This 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:
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
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.
Total Access Admin lets you monitor users going in and out of your databases in real-time. See who’s currently in your database and who recently exited, create a log of connections and disconnects, compact the database after everyone exits, etc. Monitor all the databases across your network from one installation of Total Access Admin.
Many New Features
Total Access Admin 2013 includes many new features. You can now:
Maintain a list to translate computer names to more friendly user names
Manage up to 100 database in one screen (up from 50)
Download the free, fully-functional Trial Version to see how helpful Total Access Admin can be for you.
Supports All Microsoft Access Versions
Total Access Admin 2013 supports ACCDB databases created in Microsoft Access 2013, 2010 and 2007, plus MDB databases created in any version of Access. Existing customers can upgrade at a discounted price.
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:
“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!”
We’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.
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.
We are delighted to announce the release of Total Visual SourceBook 2013. Total Visual SourceBook is our royalty-free source code library for Microsoft Access/Office VBA developers and Visual Basic 6 (VB6) developers.
The new 2013 version is an upgrade to our Total Visual SourceBook 2007 version. The new version is especially designed for the new features introduced in Microsoft Access/Office/VBA 2013 and 2010. It can also run in Access/Office 2007 and older versions through Access/Office 2000.
Total Visual SourceBook 2013 includes 35 new modules, 25,000+ more lines of code, enhancements to existing modules including VBA code that’s compatible with 32 and 64-bit versions of Office.
The user code database can now be upsized to SQL Server to simplify sharing code among your developer team. The new version also includes many enhancements to the code browser to simplify your experience in viewing, searching, adding, editing, and applying different error handlers to the source code.
For a complete list of enhancements, visit our New Features page.
Wow! It was only a matter of time, but Microsoft has completely commoditized cloud storage by offering unlimited amounts of storage with their OneDrive service. It’s not even a separate purchase, but part of what’s included in Office 365 for consumer and business customers. It’s not available yet, but will be soon (details).
Wouldn’t Want to be Box or DropBox
This is very bad news for the smaller players in the market such as Box and DropBox who introduced the idea of backing up files to the cloud, sharing files across devices, and sharing files publicly or with specified individuals.
“Free” with an Office365 Subscription
OneDrive now offers this as part of its Office365 subscription at a fraction of the cost of other providers. The previous 1 TB storage limit was already quite generous, but making it unlimited drives the cost to practically $0. It’s clear that Microsoft intends to dominate this space and are giving it away as part of their Office subscription. Very powerful. Competitors such as Google Drive will need to respond. Google has deep pockets, but Box and DropBox do not. Hard to compete against $0.
How OneDrive Works
Simply install OneDrive on your PC and store your files in the OneDrive folder. You can create subfolders and treat it just like any other folder on your device. Those files are automatically backed up to the cloud in the background. There’s no excuse for losing data should your device be stolen or hard disk die.
With OneDrive, you can also share files in individual folders with other people by setting the permissions on the folder. Folders can be open to the general public (no login) for view rights. People often do that with pictures and OneDrive includes features to browse pictures in slide shows.
If you want others to add, edit and delete the files, you need to specify their email addresses so they can log in. Note that their email addresses do not need to be an Office365 account or a Microsoft email so you can work with people using Gmail, Yahoo, etc.
For phones, OneDrive can be used to store photos so you can take pictures on your smartphone, delete them there, and still have them appear on your PC’s OneDrive folder. No need to worry about running out of storage space on your phone or the hassles of transferring them to your PC.
Limitations with Microsoft Access
Note that because the files are copied to the OneDrive cloud in the background of the PC, this is not equivalent to sharing an Access database file across a LAN. If you have a “master” backend database on your PC’s OneDrive folder, it gets copied to the cloud as CPU cycles are available on your PC. If you share that folder with others, the updated database will be copied to their OneDrive folder based on their PC’s availability. While this is fine if the database is read only, if edits occur, this will not synchronize properly. So don’t try to use OneDrive as an alternative to a LAN.
Microsoft Office 365 is Microsoft’s new and popular way to license the Office products for online and desktop use. It also includes hosted Exchange for email, SharePoint, OneDrive for shared hard disk files, and the communications package Lync. The cloud based platform means Microsoft takes care of the system administration to update versions, apply security patches, monitor usage, ensure uptime and connectivity, and address hardware problems.
Let Microsoft Take Care of Exchange and Email
If you are still hosting your own Exchange Server in your facility, it’s time to consider outsourcing so Microsoft can worry about the versions, patches, hardware failures, and other maintenance chores. Microsoft will also host it in a real data center with reliable power sources, battery backups, multiple internet trunk lines, and enterprise quality physical security.
If you’re already outsourcing your email/Exchange hosting, Office 365 is a wonderful alternative and lets Microsoft deal with the challenges of keeping email up and running 24/7/365.
Includes Desktop Copies of Microsoft Office
If an option includes the Windows copies of Office, you can install on your local machine Office 2013 copies of Microsoft Access, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, Word, Lync, and InfoPath. This lets you have both the online versions of Office and the traditional non-Internet dependent local copy.
Office 365 with SharePoint and Access Web Apps with SQL Azure
With Office 365, the hassles of hosting and maintaining your own SharePoint site is gone. Microsoft takes care of that for you and lets you create both private and public web sites.
You can also enable Access Web Apps to create simple database solutions with data automatically hosted in SQL Server (SQL Azure). The data can also be shared with other applications such as the desktop version of Microsoft Access.
Office 365 Options
There are many options based on your situation:
Business Plans with special pricing for Small Businesses (< 25 users), Midsize (< 300 users) and Enterprise (unlimited)
Non-Profit Plans (Microsoft offers free licenses to qualified 501c(3) organizations)
Office Pro Plus Trial – 25 licenses (Details)
This is the traditional Office on the desktop without the online services. Rather than buying the licenses upfront, Microsoft now offers the ability to pay for it on a monthly basis for $12 and install it on up to 5 machines.
Trial for Microsoft Dynamics
We are also pleased to extend Microsoft’s trial offer for their Dynamics CRM system
“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
Only 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.
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
I’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.
Total 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: