Access is a great product, but Microsoft did leave out a few things that would make it easier to use.
(The good news, you can add these features by downloading our Access add-in today. Set-up takes only a few minutes.)
Here are the Top Ten features you won't find in Microsoft Access today:
Graphs should be automatic, highlight what you want to graph, and click an icon. The graphs should be available in many different styles, but default to the best choice -- such as hi/low/volume for stock charts and 3D bar charts for pivot tables.
Better error checking. Everyone makes mistakes. Why not one button that checks for duplicate data, conflicting names in queries, illegal SQL statements, tables joined by keys of unequal types, etc.
Access should not only be more automatic, but more interactive. You should be able to create a pivot table just by selecting a few columns and clicking "Pivot".
Change the date or the way we sum up the date, whether by year or month or week, with another click. If you want to see things totalled up over an unusual period, just indicate it on the calendar and let the software do the rest.
Pivot tables should be flippable. Sometimes you want to see values across, sometimes down. In the Access ELF Worksheet, drag any description column to the right of all the others -- now it's in position to be flipped up into a column heading (Mirror button).
Think about the power this gives you. With Access databases (unlike spreadsheets), you can't just drag rows into any position you want. But you can rearrange columns. So once we have the ability to change rows into columns, we can move anything we want to any position! And Access ELF keeps it organized the way we've arranged it, even after we flip the table back, like this...
(Notice how Nancy Freehafer has been dragged to the front, out of alphabetical order, and remains on top when flipped.)
We should be able to add a totals column easily, or remove it. And while it's nice that Access gives you a totals-row option, it would have been better if it filled itself in automatically. Seriously.
Another way Access could be more flexible is if it let you work with queries, and chains of queries, without making you stop to give everything a name. You should be able to easily edit temporary queries, and add queries that refer back to earlier ones. Once you decide you like the results you're getting, you can save the whole chain with one click. And also be able to reload the sequence of queries with one action, getting back to where you left off.
Many tables have relationships best expressed by trees, like who reports to who in an organization, or which courses are prerequsites of each other. You should be able to view these in their natural context without any extra work.
Even with relations that aren't strictly trees, it can still be useful to view them that way. (Like something as simple as a list of fish and whether they're edible or not.) And you should be able to sum or count or average any value up the tree. Here, for instance, we've selected the LENGTH of the fish, and see it averaged by its GOOD-EATINGNESS!
In a company database, you might want to see the date of the next product rollout, or the largest yearly budget, floated up the organization's chain of command.
Of course, all these components should work together; it should be painless to graph the tree, or any branch of it.
Another nice feature that Microsoft added to Access in the past few versions is the ability to look at subdata. This isn't used as much as it could be, because it's so clumsy. We should be able to pick any reasonable subdata from a list. And actually, very often it's useful to just pull the subdata right into the worksheet you're looking at, and maybe choose another level of subdata. Or rinse and repeat!
Oh, and the subdata should be graphable. And it should have its own SQL editor.
By the way, Access selects the subdata based on how tables and queries can be joined. But there's a different style of combining data. Many applications have a number of tables or queries with the exact same structure, but they hold information related to, let's say, a different time period, or a different geographical area. Take this example, real estate data from different counties. If we want to combine one county and another into a single worksheet, it should all get added into one common list. No relational-type joins involved.
And if merging tables and creating unions seems like overkill for what you're trying to do, you should just be able to double-click on a field and pull in any missing fields from the tables you're working with. Or focus in on records that have certain values.
One of the most important items missing from Access, these days, is an automatic running totals feature. Considering how often this has to be built, and rebuilt, for nearly every application, it's odd that Microsoft didn't include it. It should work something like this. Just select a column (or several) to sum over, highlight a numeric column -- then click Insert. Row highlighting should make it easy to locate the beginning and end of each running totals group.
But the number one top ten feature missing from Microsoft Access is, plain English query.
Which customers have ordered tofu but not Longlife tofu?
List the products that have less than 10 units in stock.
How many orders have been placed for each seafood product since October?
No, not every question can be instantly translated into SQL, but today's computers are fast enough to do a very decent job of interpreting English.
These are all features that should be included in a future version of Microsoft Access.
Of course, they're all included, with many more we haven't had a chance to show, in the current release of Access ELF from ELF Software.
Support is standing by to assist registered users with any Access or Access ELF related questions.
Documentation of prior releases of Access ELF is available here
#1 most frequently asked question: How easy is this natural language query feature to use?
In many cases, a complete natural language solution can be built just by clicking the "Express" button.
And if your natural language interface is not working the way you expect, send us a copy of your database and we'll diagnose the problem and suggest a solution.
Here's an example of a complete interface.
"I gave ELF a try and was impressed by its ease of use and accuracy in interpreting natural-language input."--Roger Jennings
"Access ELF integrates smoothly with Access and provides very powerful tools for transforming your data into useful information; just ask questions in plain English."--ZD Net Software Library
"If you've got any users who shy away from traditional queries, it's worth the investment to try ELF."--Karen Watterson
"I like programs that feel very well thought out. This is definitely one of those rare programs."--Pete Forde
"I saved close to 59 developer hours... I got all our queries to work that I thought our users would want. Access ELF is a great product. It gives your users the ability to query your databases without having to learn any SQL at all."--Stephen Forte
Access ELF 2010 and Access ELF 2007 (download delivery) can be purchased from BMT Micro.
Access ELF 2010 and Access ELF 2007 (physical delivery) can also be purchased from Amazon.