The most notable things about Access 2007 is that Microsoft has finally given it some long-overdue attention and beefed up its security tools while making the whole program more usable.
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While these tweaks won't totally stave off speculation about whether Microsoft intends to replace it with SQL Server and some fancy design tools, Access 2007 constitutes a major overhaul of the ageing database app, adding significant new features and streamlining the interface. For those who regularly manage data in Access, it's a worthwhile upgrade.
Access tames its Windows
Previous versions of Access have forced users to deal with a dozen floating windows at once. Access 2007 removes the clutter and organises windows into neat tabs. A navigation pane on the left lets users choose a database object to work with. The pane is permanently visible, but you can collapse it into a narrow bar if you want more workspace. The upshot is that working in the less congested new interface is much easier and more enjoyable.
Nor has Microsoft forgotten about old-school Access users. You can still bring back the overlapping windows - useful for viewing several database objects at a time. Access 2007 handles databases created in previous versions of the program without a hitch, though the new display environment and code security settings will force long-time users to adjust a bit.
Files in your database
One of the best new features is the Attachment data type, which permits you to embed entire files in your database. It's a great way to store pictures, documents and other files alongside a related record. However, databases are limited to 2GB so you can forget about using Access to store movies, music and other hefty files.
An attachment field can hold as many files as you want, so it can be used as an all-purpose container for extra bits of information. If you have a table of employees, you could associate a photo, CV or other items.
Great databases use code, and code can do bad things. Previous versions of Access handled buggy code by popping up a stream of warning messages that users had to click through every time they opened a database.
Access 2007 uses a simpler approach. When you open a database, the program quietly disables all potentially unsafe macro actions and code. A slim security message then appears at the top of the window, informing you that your database has been restricted. You can switch your code back on with a couple of clicks or place your database in a folder designated as a trusted location. After this you won't see an unnecessary security warning again.
Forms and reports
Designing data-entry forms and reports in Access can be a bit tedious. To get the exact arrangement of information you want, you have to drag each piece of information to the right place individually. Access 2007 improves this situation dramatically with a feature called layouts, which keeps information together in neat columns or tables.
Layouts are a dream to work with because Access includes a new Wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) form and report designer. Using these tools, you can apply formatting and see the results immediately - something previous versions of Access were crying out for.