Microsoft’s database application gets the same interface overhaul as most of the other applications in Office 2007. There may be fewer groups and options on offer in the Access Ribbon, but they’re still easier to get at than they were before.
One of the main improvements to the program is an increase in the number of useful ready-made templates. Although Access is quite capable of being used to create custom-made, heavyweight, relational databases for one-off applications, there's also the market addressed by applications such as FileMaker Pro, which benefits from a simpler interface and the ability to create standard databases with minimum fuss.
Access 2007 has a good set of templates which can be used for many standard applications, such as contacts lists and asset management, without the need to go deep into database programming.
Just as well, really, as Microsoft now recommends the Access Macro Language (AML) for database programming as its security is tighter than Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). That may be so, but AML is also less easy to write, with none of the Englishness of VBA.
There are a couple of new object types, including the calendar field which, as the name suggests, drops down a calendar to select from – a bit like selecting a departure date at a travel site. There's also the useful Split Form which enables you to display a list of records in half the screen and details of a specific record in the other half. Outlook is a good example of where you might need this type of screen set-up.
Access 2007 appears to have been re-targeted at the less intensive user, though it's still integrates with SharePoint Services and SharePoint Server.
Once you’ve spent a few days getting used to the Ribbon and where all the buttons and menu options you knew and loved now live, Office 2007 has a lot going for it. The revision of the user interface is an improvement – it’s more logically organised and makes it quicker to get at everyday functions. Once you’ve got used it, we doubt you’ll want to go back.
Other changes are more subtle. The switch from proprietary file formats to XML is good and will help open up Microsoft files for work with third-party applications. They’re smaller, too, though this isn’t all down to XML.
So, should you upgrade from Office 2003? If you’re reading this from the US, the answer is probably yes, but with the differential between US and UK prices, it’s not so clear cut this side of the ocean. Microsoft claims to leave pricing to retailers, but all retailers mark up by pretty similar amounts, based on Microsoft’s wholesale price (they have to, there’s fierce competition), so this argument doesn’t wash. The upgrade only, Education version (for students or teachers) and the OEM versions are much more attractively priced, but it’s frustrating that in the US buyers don’t have to consider these options to be able to afford the product.
Overall then, the new and improved features will maintain Office 2007 as the leading integrated suite on the Windows platform – we just wish it didn’t hurt quite so much in the UK when you click ‘Debit My Card’.