Introduction to Microsoft Access


Microsoft Access Launching



Keys to open Microsoft Access

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 all data, or in an enterprise to communicate with servers.


Like any other computer application, in order to use Microsoft Access, you must first open it. There are various ways you can do this. Microsoft Access is a classic computer application and 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 2003.

Practical Learning: Launching Microsoft Access

  • To start Microsoft Access,  click Start -> (All) Programs -> Microsoft Office -> Microsoft Office Access 2003

Microsoft Access Shortcuts

By default, Microsoft Office 2003 gets installed in the D:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11 folder. The shortcuts of its applications are also installed in that folder. The shortcut for Microsoft Office is named MSACCESS.EXE. This means that you could launch it from Windows Explorer or My Computer. To do this, locate the shortcut in Windows Explorer or My Computer and 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.

You can also launch Microsoft Access from a shortcut. If you happen to use the software on a regular basis, you can create a shortcut on your desktop or on the Quick Launch area. Many users also take advantage of the Microsoft Office Shortcut Bar. Sometimes, the icon you need will not be there; in that case you should insert it manually.

If you are working on a network of related computers, your database may be located in another computer. In this case the network or database administrator would create a link or shortcut to the drive that is hosting the database. You can then click or double-click this link or shortcut to open the database and, as a result, launch Microsoft Access.

Whenever you find out that you are using a particular program or file most regularly, you should have a shortcut on the desktop that can lead you to it quickly. 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. Except on Microsoft Windows 95, you can create a shortcut from the Programs menu.

  • To create a shortcut from Windows Explorer or My Computer, you can right-click the icon or the shortcut of the application, position your mouse on Send To -> Desktop (Create Shortcut).
  • To create a shortcut from the Start menu, click Start -> (All) Programs. When the program appears, you can right-click it, position the mouse pointer on Send To and click Desktop (Create Shortcut)
  • To create a shortcut from the desktop, you can right-click on an empty area of the Desktop -> New -> Shortcut. On the first page of the wizard, you can click the Browse button, expand My Computer, expand the drive, expand Program Files, expand Microsoft Office, expand OFFICE11, click MSACCESS.EXE, and click OK

    Click Next. On the second page of the wizard, you should rename the shortcut. For example, you can name it Microsoft Access

    Then click Finish

Microsoft Access Interface



When Microsoft Access 2003 opens, it displays a rectangular window occupied in the top and the right sections while the middle section is empty:

The Title Bar

As a regular Windows application, Microsoft Access shares some characteristics that are common to other programs. The top section of the interface is made of wide bar called the title bar:

The left section of the title bar displays a small picture known as the system icon. This icon is used to identify the application. The icon holds a list of actions you can use to close, minimize, maximize, move or restore the application. To perform any of these actions, you would click the system icon:

This list can also be referred to as the system menu. To use one of its items, you can click it. If you click the system icon, a menu would come up. If you click Move, you would notice that the mouse pointer changes its shape into a cross

You can use this system cursor to move the window:

  • If you want to move the window using this cursor, you can press and hold Shift. Then press the right arrow key a few times and press the down arrow key twice
  • If you want to move the window slowly, you can press and hold Ctrl, then press and hold the left arrow key while you are still holding Ctrl

The main area of a title bar is a long bar actually referred to as the title bar. This section is also used to perform the same operations available on the system menu. There are other operations you can perform different than the system menu depending on the way you click the main area of the title bar. For example to maximize Microsoft Access, you can double-click the title bar.

The right section of the title bar displays three small squares referred to as the system buttons. They are used to minimize, maximize, restore or close Microsoft Access. These items are

Button Role
Minimizes the window
Maximizes the window
Restores the window
Closes the window

The Main Menu

Under the title bar, there is a horizontal list of words. This list is made of items such as File, Edit, View, etc. Since there are various kinds of menus on this application, the menu on top will be referred to as the Main Menu and sometimes the Menu Bar.

To use a menu item, you click one of its words and the menu expands. When the menu has focus and you want to dismiss it, you can press Esc. If an item is missing from the main menu, you can customize it.

There are four main types of menus you will encounter:

  • When clicked, the behavior of a menu that stands alone depends on the actions prior to clicking it. Under the File menu, examples are Close or Exit
  • A menu that is disabled is not accessible at the moment. This kind of menu depends on another action or the availability of something else. An example is on the Window category:

  • A menu with three dots means that an intermediary action is required in order to apply its assignment. Usually, this menu would call a dialog box where the user would have to make a decision.
  • A menu with an arrow holds a list of menu items under it. A menu under another menu is called a submenu. To use such a menu, you would position the mouse on it to display its submenu. Here is an example:

On the main menu (and any menu), there is one letter underlined on each word. Examples are F in File, E in Edit, V in View, etc. The underlined letter is called an access key (the word access has nothing to do with Microsoft Access, it is used in this sense throughout Microsoft Windows and other operating systems). The access key allows you to access the same menu item using the keyboard. In order to use an access key, the menu should have focus first. The menu is given focus by pressing either the Alt or the F10 keys.

On some menu items, there is a key or a combination of keys we call a shortcut. This key or this combination allows you to perform the same action on that menu using the keyboard.
If the shortcut is made of one key only, you can just press it. If the shortcut is made of two keys, press and hold the first one, while you are holding the first, press the second key once and release the first key. Some shortcuts are a combination of three keys.

Authornote From now on, in this book,
Press Means
T Press the T key
Alt, G Press and release Alt. Then press G
Ctrl + H Press and hold Ctrl. While you are still holding Ctrl, press H once. Then release Ctrl
Ctrl + Shift + E Press and hold Ctrl. Then press and hold Shift. Then press E once. Release Ctrl and Shift

The Toolbars

Under the menu bar, there is another bar made of various buttons. This is called a toolbar. The toolbars change a lot in Microsoft Access. As you spend more time with this application you will learn how to recognize these toolbars. Each toolbar has a proper name and we will learn how to recognize them.

At times, there will be many toolbars that come and go while you are using Microsoft Access. For this reason, we will refer to each toolbar by its name. To know the name of a toolbar, you can right-click any word on the menu bar or any button on the toolbar. If you have only one toolbar on your screen, its name will have a check box. The other name(s) on the context menu is (are) the one (those) you can add to the screen if you wish:

You can also create your own toolbar.

The Status Bar

The status bar is a long horizontal bar that spans the whole bottom section of Microsoft Access. It will be used to provide some assistance or information about an item that is displaying or being accessed in Microsoft Access. At this time, it may be displaying Ready (and it means it)

Microsoft Access Database File


The Database as a File

A Microsoft Access database is primarily a Windows file like any other. 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.

Starting with Microsoft Windows 95 but except Windows NT 4.0, the operating system creates a folder called My Documents that provides a convenient place for a user to create files. With Windows 2000, XP, and 2003, there is also a My Documents folder but because various people may use the same computer, there is a different My Documents folder for each user. When a user logs in, the operating system locates his or her corresponding My Documents folder and makes it available.

Creating a Database

A database is first of all a Windows file. It is mainly created from Microsoft Access. If you are just starting Microsoft Access, you can use one of the options on the right side of the interface. Like every file in the computer, a database must have a name that identifies it. This name must be specified when creating the database.

Opening a Database

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.

To open a database:

  • If you have just started Microsoft Access, on the right side, under Open, you can click More..., locate the folder that contains the database, select the database, and click Open
  • If Microsoft Access is already opened, on the main menu, you can click File -> Open..., locate the database, and click Open
  • In Windows Explorer, My Documents or My Computer, if you see a database file (with the Microsoft Access logo), you can double-click it
  • If you received a database as an email attachment, you can open the attachment and consequently open the database file.

Microsoft Access keeps a list of most recently used databases under the File menu. By default, the limit is set to 4. You can increase the list of MRU (most recently used) files in the General tab of the Options dialog box. To open a file that was previously used, you can click File from the main menu and click the database file from the list.


Practical Learning: Opening a Database

  1. On the main menu of Microsoft Access, click File -> Open
  2. From the resources that accompany these lessons, find Grier Summer Camp
  3. Click Open

Overview of Database Objects


The Database Window

After creating or opening a database, unless the product is setup otherwise, the first object that appears is a rectangular box named the Database window:

The Database window is a classic object of Windows applications. It is equipped with a system icon on the left side of its title bar and three system buttons on the right side. Based on this, you can maximize, minimize, restore, or close it. You can also resize it by dragging one of its borders or corners. Because the Database window holds all objects that are part of a database, if you close the Database window, it also closes the database but leaves Microsoft Access opened. Because Microsoft Access is a Multiple Document Interface (MDI) application, if you maximize any of its child objects, such as the Database windows, the other objects that you subsequently open would be maximized also.

The objects of the Database window are organized in categories under the Objects Bar. To access a category, you can click its corresponding button. Once in the section of a category, to open an object:

  • You can double-click it
  • You can click it to select it, then click the Open button on the right side
  • You can also right-click an object and click Open

The Database window is equipped with a title bar. Under the title bar, the window is equipped with a contextual toolbar. This means that the toolbar responds according to the object that is selected in the Database window. Besides the buttons that represent categories, when you click a button, one or three links allow you to create objects of that category. For example, you can create a table by double-clicking the Create Table By Using Wizard link.

Besides providing the ability to create a new object or open an existing one, you can also delete an object using the Database window’s toolbar. To do this, you can click the object to select it. Then, on this toolbar, click the Delete button. The Database window’s toolbar also provides four view buttons that allow you to change the way the list displays in the right side of the view. If you have used Windows Explorer, My Computer, or My Documents, you are probably familiar with these buttons. For example, here is the Database window that displays its list in Large Icons:


Microsoft Access Help


Context-Sensitive Help

Context-sensitive help refers to help provided on a specific item on the screen. Such help is provided for objects that are part of Microsoft Access interface. It includes objects like buttons on toolbars and other objects. Context-sensitive help is also referred to as “What’s This?”.

To get context-sensitive help, you can press Shift + F1. In addition to the traditional arrow, the mouse cursor would be accompanied by a question mark. To get help on an object, you can just click it.

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 and click the item on which you need help.

Practical Learning: Using Context-Sensitive Help

  1. Press Shift + F1 and notice the new mouse cursor
  2. On the Database window, position the mouse on Tables
  3. Click
  4. After viewing help, press Esc
  5. To get context-sensitive help on a dialog box, on the main menu, click Insert -> Form
  6. In the New Form dialog box, click the What’s This button 
    New Form
  7. Click the list box in the middle right side of the dialog

  8. After viewing help, click the What’s This button again and click the combo box, in the bottom right side of the dialog box
  9. After viewing help, press Esc and click Cancel

The Office Assistant

The Office Assistant is a “character” or a “virtual person” whose main job is to provide instant help when using a Microsoft Office product. The Office Assistant is usually on top of Microsoft Access while you are working. If you do not like the way it looks, you can click it and click Options. This would present you with the Office Assistant property sheet in which the Gallery property page allows you to select a different Office Assistant. The Options property page allows you to configure the behavior and responsiveness of the Office Assistant.

To use its service, just click it, then type a word, a sentence, or a question. After pressing Enter, a primary list of possible matches would be displayed. If you do not find what is close to your request, you can use the available options or change your request.

If you do not want the Office Assistant on the screen while you are working, you can hide it. To do this, on the main menu, you can click Help -> Hide Office Assistant. To display it when it is not available, on the main menu, you can click Help -> Show the Office Assistant.

Practical Learning: Using the Office Assistant

  1. If the Office Assistant is not displaying on the screen, on the main menu, click Help -> Show the Office Assistant
    To use the Office Assistant, click it
  2. Type Create Table
  3. Click Search
  4. On the list that appears, click Create a table (MDB)
  5. After reading it, on the toolbar of the HTML Help window, click the Back button
  6. Click another link
  7. After reading it, close the HTML Help window that opened

Online Help

Online help is a separate program that provides help on Microsoft Access. There are two main types of online help:

  • Microsoft Access ships with help available from the main menu. To use it, you can click Help to display the list or available categories. The most direct way of accessing help consists of clicking Microsoft Access Help. This would bring up the Office Assistant and you would proceed as we did above
  • If you have access to a Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) CD-ROM or DVD, which is the help system provided to programmers who use Microsoft technologies (such as Microsoft Visual Studio), it includes a section on Microsoft Office, which internally includes a sub-category on Microsoft Access. On that help system and in the left frame, you can expand the link that displays Office. Then visit links to Microsoft Access or Microsoft Office:

Internet 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).

Microsoft Access Exit

Since Microsoft Access shares the same functionality you are probably familiar with from using other applications, you can close it easily.

  • To close Microsoft Access, from the menu bar, you can click File -> Exit
  • To close Microsoft Access from the system icon, you can either click it and click Close, or you can double-click its system icon
  • To close Microsoft Access from its title bar, you can click its Close button
  • To close Microsoft Access like any regular window of the Microsoft Windows applications, you can press Alt + F4
  • To close Microsoft Access using mnemonics, you can press Alt, F, X

Practical Learning: Closing Microsoft Access

  • To close Microsoft Access, click the Close button on the top right corner of the window

Lesson Summary


MOUS Topics

S4 Use the Microsoft Office Assistant
S5 Select an object using the Objects Bar



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