Book Review: Access 2010 The Missing Manual

access_2010_bookAn in-depth tutorial. Highly readable.
A review by
Bill Coan, Microsoft Word MVP

Some people think there’s only one Matthew MacDonald who writes books about Access, but I know better: I’ve read “Access 2010 The Missing Manual,” and I’ve seen for myself that there are two Matthew MacDonalds.

The first Matthew MacDonald is a good one, the one who rejected the too-easy idea of merely writing a survey of database concepts or merely writing a survey of the Access user interface. This Matthew MacDonald insisted on writing an integrated presentation of database concepts and associated Access procedures–a presentation perfectly suited to readers building their first serious business database in Access.

The second Matthew MacDonald is an even better one, the one who rejected the idea of merely identifying the various elements shown in the many screen snapshots scattered throughout the book. This Matthew MacDonald wrote full-bodied captions (in sidebar form) that explain exactly how each snapshot illustrates the concepts covered in the text.

Together, the two Matthew MacDonalds have produced a highly readable, in-depth tutorial that makes you feel as though a couple of helpful, knowledgeable friends are guiding you along the way. (These are the type of friends who know you’ll want to learn about related tables before learning about lookup lists based on related tables, and that you’ll be better off learning about junction tables before learning about multi-value fields.)

The careful unfolding of complex subjects, which is perfectly suited to the needs of readers new to databases in general and to Access in particular, might cause a small measure of frustration for readers who want to dip into the book for quick reference purposes–but only a small measure.

For example, a reader who wants to quickly review everything there is to know about indexes in database tables will discover that the material he or she is looking for is split across two locations. The role of indexes in preventing entry of duplicate data is presented at one location, and the role of indexes in speeding searches is presented at a different location. Fortunately, the book’s table of contents and index make it easy to discover where each type of information is located, and cross-references within the text make it easy to jump from the location where one type of information is presented to the location where another type of information is presented.

If I were editing this book, I would urge the MacDonalds to avoid quarrels with user interface terminology. One way they could do this is by using expressions such as “To build an expression, choose Build…” rather than “To insert an expression, choose Build….” My argument would be that if Access provides tools for building rather than inserting expressions, you might as well get used to building rather than inserting them.

Readers who have been using Access for years will appreciate sections of the book devoted to Access 2010’s new “backstage” view, new navigation controls, revamped macro designer, and new Ribbon customization capabilities. Readers interested in extending the reach of their Access databases will appreciate sections devoted to working with SQL Server, Sharepoint, and the web.