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When to use Access versus Excel

access logoA typical question I run into is 'Why should I use Access when I can do everything I want in Excel?'. The answer is never black and white, but each of these programs have been created to address specific types of problems. I find many cases where people have used Excel for something where they really should have used Access. This usually happens because people are familiar with Excel, but not quite so comfortable with using Access. This can get you into trouble, and you really should ask yourself some questions before you get started. Here are some of the items that go through my mind when I'm trying to help someone decide which of these application should be used:


Microsoft Access Sucks - The Myth

access logoI've been developing database applications for years, and have worked with both large and small systems. A large percentage of my daily job revolves around working with the data from a fairly large custom Oracle database that drives all of the manufacturing and accounting processes for a mid-size US-based manufacturer. I also oversee the development and maintenance of a MySQL database that drives the corporate website for that same company. Previous to that I worked for several years as a consultant and software developer specializing in Access applications. I've noticed along the way that there are a lot of database administrators and developers that have a real bias against Access, and thought I would spend a minute or two chiming in with my own two cents.


Word How-to: Use Autocorrect for repeating text

word logoSo, I'm doing some work on my laptop the other night and E looks over my shoulder and says 'Hey, I've got a question for you. I was working in Word today and I must have typed the same word over and over 40 times. Isn't there a way to create a shortcut key or something where I can type in 2 or 3 letters and have the word fill in automagically?'. So I say 'Well, actually, yes, there is'.


Microsoft Outlook - know your .pst file

So, you've got your cell phone, your PDA and your laptop. You have your frequent flyer account numbers memorized, and you can grab a connection through O'Hare inside 10 minutes without breaking a sweat. You've got spare batteries, power converters and adapters for every configuration from Italy to Istanbul. You've got your contacts, e-mails, task list and calendar right at your fingertips at all times. You're a true 21st century road warrior, a digital marvel, proud, strong, organized, unstoppable. Right? Yeah, me too. Problem is, we're living on the edge of a knife and our road-show kingdom is actually a house of cards built on a less-than-perfect foundation - a little (or not-so-little) file called outlook.pst.


PowerPoint presentations - 8 common mistakes

powerpoint logoI've just come back from a gruelling week of corporate meetings, a 5 day marathon of seemingly never ending PowerPoint presentations. As the person in charge of marketing and IT, part of my job is to be the contact point for all of the attendees, folks ranging from 1st year sales reps to divisional presidents, COO's and CEO's. Everyone is required to send me their presentations in advance, so that they can all be put on a single computer. If I get them in time, I usually go through them quickly and fix any of the obvious problems. Human nature being what it is though, most people actually gave me their presentation the morning they were presenting, usually on a memory stick with the words 'I made some last-minute changes, just put this one in instead...'. Sometimes this doesn't work quite as well as they would like:


File extensions - how to show them on your PC

So here's the problem - there are times you need to know what kind of file you're working with, but you can't tell by looking at it. The reason - Microsoft turns off file extensions by default. The assumption here must be that you're either so smart that you already know the file type of every file on your computer, or that you're too, er, inexperienced, to have that information be of any value to you.


Looking at the files on your computer

It doesn't matter how long you've been working with computers, at some point during any given 'session' you're going to say to yourself 'Now where the heck did that file go? I was just working on it, and now I can't find it....'. It always surprises me when I'm working with people how often they really have no idea where their computer is storing the files that they are working on. It's also one of the things that people are least likely to ask about, because the feeling is that it should somehow be 'common knowledge', an instinctive thing that should have been hardwired into the brain at birth, like geese flying south or salmon returning to the stream they were hatched in. Well, guess what? It's not, you're not stupid (well, that I know of), and we'll try to shed a little light on it right now.


What font to use - serif vs. sans-serif

A font is simply the typeface that you use in your document. Just about everything you create on your computer allows you to select the font, or typeface to use. A complete discussion on typography is well beyond what we want to tackle here, there are plenty of books written on the subject if you're interested. What we'll do with our discussion (as we do with most things), is boil it down to a gross over-simplification of the facts.


Cutting or Copying and Pasting

excel logoAh, if there are two words that I thank my lucky stars for almost every day of my life, they would be the words 'copy and paste'. OK, maybe not. Still, I could not begin to estimate the number of times during any given day that I use this oh-so-important feature. What I want to do here is to give you a couple of ideas on how to use it more effectively. But first I'll give you an example of one of the many ways that I find myself needing it.


Using drag and drop

There's two things that simply amaze me about using drag and drop in Windows:

  1. How few people use it
  2. How much stuff it works with

The term 'drag and drop' refers to the action of clicking once on something with your left mouse button, and then, while holding down the button, 'dragging' the item into another window and 'dropping' it. These actions can range from the very simple to the very complex. Let's try one of each.



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