Microsoft Excel And Azure RemoteApps … How About A Full-Featured Version Of Excel On Every Device?

I recently posted here about the opportunities for Access Developers in the Azure RemoteApps technology.  I know that it will cost your clients a bit more than the free ride they have been on with Access (some of them for decades – I know – I have several like that).  But the possibility of a continued life for your Access apps that you have invested so much time and effort into and which despite all the nay-sayers you probably run a huge chunk (if not all) of your business on cannot be ignored.

But there is another shoe to drop and here it comes …

Excel 2013/2016 running on Azure RemoteApps offers everything that Microsoft says they want to get eventually get to with their Office for Windows “thingee” – but it offers it RIGHT NOW !

And this with all the Data capabilities, PowertPivot, PowerQuery, VBA AND “touchy-feely” capability on every kind of device you want be it Apple Macbooks or iPads or IPhones or any Android Device and EVEN on Microsoft Windows phones and tablets (go figure) AND EVEN ON YOUR PC !

I have migrated an Excel model from client Excel which uses Data Connections to fill PowerPivot tables from a SQL Azure Database and I can not only view it but also run Slicers and VBA code in it and refresh my data on any of these devices as well.

Here is a picture of an Excel file running on my MacBook Pro:

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 11.23.30 AM

Keep in mind that this is fully functional including VBA and Data Connections.  It is actually displaying data retrieved from a SQL Azure Database when I click the button in the middle.  Pretty simple but works on my Mac ..

Here’s the same file on my iPhone 4s (yes I’m still going blind using a 4s :-) ) … It hasn’t broken yet so I keep using it…

Excel_I4SLiterally the same file … when I switched to my iPhone it disconnected my Mac and took me right to the open Excel file just like in WTS (which RemoteApps bascially is anyway).

One of my BIG worries is that with the release of the “dumbed-down” Windows for Office version of Excel some EVP or “C-level” boss will get sent a file from their office with VBA and data features and other cool stuff that doesn’t exist in the NEW version and all hell will break loose when the file simply won’t work on his iPad or his Windows Phone.  How do you explain this?  How did Microsoft not think that this would become an issue?  that’s what throws me :-( ..

So in conclusion (although really this is just the beginning) if you want to use Excel on all your devices Azure RemoteApps can deliver a REAL Excel file to you now (with all the “touchy-feely” stuff you really need and VBA and data connectivity too).

Check it out at :

http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/RemoteApp/

Dick

Posted in Analysis Services, Business Intelligence, Cloud, Excel, Excel 2013, Microsoft Excel 2013, Office 2013, Office Automation, OLAP, PowerPivot, Spreadsheets, the Cloud, VBA | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Microsoft Access Client With SQL RemoteApps and SQL Azure Might Just Be What The World Is Looking For About Now

OK … Here we go…

Enough time has elapsed since the teaser about “Access Forever” …

Today I am going to build a case for using Access Client Software forever (or effectively forever) in the Cloud and on any device. Really I am.

Firstly I have to say that seeing Access in the Preview of Office 2016 is a surprise to me – a pleasant one. I do still think though that the Access Team should drop the pretense of creating a full-featured database environment under the name of “Microsoft Access” to run in a browser. Frankly I have suffered through 3 iterations now and they still haven’t produced anything that I would use for more than keeping Christmas card lists :-) .. If it’s that hard to do (or if the company refuses to give you enough resources to make it happen) then just give up … drop Access Web .. Enough is enough. Nobody cares.

So where does that leave Access client ?

1. There is and will always be a need for a database tool for RAD development of “Departmental” databases. I am sooooo sick of knowing that so many out there are limping along with bad user-designed, built and maintained email-based Excel “applications” that scream out for a database to organize it all. Or you are spending far more than you can justify to get a solution in the browser that is frankly less capable, and infinitely more difficult to maintain and revise?

The need for a tool that can satisfy this “market” is huge and we who use it know that Access Client is the right tool for that kind of work. Add to that long-term stability and we might really have something.

2. The imminent release of Windows 10 and Office 2016 is a game-changing moment. There is every indication that Windows 10 is going to be a “Base OS”. For the foreseeable future backwards compatibility is going to be a valued feature of this OS – for a long time. If an application runs on Windows 10 it will run on at least the next few versions of Windows (if not even forever until the eventual end of Windows). I foresee that an app that runs on Windows 10 can be assumed to be available for at least a decade and maybe even two. Although I have had solutions that have lasted longer than that I can’t see anyone expecting any more than twenty years use of any application.

Despite what the marketing folks would like us all to believe in their usual self-serving way, every business in the world is NOT in a constant state of dramatic overhaul and change. There are many, many, many businesses that do not change their processes every year and who have been doing and plan on keeping on doing the same business for years and years. Everything does not always change … in fact most don’t.

3. With the broad release of SQL RemoteApps we are able to stage Microsoft Access solutions “in the Cloud” for an amazingly small cost (http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/remoteapp). This site says it all:

Run Windows applications anywhere
Azure RemoteApp helps employees stay productive anywhere, and on a variety of devices – Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, or Android. Your company’s applications run on Windows Server in the Azure cloud, where they’re easier to scale and update. Employees install Microsoft Remote Desktop clients on their Internet-connected laptop, tablet, or phone—and can then access applications as if they were running locally.

Yes … it runs your Access application on any of the listed devices .. With Touch capabilities where needed using a new version of Microsoft’s RDP software.

4. But even more exciting is the fact that if you can connect this RemoteApps staged Access Frontend to a fully features SQL Azure backend exactly as you would to an On-Prem SQL Server (http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/sql-database/). And because SQL Azure’s pricing is based on the number of processors you need (1) and the amount of data you will end up with (which is next to nothing in 100% of Access apps when compared to most SQL Azure users) the cost for the SQL Azure part is ridiculously small and is unlikely to ever rise in the foreseeable future.  Alternatively I know of several people using AWS and seem to be having luck with that. Alternatively you could probably also stage SQL Server on a VM running through Azure and get the same result.  Lots of options.

5. The same way as with Windows, Microsoft has put themselves in a position where they will be unable to evolve SQL Azure until it makes current solutions incompatible. There is no way that they will be able to go to their SQL Azure users in 5 years or 10 years and tell them that they will have to migrate all their mission-critical solutions to a new version that would leave old solutions cut off at the knees. That is NOT going to happen .. Ever!

So to summarize:

a. An Access client solution (with Forms and reports and VBA and all that good stuff) that works in Access 2013 that is migrated to SQL Azure backend and run on Azure Remoteapps SHOULD run for decades, if necessary, without being made obsolete and
b. Can deliver your existing applications to users securely anywhere with an Internet connection and
c. Can be used on nearly every device you could imagine wanting to use it on (PC’s Macs, Tablets, Phones, Fridges(?)) and
d. Will be scalable beyond anybody’s imagination of just a few years ago and
e. Even if Microsoft ends up dropping the Access client in the future (which is a distinct possibility If you use the run-time of Access 2013 in a Custom Image on RemoteApps it will not only be license free forever as well. Microsoft shouldn’t mind because they’ll make it on the RemoteApps and SQL Azure database and
f. ALL IN THE CLOUD !!

The problem with this picture is ? I’d like to know.

If you’re interested in keeping your existing Access solution alive at a manageable cost and without a complete rewrite, with all the complexity and risk involved to say nothing of the training and deployment and on-going maintenance, feel free to give me a call. Or go out and figure it out yourself but please let me know how it goes.

Dick

p.s. Here is an Access Main Menu on my Macbook Pro

RAMac

and here is the same on my iPhone (hard to read though :-) ).

IMG_2100

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Access In The Cloud – Forever?

OK – here goes …

1. Have you and your business used Microsoft Access to help run your business for years ?

2. Are you pretty much completely happy with this Access solution and have invested a great amount of money and time to get to this point?

3. Have you been told over an over again that Access “sucks” and regardless Access is “going away” anyway leaving you and your solution orphaned and finished?

4. Have you been convinced by all the noise that your new “solution” has to run in the browser?

5. Do you feel that you also need to be able to run your solution on every device on the planet (PCs, Macs, iPads, Android Tablets, Surface tablets, iPhones, Android phones or Windows phones)?

6. Do you feel you need to “scale” your solution across more than one network and maybe even around the world?

7. Do you realize that many, many business processes do NOT change all the time and that if you have a good long-term business going on that you would like to continue using these applications perhaps for decades to come?

8. Yet you also realize that there may still be occasional changes that you would need to be initiated with as little cost as possible and with as little disruption as possible?  Hello Microsoft Access :-)

9. But does the prospect of rewriting the Access app (that works for you very well) in some other technology scare you to death ?

10. Does the prospect of revisiting every business process you have confronted over the life of your existing application make you weak …?

11. Do you see something absurd in spending a whole lot of undefined new money creating a new “browser-based” solution that in its best incarnation would simply replace what you already have but with absolutely no guarantee that it will even do what you need it to do if it works at all?

12. Do you understand that there is a limit to the amount of money you can justify throwing at the need for automation of your particular business process but that you realize that it requires a customized solution that cannot be bought “off-the-shelf”?

13.Are you staring at the prospect of this business process that is so important to you going back to being run on user-maintained spreadsheets as your only realistic future?

14. Or would you simply like to continue using your existing Microsoft Access solution using Access for the foreseeable future at a cost that is a fraction of any alternative?

15. Might you be willing to pay someone like myself and my associates to help you initiate such a solution and to provide support on an on-going basis .. again in a cost-effective way?

etc…, etc … ?

If all these things are true then I am here to tell you that there is a very real solution available now thanks to a series of decisions made by Microsoft themselves in the past year …decisions that will allow you and your business to take advantage of the new “Productivity and Platform” Microsoft that Mr. Nadella has been promoting.  All this in a way that will actually make Microsoft happy while allowing you to sustain your existing solutions while paying a reasonable monthly license fee for use of the necessary technology based on your usage rather than a major upfront cost.

A technology combination that will be good for at least the next decade and hopefully much longer.  It includes keeping your current Access application running in your current version of Access , involves delivery to any of the above mentioned “platforms” … in fact delivering the same exact solution to all of them.  And it involves costs that are more than reasonable and manageable and definable over time.

If you are interested in this concept I will need to know how many people out there might be interested.  I need to know that this is something people really want/need.

Please contact me at dick@plogic.ca and let me know what you are dealing with, what your plans are and what this would be worth for you.

But please do  not waste my time with the usual anti-Access bs that some people with too much time on their hands enjoy moaning on and on about because they have no idea what they are talking about ;-)

Dick

 

Posted in Access, Access Solutions, Cloud, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Access 2013, Office 2013, Office Automation, Process Automation, Spreadsheets, VBA | 5 Comments

Referencing Workbook-Level Range Names In An Inactive Workbook

I was never satisfied with all the stuff on the Internet about referencing Workbook Level Named Ranges in other open spreadsheets.  So a looong time ago I dinked around and came up with this syntax:

Range(activeworkbook.name & “!Accounts”).address

That worked great for about two minutes until I realized that this wouldn”t work for files with spaces in their name …  So I came up with this syntax:

Range(“‘” & activeworkbook.name & “‘!Accounts”).address

Notice the subtle apostrphes :-)….

Turns out this will work with every conceivable file name (assuming uyou’re using an English version of Windows).  I’ve used it for years and have never seen anyone else mention it.

Other examples of thos technoque are:

For Each c In Range(“‘” & ThisWorkbook.Name & “‘!tblParentTabs[ParentFile]”).Cells

x=Range(“‘” & “Master Data Migration template _08-21-14 v2 – CHUNK #1 DM1.xlsx” & “‘!Accounts”).address

I know how this works … now someone’s gonna jump on here and propose an alternative syntax and show ways that this won’t work  .. but I think I’ll stick with this one as it works for me and has safely for more than a decade.  You decide I guess :-)

Dick

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Microsoft Says What They Really Think

Thanx to Debra over at Contextures for letting me know about this presentation from the Office 365 Garage Series:

http://blog.contextures.com/archives/2014/07/28/excel-roundup-20140728/

What we’re seeing here is an open statement by Microsoft that full-featured client Office is dead and that we must all grasp onto the Web-based Office.  In fact they actually say that there is literally nobody using VBA or VSTO anymore at all … and that the future belongs to JavaScript and HTML5 using the Office Web apps.  To make their point they have a “Top 5″ cool things list (mentioning that usually it’s a top ten but they could only come up with  5 – oops ;-)  ) …

I’d really like to know what the message really is here?  I know for a fact that the Web app for Excel and Access are sad shells of the capabilities of the core application.  I also know that many, many people all around the world are getting daily value out of those full-featured client products and could forever frankly.

It tells me that Microsoft has decided that since very few people seem to GET all the big features of these full products then they just have to dumb the technology down and encourage people to jump on the bandwagon for Office 365 and Office in the browser.  They seem to not understand that when Excel or Access solutions are created by one user they get used by many, many more people every day.  They seem to look at licenses as only valuable if each and every user ends up developing for themselves alone.  The fact is that if users end up doing it all themselves the entire technology will be dumbed down and marginalized (as if it hasn’t been enough already).  I have no idea who they might be talking to (if anyone) to get this opinion?

How can any self-respecting  software company openly “dis” their own full-featured product in favour of a new “version” (and I use that term loosely) that is significantly less capable, meanwhile abandoning the literally millions of people around the World who rely on the full product in running their business every day?

Frankly in this presentation they drive a stake through the heart of anyone trying to make a living being expert in Excel and/or Access client which will finally mean the end of any support for all those using the product with frankly no alternative replacement.

I cannot believe what I am seeing and I can’t believe how many of the usual suspects of Office “thought leaders” are trying to salvage something out of this debacle by trying to embrace this new “technology”.  There is no “there” there I’m afraid people.

This technology is being pushed on JavaScript and Web developers who don’t give two s**ts about doing development in Office and never will.  AND it is being pitched to end users, as if they have the time and knowledge to develop this kind of stuff in their spare time, let alone support it and evolve it once in production.  There is no opportunity for a “professional” in this space.  There is no money to be made chasing this dead end and we all have to remember that getting paid is all it’s about …

And if you think this is just the ravings of a bitter old guy then go ahead and think that … but I am just looking out for all of you .. it’s too late for me.

Posted in Access, Business Intelligence, Excel, Excel 2013, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Access 2013, Microsoft Excel 2013, Office 2013, Office Automation, PowerPivot, Spreadsheets, VBA | 14 Comments

The Microsoft Rapture

Read this link before reading my comments here:

http://www.geekwire.com/2014/internal-memo-microsoft-cut-external-staff-18-months-requiring-six-month-break/

I believe that this (even more than the 18000 announced last week – most of whom are at Nokia) will force a HUGE reorg of Microsoft before the end of 2014 or at the latest the end of their Fiscal 2015 (June 30, 2015).

I know a lot of “V-“s there and have worked with them for ten years now.  Take all of them away on Jan 1, 2016 and the company will simply stop.  Like after the Rapture ….

So watch out for something BIG before then.

But this cannot be good for the parts of Office that I mostly care about (Excel and Access, data connectivity and automation) as this may just be a great opportunity to further the diminishment of Excel and Access under cover of the reorg.  I think there are few left in there who will speak up now for client versions or for “real” automation and the great BI “story” will likely get seriously watered down.

The insecurity in the Office team that this will bring can only mean more cuts and the remaining staff focused even more exclusively on “Office in the Cloud”. Hmmmm …

It’d be nice to hear someone other than just Tim Rodman to comment on this :-) ,,

Posted in Uncategorized, PowerPivot, Excel 2013, Microsoft Excel 2013, Microsoft Access, VBA, Office 2013, Microsoft Access 2013, Access, Excel, Spreadsheets, Business Intelligence, OLAP, Analysis Services, Office Automation, Microsoft "V-", V- | 4 Comments

Data Access Is STILL The Problem

Below is a replay of a posting I made here waaaay back in 2011.  It discusses an issue that is not only STILL a problem for people trying to help businesses analyze their data but that is now exponentially worse and is likely never going to change except in some Corporations who “get it”.  Even those companies however are just one CIO away from going backward in a big hurry so that there is really no happy ending here.

The fact is that while Microsoft has gone out and muddied the waters with all their BI offerings since 2010 (PowerPivot, PowerQuery, PowerView, Power BI and of course whatever the heck Office 365 really is ;-) ).

At the same time they have made a decision to promote the concept of “Self-Service BI” where the poor misguided end-user will create their own “Solutions” by hand … as opposed to promoting a more “Professional” approach to report development based on the theory that most consumers of Corporate data actually have REAL jobs to do rather than building models and changing them annually, every month or quarter or year and only have a peripheral knowledge of data, relational databases, OLAP, etc.

Then there is the little issue of getting at the data.  I have spent the last three years doing project in the U.S., Canada and Europe where EVERY single project ended up over-budget in time and money strictly because of a complete lack of cooperation (usually expressed as contempt) from the “Gate Keepers” I referred to in 2011.

1. I have been told that I cannot have the data because my client would use the data against the owner of the database.

2. I have been sworn at and told to piss off

3. I have been told how I should build my solution by little people who know nothing about what I’m trying to accomplish or that I have 30 years of experience designing databases myself and am only asking for their data not their advice.

4. I have spent days and days designing the necessary SQL to clean the crappy data they gave me to get the best possible result only to have the source changed on my arbitrarily with no warning or advisement.

5. I have been told by clients that after all that the data is “good enough” when it definitely is NOT…

6. I introduced one developer of a huge, slow MYSQL database to the concept of Indexes but had to jump through hoops to get him to even let me TRY one. He became a true believer immediately of course.

7. On the other hand I have been often unable to use corporate data because of poor database design, lack of indexes and simply because those who designed that magical Data Warehouse decided that the important data they would collect did not include the data I really needed and there was no way to get the data I wanted added to the DW … thus end of project.

8. I have been contracted knowing that if IT ever found out what we were doing it would be over.  Under the Radar doesn’t work when integrating Corporate data I’m afraid.

No, things are not getting better, they are getting MUCH, MUCH worse.

And in their inimitable way Microsoft continues to live in a dream world where everyone has rights to perfectly organized corporate data at a whim, where the user themselves can figure out all the twists and turns of a complex data-driven analytical solution with no help from anyone with any experience in how to do such a thing.

In fact the trend is now towards Departments and end-users being refused the budget to contract any external resource to help them … meanwhile thanks to Microsoft they really believe they can do it all themselves with zero help from IT (actually obstruction) or from any outside resource.  Many are taking useless training courses that cannot possibly fill a user with all the knowledge they need and more likely will set the user back to their company with lots of enthusiasm and promising self-service solutions that are doomed to fail – This stuff is NOT easy !!.  Sorry :-(

So please read what I said in 2011 and think about how this can all be worked out if the powers that be could only stop living in dream-land talking to CIO’s and Directors of IT and instead talk to the real people with real needs or real skills and encourage an environment where this whole BI thing can actually work.  And don’t get me going on how much all this BI noise has actually marginalized Excel development overall, stopped any effort to promote Excel Best-Practices to the point where Excel itself is actually at risk of becoming an unacceptable technology for use for any serious business analysis.

And then what?

Dick

Data Access IS The Problem

2011/10/26 

I have harped on this here before, but once again my blood-pressure is rising because I have seen a simple, efficient use of the powers of Excel marginalized by a client’s inability to get support and cooperation from the “Gate-Keepers” (“Crypt-Keepers” ?)  of corporate data stores.

The Gate-Keepers are often corporate DBA’s who are deathly afraid that users might hurt themselves if they actually get the data they need to help them analyze performance and plan their business futures (even though they are already doing it mostly in “crappy”, dangerous, silos of user-designed and maintained spreadsheets already anyway).  The rest are the makers of third-party accounting or BI software who’s sole motivation is simply to get total control of the data and the process so the business is forced to keep paying them forever and ever … By forcing BDMs to flail along with stand-alone spreadsheets without direct or reliable integration with REAL corporate FACTS they are exposing the business to risks that may or may not be large. 

Regardless, these processes are inefficient at best and frustrating to users and their bosses no end.  The efforts to eliminate spreadsheets altogether (which is the unspoken goal of most IT “Professionals” anyway)  simply has not and will not work.  That is unless they can succeed in moving everyone to the browser-based “calculators” being offered as Excel alternatives by Google and even Microsoft and eliminate the powerful Office Client Excel that has so much power and capability.  That would be unconscionably stupid.

In the case that has me worked up today it is data being collected by a 3rd party software provider who takes simple, straightforward collected data and presents it to the user in an awkward, complex and generally useless GUI in a browser that takes otherwise logical and straight-forward data and makes the export of the data to Excel a painful, inefficient, and in the end unusable, process – thus making use of their data outside of their interface (which they will sell the client and reporting module BTW :-) ) impossible. I have run into this in the BI “Universe” as well where at one client we have been trying to get the data we need for a critical business analysis tool in Excel for TWO YEARS to no avail. 

I have found more and more cases where DBA’s will simply not allow departmental users or developers access to the very data they need to run their businesses while it’s being collected and collected but is being used for absolutely nothing. To me the efforts made by DBA’s and 3rd Party software developers to prevent the effective import of corporate data into Excel is a major impediment to Corporations.  Tragically these Corporations don’t even realize it’s true or how much inefficiency and extra cost they are accepting as normal.  BDM’s as a rule defer to the “Professionals” in their IT brain’s trust or worse they are afraid to cross IT (like you might not to complain to the Police for fear of repercussions).  

It is truly a tragedy. We should all remember that it is THE BUSINESS that matters, not the careers of the IT “professionals”.  And we are supposed to be working at using technology to make business processes better and more flexible not less.  We are servants to the Business not the other way around and whenever that gets forgotten we all lose.

Dick

Posted in Access, Analysis Services, Business Intelligence, Excel, Excel 2013, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Access 2013, Microsoft Excel 2013, Office 2013, Office Automation, OLAP, PowerPivot, Spreadsheets, VBA | 6 Comments