Microsoft Access’ easy to use form and report design make it enjoyable to create simple databases in short order. To go beyond simple data entry and reporting, however, you need to learn how to create macros or program in Visual Basic. Unfortunately, Access does not include some of the most common features needed in any Access-based application. To create user-friendly applications, Access users have to spend time creating menus, coding button commands, or simply go without. All this distracts from working on the specialized capabilities that Access users are looking to create (somewhat like recreating the wheel, but never getting a chance to finish the car).
UI Builder for Microsoft Access provides the features nearly every Access user needs to create a Microsoft Access application, allowing for more time to focus on the specific forms, reports, and queries that solve the primary need. In addition to saving time, UI Builder offers many features advanced features users would like to have, but never have the time to create and test. UI Builder is very user friendly, but also contains features that experienced developers and software contractors can use to impress their users/clients.
UI Builder comes in three different editions, Starter, Business, and Enterprise. Customers can upgrade from one level to the next, and OpenGate Software (the author) provides free upgrades with new features over time.
One of the most exciting aspects of UI Builder is the menu interface. A far cry from the Access Switchboard Manager, which hasn’t changed visually since Access 2.0, UI Builder’s menu system includes six different layouts that can be changed at any time. The product also allows users to select from pre-defined color schemes, or create their own. Each of the eight menu buttons is fully customizable, and there are over 26 different menu commands to choose from. For each main menu button, a submenu can be created with five separate buttons. As users change screens, the submenu buttons change. Anyone that relied on custom menus in Access 2003 and lower will have difficulty adapting to the Access 2007 Ribbon UI, which is less easily modified on the fly. UI Builder can help Access users transition to Access 2007 with greater ease.
Some of the other touches UI Builder offers are fade-in/fade-out popup messages, particularly useful if you want to notify the user of an event, but don’t want to bother them with a message box that requires them to click “OK.” There is also a progress bar form that is easy to call from Visual Basic, and does not depend on an ActiveX control (ActiveX can be a big headache for anyone deploying their database to users on different workstations that might not have the same ActiveX control versions installed).
One of the key pains Access developers encounter is tracing issues with their databases. Whether the database is on their own machine, or on a user’s machine many miles away, being able to isolate issues and troubleshoot can be difficult. UI Builder includes an event logging utility that can record key events and errors within an Access database to a table or XML file. The logging utility can be called from a user’s own VB code, and can be set to capture different levels of granularity. And if desired, an email alert can even be sent to a specific individual if certain errors are logged.
The product contains what OpenGate Software calls it’s VBA toolbox, which is a collection of both original VB code, and commonly needed, publicly available VB code (the company emphasizes that the publicly available snippets are not part of the sales price, but just a nice service for customers).
A key complaint for many Access users is the inability to create nicely formatted email messages from Access. UI Builder has a mail merge feature that allows you to create mail merge “profiles” that you can use to print or email a single formatted merged Word document, or send mass emails. UI Builder’s menu buttons can even be configured to pull information from the record a user is currently viewing and generate a formatted email to Outlook using that record’s email address and other information.
Another nice touch is UI Builder’s ability to create an Outlook task directly from Access, saving user’s time. As with all the UI Builder features, you can embed the capability into your own forms with a simple Visual Basic function call, UI Builder handles the rest.
Microsoft Access is frequently deployed to multiple users, which presents unique challenges for management and security. UI Builder’s Enterprise edition caters to multi-user situations with features like user-specific menus, where individual users may have different menus buttons and commands. This can be particularly useful when trying to limit user access to areas of an Access database, and reduce training requirements. Another feature useful for multi-user situations is record-level auditing, which means being able to track the adds/changes/deletes a user makes in the database for future reference. UI Builder provides a four step form to help set up auditing, only requiring a user to paste a few lines of automatically created Visual Basic into their forms. The last feature of note for multi-user databases is what OpenGate Software calls the Linked Table Verification and Repair, which essentially checks for broken table links on startup, and helps the user to re-connect to the back-end database in a few short steps.
Many people know that Microsoft Access can serve as an easy to develop front-end to Microsoft SQL Server or MySQL server. Or, if a database starts to outgrow Access, the data can be moved to an SQL server, and the users still work in Access. UI Builder is fully compatible with both database solutions, which means that even though a business starts to grow beyond Access for database management, they don’t necessarily need to spend the money to rewrite their Access application in .Net or another programming platform.
You can download a free evaluation of UI Builder from OpenGate Software’s website: http://www.opengatesw.net