May 15

Windows 8.1 PCs Connect to the Network but not the Internet

windows81This past Tuesday night, Microsoft released a security patch. On Wednesday morning, we and some of our customers encountered problems with connectivity that were quite unusual and different from past security updates. The update required servers to reboot which triggered some issues, but manageable. What was particularly troubling were multiple reports of problems with PCs using Windows 8.1.

The PCs could still connect to the network and see all the network resources, but they could not get on the Internet. Using different logins including Administrator logins didn’t make a difference. Other PCs using Windows 7 or older O/S were able to connect successfully even with the same cable as the Windows 8.1 PCs that couldn’t connect.

What Could be Wrong?

We struggled trying to see if there were issues with:

  • Hardware on the PC, network card, cable or switch
  • Software issues with the automatic Windows patches, DHCP network settings, IP addresses, Firewall, antivirus, etc.
  • Login rights and permissions

We couldn’t determine the problem or find a solution. Since the user could log into the network, permissions seemed sufficient.

From the Windows command prompt (Run cmd), we used the ipconfig command with the release and renew command lines to see if that would reset the IP address, but that didn’t make a difference either:

ipconfig /release
ipconfig /renew

Solution: Flush DNS

Finally, I posted a message to the Microsoft Access MVP group, which I’m honored to be a part of. Long time colleague, Tom Wickerath suggested flushing the DNS (Domain Name System) cache by using:

C:\> ipconfig /flushdns

We weren’t familiar with that command line option as it doesn’t appear when you enter

ipconfig ?

Well, it worked! We may never know whether the problem was caused by the Windows security patch or if it was just a coincidence. Regardless, the flushdns command reset the PCs that were affected by this problem.

Thanks for sharing your insight Tom!

Apr 16

Total Access Detective Review by Daniel Pineault

MVPLogo[1]Microsoft Access MVP, Daniel Pineault, wrote a very nice review of our Total Access Detective program recently. Total Access Detective is a Microsoft Access add-in program that finds all the differences between two Access databases or two objects in one database. Changes with table and query structures, field properties, form and report controls and properties, macros, module VBA procedures and lines of code, and even data are detected.

Daniel found Total Access Detective very helpful when confronted with the challenge of determining exactly what changed between two Microsoft Access databases. Rather than manually and tediously trying to determine what changed, he used Total Access Detective to quickly generate a comprehensive comparison to find objects in one database and not the other, and a detailed comparison of objects with the same name. With Total Access Detective, he was able to pinpoint all the differences and make the necessary adjustments.

We were pleased he concluded with this:

Microsoft Access Difference DetectorFinal Verdict
“I am once again quite confident in putting my stamp of approval on this tool. If you are in a situation in which you quickly need to identify all the differences between multiple databases, FMS’ Total Access Detective will make short work of the job at hand! …
A very nice, easy to use and most importantly, effective and thorough tool!”

To learn more about what Daniel discovered and his experience, read his article:  Total Access Detective – Review

Thanks Daniel!

Feb 13

New Microsoft Access to SQL Server Upsizing Resource Center

Microsoft Access to SQL Server Upsizing CenterWe’ve completely revamped our Microsoft Access to SQL Server Upsizing Resource Center. Find links to all our related white papers and Microsoft resources to help you with the SQL Server upsizing process, from deciding why and which Microsoft Access databases to upsize, the different options, and using SQL Server Express.

We have several new and updated resources:

  • Microsoft SQL Server Express: Version Comparison Matrix and Free Downloads
    For the first time, all the different versions of SQL Server Express from 2005 to 2014 are shown, compared, and referenced with download links. This content required extensive research to document the details of which operating system each SQL Server version supports. Just because Microsoft web pages list the versions they support doesn’t necessarily mean it works when you actually try to install it.
  • Automating the Backup of Your Microsoft SQL Server Express Databases
    If you’re using SQL Server Express, you still need to create backups of the database. Here’s how to automate it.
  • When and How to Upsize Microsoft Access Databases to SQL Server
    The original version of this was written for Microsoft when they selected us for a joint national campaign a decade ago to promote Microsoft Access to SQL Server Upsizing. We’ve updated it to better explain why and why not people should upsize their Access databases and an overview of what the options are and what to do.

Hope this helps!

Sep 23

Designing a Data Entry System Properly; Overhauling the Healthcare.gov Web Site

Healthcare.govSince my original impression that the debut of the Healthcare.gov web site was a technological disaster, I’ve contended that the website could be created for much cheaper, and be much easier to use than the mess that was delivered.

New York TimesThere finally seems to be progress in this direction according to today’s New York Times article, HealthCare.gov Is Given an Overhaul. I was quoted by Robert Pear:

“Instead of being user-friendly, the original website was user-hostile”

Basics of Data Entry Systems

We at FMS have created countless database systems where data entry played an important role. Unlike fancy graphics filled systems that look nice, data entry systems must be designed with a focus on ease-of-use by the end-user to enter, review, and update their information. If there are many questions and complex relationships, users need to be able to see as much of that on one screen as possible. If multiple screens are required, being able to move back and forth between screens without losing data and having changes in one screen reflected on others is critical for an efficient and intuitive user experience.

Data Entry Systems Should Target Users with Large Screens

For complex tasks such as writing a paper or working on a large spreadsheet, computers remain the preferred platform for getting work done where people can have one or multiple large screens. Serious data entry applications should target that user.

Mobile Apps Have a Role, but Not for Serious Data Entry

While mobile applications have a place, it’s not appropriate for complicated data entry since one question per screen is very inefficient. Not being able to see previous entries and pressing Next and Back for each question drives users crazy. The original designers of the Healthcare.gov web site designed it as if it were a simple, consumer mobile app meant to be filled out with a few finger clicks. They were either paid by the screen or just clueless about what a business data entry system requires.

Initial Request for Information Should be Anonymous

The purpose of the public facing Healthcare.gov website should be focused on helping prospects with the buying process. People need to quickly browse the health insurance options that are available to them in their state and cost estimates. The initial data entry should be the minimal anonymous information necessary to produce those results such as gender, age, zip code, family size, etc. Nothing personal such as names, social security numbers, email address, etc.

Automating a Paper Form

National ArvhivesOnly after customers have made a decision to buy should they be required (and expect) to provide more detailed information. This application feature is the core of the public facing Healthcare.gov website and is simply the automation of a 12 page paper form. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

We at FMS have automated paper forms for decades. Recently, we did this for a series of paper documents at the National Archives. The cost of doing this was in the tens of thousands of dollars, not the hundred of millions that Healthcare.gov cost.

Separating Data Entry from Complex Validation

A high volume, data entry system like Healthcare.gov should be designed to collect the user’s information as quickly as possible without trying to validate everything with other government systems in real-time. The cross-validation of information against IRS, HHS, Homeland Security, and other databases should happen in a background process that can withstand slowdowns or down times of dependent systems. This separates the complexity and risk of linking multiple systems together, manages the load on the other systems, and lets the user get done quicker. If a problem is detected later, an email can be sent to the user to fix the mistake or invalidate their application. Regardless, none of that needs to happen while the user is entering their data. After all, it’s not as if they were going to get insurance immediately upon pressing Submit.

Taxpayer Abuse

It remains shocking to me that it cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars initially for the broken Healthcare.gov site, and hundreds of millions dollars afterwards to the same contractors to fix it. The procurement process and incentives are completely inverted for creating and delivering quality software. It’s outright theft, but no one seems to be held responsible for it, and lots of people profiting mightily from it.

Conclusion: Data Entry Systems Aren’t Difficult If You Know What You’re Doing

Logistics Support SystemI’ve contended that we at FMS could have created the public facing Healthcare.gov site for $1 million. Some people scoff at that, but in our world and that of our customers, $1 million still goes a long ways. We created an international humanitarian relief logistics system for the United Nations for half that amount, and it supports full language localization as it’s deployed in 80+ countries. Healthcare.gov didn’t even support Spanish when it debuted, and that was one of its original requirements.

Creating a good data entry system is not rocket science. This is not something that needs to be done in Silicon Valley. What’s needed is a team who’ve done it before and know what they’re doing. Creating this type of solution requires a solid database foundation, understanding the user needs, creating an intuitive user experience, and building it so that it’s maintainable over time. It’s not something that can be created by people on their first paid programming job, but it’s not a rare skill. I’m proud that my development team at FMS have been with me for decades and continue to deliver systems that just work.

Aug 26

Free Update for Total Access Analyzer 2010 and 2007

Total Access AnalyzerTotal Access Analyzer is the most popular Microsoft Access add-in of all time. Analyzing all the objects and code in your database, Total Access Analyzer generates detailed documentation and detects 300+ ways to fix, improve, and speed up your Access applications.

We have released free updates of Total Access Analyzer 2007 and 2010 to existing customers:

The updates include the following fixes and enhancements:

  • Module Cross-Reference incorrectly listing procedures that didn’t exist when they existed
  • Improved SQL query parsing to better cross-reference table and field names passed as function parameters
  • For secure databases, document queries even when logged in without admin rights
  • Support documenting library references of long DLL file names and paths
  • Setup issues resolved for certain machines and motherboards
  • For Microsoft Access 2010’s 64-bit version, support for Windows 8

Existing customers were already notified with download instructions.