"Can't find what you're looking for? Just ask!"
Inside Microsoft Access, February 2000

The title of our article has long been a department store mantra. Now, thanks to ELF Software, you can apply the phrase to your databases. Their product, Access ELF, lets you perform natural language queries against a database. For example, suppose you want to see a list of products you receive from a particular supplier. You can simply type What products are supplied by Bigfoot breweries and click a button, and Access ELF returns the results (all without any teenage store-clerk attitude).

We first brought this add-in to your attention a year ago, but an upgrade makes it worth another look. Access ELF is now available for Access 2000, and the 97 edition has been updated to version 3.0.

...The newest version of Access ELF incorporates features that let developers really control how the add-in works. You can now use query phrases as triggers that run VBScript or JScript programs, allowing you to change the query or validate security. You also have the ability to generate custom error messages. From an end-user standpoint, the best new feature is probably the ability to link two fields together, so that when data from one is returned, the data from the other field is automatically included.

... As a developer, you can only accommodate for so many canned queries in an application. It's doubtful that management-level users that want to run ad hoc queries will also want to invest the time to learn SQL and query nuances. This usually means getting sidetracked into trial-and-error query creation as your bosses try to hone in on what data they're looking for. However, by allowing users to query using plain English, you free up yourself to develop the applications that truly need your expertise.

Complete review

"Natural Language Processing Made Easy" --Stephen Forte
Access/VB/Office Advisor, November 1999

Putting past failures in Natural Language Processing aside, I decided to play with a version of Access ELF 2000. The product impressed me.

It took less than an hour to create a bunch of select queries and run ELF against those queries by selecting "custom" in the set up. I saved close to 59 developer hours...I got all our queries to work that I thought our users would want. The response time was fast, and ELF even popped up the Access spellchecker when it couldn't understand my bad typing.

Access ELF 2000 is a great product. It gives your users the ability to query your databases without having to learn any SQL at all. As a developer, you can customize Access ELF as you see fit... the "maintenance" that I'm required to do to my existing applications usually consists of creating new reports. With Access ELF, that burden is now much less.

Complete review

Stephen Forte is a Contributing Editor of Access/VB/Office Advisor Magazine, President of the NYC Access and VB Developers Group, and co-author of both Access 2000 Development Unleashed (SAMS 1999) and the Microsoft Jet Database Programmers Guide (MS Press 1999).

"Why can't they make computers understand plain English?"
--John Percival, VB-World  

...In the tests that I did, the answers were quick and correct 99% of the time. I tried their demo questions and a few of my own, and was astounded by the results.

This software is a definite must if you are creating database applications. It allows novice users to create SQL queries that you wouldn't have dreamed about in your worst nightmares! With up and coming support for hands-free voice operation and ADO/OLEDB, and free upgrades, you can be sure that it is future-proof.

Originally appeared in http://www.vb-world.net/databases/vbelf.html

"Review of VB ELF" --Pete Forde, Dateline: 01/02/98  

...Some of today's best selling applications have absolutely terrible user interfaces. My good friend Alan Cooper (the creator of Visual Basic) is full of great suggestions for those who are willing to listen; many of these are encapsulated in his book, About Face. This is probably my favorite book.

Fortunately, some people are willing to listen. Jon Greenblatt, and the folks at ELF Software have come up with an ActiveX server they call (I was shocked) VB-ELF. This truly great product allows a user to type in a question, in natural English, and it will convert it to an SQL query ...

If you are interested in what this concept has to offer, you should really check out the ELF Software website. Both from a developer's point-of-view, as well as that of the end user, this interface is a tremendous step forward, especially if that developer is developing applications for the public, be they kiosk terminals, or even web pages and intranets.

I like programs that feel very well thought out. This is definitely one of those rare programs ... Oh, and did I mention the free tech support?

Originally appeared in http://visualbasic.miningco.com

From the October 1997 review of Access ELF in
Smart Access from Pinnacle Press

"Do You Speak English? ELF Does . . .

A Steal At $49*
If you've got any users who shy away from traditional queries,
it's worth the $49 investment to try ELF."
- Karen Watterson

*Reflects 1997 introductory pricing

Access ELF...1996 ZDNet/PC Magazine Shareware Awards Finalist

Of the thousands of shareware products published, ZDNet/PC Magazine chose only 5 finalists in the application category.

ZD Net Software Library: ***** 5 Stars -- their highest rating!

"Access ELF is a natural-language query interface for Microsoft Access databases. Access ELF integrates smoothly with Access and provides very powerful tools for transforming your data into useful information; just ask questions in plain English and obtain the results in a variety of formats, including tables, graphs, automatic forms, and more. Advanced options and customization features allow you to extend and tailor the language interface to fit the specific requirements of your application. A plentiful supply of examples gives you a pretty good idea of what is possible and helps you to get started. If you are developing database applications using Access or if you just want to get the most out of your database, you should definitely take a good look at this program." (March 25, 1996)

    Superior Shareware, August 1996


--Roger Jennings, writing in Visual Basic Programmer's Journal Sept. '95

I gave ELF a try and was impressed by its ease of use and accuracy in interpreting natural-language input. ELF's ability to generate a series of complex SQL SELECT statements from a deceptively simple sentence is uncanny... As an example, the question "Which customers have placed more orders than average?" produces five sequentially executed queries, most with complex JOINs and one containing the DAvg() domain aggregate function to compute the average number of orders. You might be able to write a more elegant query in Access SQL to return this result set, but I bet you can't beat ELF's speed: 12 seconds to do the SQL translation, plus three seconds to execute the five queries...

One of ELF's strongest features is the ease with which it creates Access graphs for users, making Access truly an end-user query tool. All you need to do is replace "Show me" (or its equivalent) with "Graph" and write a query that you expect to return a reasonable number of rows, say 11 or less. Users can activate the chart and change the chart type themselves.

Access's drag-and-drop query design methodology is pretty quick, but ELF is even faster. At the current progress rate...it won't be too long until hands-off natural-language querying becomes the norm.

Last Updated: January, 2000