After you have created a database, as a computer file, it becomes part of what are known in Microsoft Windows as the most recently used (MRU) documents. As such, when you click the Office Button, the right side of the menu shows a list of MRUs. Here is an example of clicking the Office Button after a few databases have been created:
The number of files that the right column can display can be decreased as low as 1 or increased as high as 9. To change this number, access the Options dialog box by clicking the Office Button and clicking Access Options. In the left frame, click Advanced. In the right frame and in the Display section, change the value of the Show This Number Of Recent Documents:
Whether you work alone or in a group, communication and documentation are important. Your database project has its own properties that you can use to find out some details about your file, to enter some notes about the project, or to give directives to other people who have access to the database. This can be done using a dialog box called the Database Properties. To access it, you can click the Office Button -> Manage -> Database Properties.
To open a database, you can click the Office Button. If you see your intended database in the right column, you can click it to open it.
In our description of the Microsoft Access interface, we saw that, at times, the right section is empty, at other times, such as when creating a new database, it is filled with some other options. Also, when you open Microsoft Access, the right side displays a list of MRUs. Here is an example:
Based on this, to open a database, if you are just starting Microsoft Access, on the right side under Open Recent Database, if you see the name of an existing database, you can click it.
If you locate a database in Windows Explorer, My Computer, My Documents, or any other window that displays the Microsoft Access file icon, you can just double-click the icon and open the database. If you received a database as an email attachment, you can also open the attachment and consequently open the database file.
If you have a database you do not need anymore, you can delete it. To delete a database, in My Documents, in Windows Explorer or another file management application:
A warning message would be presented to you to confirm what you want to do.
After you have deleted a database, it doesn't disappear from the MRU lists of Microsoft Access. This means that, after a database has been deleted, you may still see it in the right column menu of the Office Button or in the list under the Open Recent Database column. If you try opening such a database, you would receive an error. Here is an example from trying to open a database named Things To Do after it had been deleted (although it still appears under Open Recent Database):
If a database has been deleted and you want to remove it from the MRU lists, open the Registry (Start -> Run: regedit, Enter). Open the following key:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER - Software - Microsoft - Office - 12 - Access - Settings
Locate the deleted database and delete its key.
A database is primarily a computer file, just like those created with other applications. As such, it occupies an amount of space in the computer memory. In some circumstances, you should know how much space a database is using. This can be important when you need to back it up or when it is time to distribute it. Also, when adding and deleting objects from your database, its file can grow or shrink without your direct intervention.
Like any other computer file, to know the size of a database, you can right-click it in Windows Explorer or My Computer and click Properties. If you are already using the database, to check its size, you can click the Office Button, position the mouse on Manage and click Database Properties. In the Properties dialog box, click General and check the Size label.
As mentioned already, once you have created a database file, it occupies a certain amount of memory space that can grow or shrink without your direct intervention:
When you add an object to the database, the database's file grows as needed. When you remove an object, the memory space it was occupying is left empty. This also applies when you keep removing objects:
The computer is supposed to recuperate the space those previous objects were using. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Most of the time, that space is left empty but cannot be accessed by the computer. This means that the memory space cannot be made available to other applications. To recover this memory space, you can compact the database. When this is done, the file is shrunk to occupy only the necessary amount of space and free the unused sections:
To compact a database, you have two options. To compact and repair the database that is currently opened, and to compact it only once, click the Office Button, position the mouse on Manage, and click Compact and Repair Database. The database would be compacted behind the scenes.
To compact a database every time you close it, click the Office Button, and click Access Options. In the Access Options, in the left list, click Current Database. In the right list, click the Compact on Close check box:
And click OK.
Under the title bar, Microsoft Access displays a long bar called the ribbon:
If the Ribbon is taking too much space on your screen, you can reduce its size. To do this, click the arrow of the Quick Access button and click Minimize Ribbon:
The ribbon is a type of property sheet made of various property pages. Each page is represented with a tab. To access a tab:
To identify each tab of the ribbon, we will refer to them by their names.
Inside of a tab of the ribbon, the property page is divided in various sections, each delimited by visible borders of vertical lines on the left and right. Each section displays a title in its bottom side. In our lessons, we will refer to each section by that title. For example, if the title displays Font, we will call that section, "The Font Section".
Some sections of the Ribbon display a button . If you see such a button, you can click it. This would open a dialog box or a window.
When Microsoft Access is occupying a big area or the whole area of the monitor, most buttons of the Ribbon appear with text. Sometimes you may need to use only part of the screen. That is, you may need to narrow the Microsoft Access interface. If you do, some of the buttons may display part of their appearance and some would display only an icon. Consider the difference in the following three screenshots:
In this case, when you need to access an object, you can still click it or click its arrow. If the item is supposed to have many objects, a new window may appear and display those objects:
After creating or opening a database, unless the product is setup otherwise, the left section is occupied by a rectangular object called the Navigation Pane. The Navigation Pane is the central point of a database. It allows you to review the objects that are part of a database. You also use it to change the way the objects display, whether the objects should appear in categories, and what categories.
By default, the Navigation Pane appears as a rectangular box with a title on top, a yellow down-pointing button and a Shutter Bar Open/Close Button . If you want to minimize the Navigation button, you can click the Shutter Bar Open/Close Button . If you click it, the Shutter Bar Open/Close Button changes and the Navigation Pane becomes a vertical bar:
To expand the Navigation Pane again, you can click the Shutter Bar Open/Close Button or you can click the bar itself.
The top section of the Navigation Pane displays an All Tables label:
When you create a table, a section gets created for that table. The top section of the table holds its name. The name of a table is followed by a colon and Table:
In the same way, as you create more tables, each gets its own section in the Navigation Pane:
In Lesson 3, we will learn that you can create two types of forms. A form can be associated with a table or a form can be independent of any table. When a form is associated to a table, the name of the form appears under the name of the table. When a form is independent of any table, it appears in a section labeled Unrelated Objects. Here are examples:
In the same way, you can create many forms associated with a table and you can create many unrelated forms.
When you create the tables, they are added to the Navigation Pane in the order you create them. When you create forms associated with a table, by default, the objects inside a category are arranged in alphabetical order. If you want, you can make them display in reverse alphabetical order. To decide on the order you want, you can right-click the name of a section, position the mouse on Sort By, and decide:
By default, when you create the objects that are associated with a table, the objects of the category display. This means the category is expanded. If you want to minimize a section, which is referred to as collapsing, you can click its bar.
If you want to hide a category, right-click its category header and click Hide. To hide all categories except a particular one, right-click the section header of that category and click the Show Only option. To select what categories to hide or what categories to reveal, right-click an empty area in the Navigation Pane and click Category Options. Then use the check boxes to decide.
We saw that you could expand or collapse a category in the Navigation Pane. If you want to expand all categories at once, you can right-click any section header and click Expand All. In the same way, if you want to collapse all categories, right-click any section header and click Collapse All.
The Navigation Pane gives you ample flexibility on how the objects appear in it and how the categories are organized. For example, you can show the tables only, the forms only, or all objects. One way you can decide is to right-click an empty area of the Navigation Pane and click Navigation Options. This would open the Navigation Options dialog box:
The Navigation Options dialog box allows you to do many things. For example, to decide what categories to show or hide, put or remove check marks next to their name in the right list. The dialog box also allows you to create new categories.
One of the types of help you can get is through small boxes called tool tips. These small rectangles display when you position the mouse on a certain item, such as a button on the Ribbon, for a few seconds. In the following example, the mouse is positioned on the Portrait button and a short description appears:
When you move the mouse away, the small box disappears (or closes itself)
Context-sensitive help refers to help provided on a specific dialog box on the screen. Such help is provided for objects that are part of Microsoft Access. Context-sensitive help is also referred to as “What’s This?”. To get context-sensitive help, press Shift + F1. This would call a help window that can describe or explain the object that is displaying. Another type of context sensitive help is provided in various dialog boxes. They display a button with a question mark on the left of the system Close button. To use this type of help, click the question mark button or .
Probably no matter how careful and meticulous you are, sooner or later, you will get errors on something you are working on. These errors display a square box with an exclamation mark:
If you position the mouse on it, a down pointing arrow is added to the right side of the button and if you click the button or its down pointing arrow, a menu would appear. One of the options on the menu is labeled Help on This Error:
You can then click Help on This Error to get some information on how to fix the error.
In various sections of our lessons, we will use an object called the Properties window, which allows you to change the characteristics of a control:
Some options of the Properties window could be difficult to figure out, especially if they are not explicit and if you are not familiar with them. Fortunately, to get help for any item of the Properties window, click it and press F1. The Help window would come up and would display one or more options on the topic you had clicked. If you see a link with the same name of the item you clicked, you can click that link and its explanation would display.
Online help is a program that provides help on Microsoft Access. There are two main types of online help:
Although help on the Internet tends to be disparate, it is still the widest form of help available. This is provided in web sites, web pages, newsgroups, support groups, etc. As the publisher of the database environment, it is only natural to refer to Microsoft corporate web site first for help. The Microsoft web site is divided in categories. A web site is dedicated to Microsoft Access at http://www.microsoft.com/access. You can get help at http://support.microsoft.com. Probably the most visited site of Microsoft for developers of all Microsoft products is http://msdn.microsoft.com. This last site provides a tree list that presents items in categories (like the MSDN CD-ROM or a DVD).
Since Microsoft Access shares the same functionality you are probably familiar with from using other applications, you can close it easily.
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