Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Another Option for Business Users

So... you're a SharePoint power-user in your company, and let's say that you don't do programming, but you understand relational data models, queries, and application security models. What are your options for writing relational data-driven apps that you can publish to SharePoint? I was doing a freelance project for someone and it became obvious to me that my old stand-bys of InfoPath and custom lists with lookup columns just wasn't going to be enough. The data model was truly relational in nature and called for a little more of a heavy hitter.

Enter Access 2013 Web Apps... And a completely new experience.

It took a good textbook and a little time to catch on, but once I got the ball rolling, I was really able to make a truly mobile-friendly app that has a ton of functionality. Among the books that I purchased on this topic, here is the best one, in my opinion:

The application was easy to build, until I started using macros. Even then, the book I purchased (above) came in handy and I started getting more done. My client understood relational data models and eventually took over his own work on the project.

1. Easy to build, once you figure out the navigation.
2. The data and all schemas are stored in SQL server and are able to be accessed and reported on by any SQL-compatible reporting / analysis tool.
3. The resulting application is EXTREMELY friendly to mobile browsers on both iOS and Android.
4. Includes several app templates to get you started.

1. Little to no control over style sheets, which means...
2. No control over printer-friendly views.
3. Queries built in the application are read-only. I repeat: READ-ONLY. To replicate the functionality of UPDATE queries, data macros must be built with triggers to update existing records or create ancillary artifact records behind-the-scenes if you're not editing the active record on your screen.
4. I read somewhere that each app only has a 1 GB storage limit.
5. The only file type supported as a table field is an image file. You can try to upload any file type in an image field, but the web app will try to force it into an image file type. Not sure what the reasoning behind this is, especially when SQL supports just about any binary file type.

Overall, I like this product, but it is definitely in its infancy. It will need some work when it comes to ease of customizing security beyond the external SharePoint permissions, file types, and scalability. Be on the look-out for improvements in future versions of this application! It looks like Microsoft intends on putting quite an investment in re-inventing Access and using it to build effective cloud apps!