Saturday, October 29, 2016

What People are Downloading From

I recently looked up statistics on which of my free demos and downloads have been most frequently downloaded from the GPC Data Downloads Page over the last ten years.

The winner, by a fairly small margin, was the Access 2007 version of  WorkTrack, which is a small tool I originally built (using Access 2003 at the time) to track my own personal project time and billing. When I add in the A2010-A2016 versions and the old A2003 version, it leaps out in front by a significant margin, almost two to one over the next most often downloaded demo, ContactManager. These versions are in first, third and seventh place overall by number of downloads in the ten years of data available. Contact Manager is in second place overall.

It seems people are interested in simple, easy to implement and manage project tracking, and also the ability to track their contacts -- with Access. It does make sense, when you think about it. Anything else we do is fairly custom for the type of business we're in. Most of us, though, want to keep track of who we call, email and meet with, along with the work we do.

So,  with that in mind, I recently overhauled the WorkTrack demo. I cleaned up some code, implemented better error handling, and added a Change History function. The Change History function records all new and modified data in all forms, by user who made the change and by date and time of the change. It doesn't record deletions, which is in hindsight an oversight. I'll get back to that later.

So, if you haven't visited lately, please come on over and kick the tires.

And please let me know what you think. There are feedback links on most pages.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shopping For Shades

The future (of Access) is so bright I'm going to need them.

Although the Access Web App (AWA) has lost a bit of its luster, there are new contenders on the rise. Specifically, Power BI and Power Apps. Or should that be PowerBI and PowerApps. I guess that little detail will be clarified as we move along.

First up, Power BI. I had known about it for a while, but I got a real solid introduction at the recently completed Seattle Give Camp 2016. If there is Give Camp weekend in a city near you, I'd recommend you get involved. It's a great chance to give back to the community by helping a local non-profit with a software solution. But for me, an even bigger boost is rubbing shoulders with the young, smart, diverse volunteers who show up and put forth an incredible effort.

Harit Kalathia, one of those young, smart developers provided a Power BI dashboard for our non-profit's Access database. His Power BI dashboard shows all of their Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) on a highly visual, interactive layout. It really opened my eyes as to what can be done with Power BI, but even more than that, how to make it happen. I was hooked.

Sign up for a free Power BI account and go for it yourself.

Being an old-timey Access guy, it took a bit to get used to the new environment, but I found it reasonably easy to figure out, especially since I had Harit's dashboard as a template to guide me. I soon had a two-page multiple graphic dashboard for one of my own Access Web Apps. That's right. I was able to connect directly to the SQL Azure database behind my Diabetes Tracker AWA and pull the data from it into a series of graphics and tables that summarize nicely the important metrics I track: Fasting Blood Glucose, Blood Pressure and Weight.

You may be amused to note that I track Blood Pressure with both feet flat on the floor and with my legs crossed. I discovered that there can be as much as 10 points difference between the two. Most medical practitioners measure your Blood Pressure with your feet flat. I assume they consider that the more accurate way to measure it. It's part of my obsession with data that I track both, I guess.

More than that, Power BI let me publish the result to a URL that I sent to my Primary Care Physician. He was able to launch the Power BI in his own browser and see up-to-the minute metrics that he normally measures every three months in his office.

Did I mention? I am hooked on Power BI.

PowerApps are the other new entrant into the arena of web-enabled tools coming online. It's a newer, less mature technology, and there's a long way to go before I will be ready to call them a reasonable alternative to anything currently possible with Access or Access Web Apps. However, they do solve one big problem with AWAs: the lack of a decent smart device presentation. I've long been a fan of AWAs. As you might know, I helped write a book on the subject. However, the presentation of any AWA on a smart phone is inadequate for all but the most simplistic of functions. PowerApps are designed out of the box to do that.

I won't try to promote them until I see enough progress to make that a reasonable thing to do. In the meantime, I urge you to become informed, try them out if possible, and prepare for the future.

And, as ZZ Top would agree, get yourself a decent pair of Cheap Sunglasses.