Microsoft Access 2013 Upgrade is out and both Ben and have been experimenting with it for sometime now. Here are 10 things we love about the new Access web services:

1. It’s SQL Server-based. (Ben)

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It used to be that Access had its own database engine, known originally as JET and now called ACE. We could always upsize an Access database to SQL Server and keep on using Access as front-end to the new SQL Server database. However, the upsizing was never hassle-free and there were enough differences between the JET/ACE engine with SQL Server that there were some incompatibilities. Upsizing is no longer needed and your database will scale nicely with a SQL Server backend.

The Access team is meeting with the SQL Server folks on a regular basis, that never happened before, expect bigger and better things from the collaboration of both groups.

2. We can still use “regular” Access for our reporting and other enhancements. (Ben)

Web technology is a wonderful addition to any traditional legacy database. We typically design complex applications and it is very unlikely we will convert them to web-only applications. However, the fact that we can connect to the same SQL Server means we can continue to use our legacy applications, enjoy many wonderful features that regular Access has to offer. It’s a win-win.

3. … and it’s not just for Access! (Ben)

We can also use SQL Server Reporting Services, Excel or any other tools that supports connecting to SQL Azure/SQL Server over ODBC to also generate reporting. Many of our projects usually have reports output into Excel spreadsheets for various reasons and with ODC functionality, it is possible to create a spreadsheet using data from Access web services!

4. The new programming model frees us from needing to design the forms and focus on normalization first (Ben)

Some programmers will be horrified over this loss of control. No longer could they place a button perfect to the pixel. But, hey. We’re not hired to make pretty apps. We’re there to make business functional, and by making the form design simple, we gain two big things – 1) consistency and 2) intuitive interface.

5. Searching and filtering is now built-in. (Ben)

Access provides a list view which always shows the search box with a list of records. There is no code needed to get it to be searchable and users can just click on a record to see the details. Instead of adding a search form and coding everything to get it working, it’s built automatically for free.

6. Navigation is also built-in, allowing us to focus on the business process, rather than the mechanisms of getting from there to here (Ben)

When we add a table, a new tab appears on the main page and we can optionally hide it. Furthermore, when a record has a lookup field on it, it can be displayed as a hyperlink which can be used to pop open a form showing the details of this related record. There is also related item controls which makes it every easy to drill through. All with no code!

7. Greatly improved lookup interface makes it easy to build foreign keys (Ben)

In previous versions, lookup fields required 5 steps in the wizard to set up the lookup. This is now a single step and the description are far more easier to follow so that a person who never has heard of terms like ‘foreign key constraint’ and ‘normal form’ can easily create lookups. It’s also going to avoid keying in erroneous data.

8. We finally get a customizable navigation bar (now called Action Bar) (Ben)

Lots of times, we found that the legacy navigation bar would not be always appropriate — sometimes we end up having to provide our own navigation bar just in order to be able to write code to check conditions when a record navigation is performed and cancel it if needed. Well, action bars are now fully programmable, so we have much more control over checking the conditions and allowing the actions without having to re-invent the wheel. Again, a big time-saver.

9. I love the new pop up properties window! (Juan)

I love how the properties for controls now just pop when I need them, no need to hunt for properties in a list anymore!

10. One click publishing is improved and Office365 2013 makes it very easy! (Juan)

When you get into the dirty details, setting up your own web server is not a trivial task. Nobody wants to make investment only to find out that it was overkill or was all wrong. Setting up a subscription account is comparatively far less risky compared to large outlay required in getting a web application running. We think that’s a big improvement.

Have you had a chance to work with the preview? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!