SAN DIEGO, May 24, 2004 — Among the technology offerings to be previewed at TechEd 2004 this week is the Microsoft
Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit, which has proven to greatly streamline conversion of Microsoft Office Access databases and ease deployment of Microsoft Office 2003. The toolkit is scheduled to launch later this summer, in conjunction with the release of Microsoft Office 2003 Service Pack 1.
TechEd is Microsoft Corp.’s most comprehensive technical event for IT professionals and developers. This year’s event, held May 23–28 at the San Diego Convention Center, marks the largest presence ever for Microsoft Office at the show and demonstrates the group’s commitment to connecting with the developers and IT professional community. Today, Senior Vice President of Microsoft Office Steven Sinofsky will announce the intent to deliver the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit later this summer. To get a better understanding of the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit, the factors that led to its creation and the benefits it will offer to customers and partners, we spoke with Jon Sigler , group program manager for Microsoft Office Access.
Q: What is the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit?
Sigler: The Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit is a set of tools and documentation designed to ease the deployment of Microsoft Office 2003. Specifically, it helps organizations discover, evaluate and convert their Microsoft Office Access databases. (Microsoft Office Access 2003 is a program that enables the management of desktop databases.) The Access Conversion Toolkit is made up of four components: a scanning tool, a reporting tool, e-learning and documentation, as well as changes to the Microsoft Office Access application itself. Although the toolkit is designed primarily for IT professionals, all customers moving from Access 97 to either Access 2002 or Access 2003 will benefit from the new tool.
Q: What kind of customer research went into developing the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit?
Sigler: The Access Conversion Toolkit was largely driven by customer concern around the challenges of handling possible conversion errors, identifying unknown databases, migration control and maintenance. We have spent the past 14 months visiting more than 30 customers internationally, trying to understand their concerns and building tools to alleviate the fear and pain they expected to experience when rolling out Office 2003. The team also undertook a pilot program where we spent at least two weeks in-house with selected customers, guiding them through the conversion process. Those customers had anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 Microsoft Office Access databases (MDBs) that needed to be converted. In addition, we surveyed more than 1,000 Access developers to acquire details on Access conversion errors and to understand the top conversion errors that we needed to address.
Q: What was the greatest learning from this research?
Sigler: The greatest learning we had by far was customers’ surprise at how easy it is to deploy Microsoft Office 2003. Prior to that, there was a tremendous amount of fear around the process. Customers lacked information regarding the number of Microsoft Office Access databases they have in their IT environment and what kind of conversion issues they may run into. They didn’t know if they could roll out Access 2003 alongside Microsoft Office 2003 without having to manually configure an individual desktop or database for conversion. In actuality, of the more than 100,000 databases we scanned for varying customers, only 1 percent required manual intervention on the desktop for conversion. Most customers expected that figure to be approximately 75 percent.
Now, the interesting thing is that most of that 1 percent is something we call MDE files. These are compiled, secured databases that cannot be converted. Instead, customers have to find the original MDB — the source — and convert that. Of the 1 percent of databases requiring intervention, probably 60 percent or 70 percent were MDE files.
Q: What exactly do the scanning and reporting tools do?
Sigler: The scanning tool is a small, command-line application that scans a workstation or network for Microsoft Office Access databases and gathers important information about those databases. It scans at three levels — the file level; the Data Access Objects (DAO) level, which allows the code to drill into the file and get the number of tables, queries, forms, connect strings and records; and the Access level. In essence, it locates properties not only about the file, but what is in that file. The scanning tool can be pointed at a server or at a desktop and can be integrated into Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), for example.
Customers can use the tool to scan the server or a specified number of desktops and put the results in a specified location. For example, integrating it with SMS allows you to essentially monitor the desktops throughout an organization. When a customer boots up, SMS kicks in, launches the scanning tool and scans MDB files. The computer then creates an Extensible Markup Language (XML) file with all the properties for every MDB that you have. That XML-based information can then be targeted or routed back to a central server, which is what most of our customers have done.
The reporting tool is an application that includes a database for storing information gathered by the scanning tool, a user interface to make it easier to use the scanning tool, and a variety of reports and charts to help evaluate the information gathered. The reporting tool knows about the XML files, so it will import them and provide a solid indication of potential issues you may run into, if any. So, for example, a report might tell the customer that their organization has 1 percent of MDBs that require intervention, and that 75 percent of those are MDEs. Then the customer can drill down to get the names of the MDEs and identify options to resolve the issue. It may also alert a customer to issues that are not necessarily conversion-related. For instance, if an MDB is approaching the 2 gigabyte storage limit, the tool flags it and even offers suggested options with documentation to resolve the issue.
Q: What about the remaining components of the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit?
Sigler: The next component of the toolkit is the custom content, which consists of e-learning and documentation. This custom content assists customers step-by-step through the conversion processes from start to finish. For example, it gives a high-level view of what issues organization leaders should be aware of — how to deploy, time commitments, resources, etc. It also scales all the way down to assistance for the average information worker who receives a database error message on the desktop.
The fourth and final component of the Access Conversion Toolkit includes the changes we made to the Microsoft Office Access executable (msaccess.exe) itself, which make conversions overall much easier. The changes fixed a lot of problems that customers saw before we did this work. For instance, there were references within Microsoft Office Access 97 to files that were no longer shipped, and these would flag conversion issues that ultimately prevented customers from converting their Access 97 databases when they wanted to upgrade to Office XP or Office 2003. Many customers had already purchased licenses for Office 2003 and other versions of Office but were not rolling them out, in part because of this roadblock within Access 97. There was more than one instance of that type of problem, and the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit fixes them.
Q: What sort of partner support is out there for the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit?
Sigler: The Access Conversion Toolkit is completely open meaning that the source code for the Access MDB is part of the toolkit, the Visual Basic®
executable code is there and the reporting front end is totally open. Partners can use it as is — as a Microsoft-branded toolkit; however, we also envision that partners will pick it up, build their own solutions on top of it and brand it as their own. The Access Conversion Toolkit cannot, and was not intended to, solve every problem or provide every reporting solution. The scanning tool collects a lot more information than we use, and I think for the most part, partners will add additional reporting and analysis tools around the XML files that are generated. In fact, they can even leverage the toolkit, not as a one-time conversion thing, but as a way to monitor their Access usage moving forward. We plan to establish a group of recommended partners to walk customers through the conversion process.
It should be noted that the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit is free of charge. We are talking about customers that have already purchased licenses for newer versions of Office but are hesitant to roll it out because of Access 97, so we have no problem just giving this away to our customers and partners. In fact, we are working to set up a network to help partners and customers best put the Access Conversion Toolkit to use.
Q: What has customer reaction been in testing the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit?
Sigler: Many corporations run large numbers of Microsoft Office Access databases and fear that when they deploy the new version of Office 2003, some Access application that they weren’t aware of will just stop working and shut down a business unit. So the greatest benefit and value that we offer here is providing these customers with an understanding of where their Access databases are, who the owners are, how many they have, and whether they will convert without issue. Customers greatly appreciate the fact that it increases their confidence in the conversion and deployment process.
There’s also the benefit of significant cost savings. Before we created the Access Conversion Toolkit, a company could spend millions converting tens of thousands of Access databases. We want to take what would be a million-dollar effort and get it down to as close to zero as possible. Realistically, our goal is to be in the thousands of dollars for a major corporation as opposed to in the millions of dollars.
Q: What about availability of the Microsoft Office Access 2003 Conversion Toolkit?
Sigler: The Access Conversion Toolkit will be made available in conjunction with Microsoft Office 2003 Service Pack 1, slated to be released later this summer. The code changes to the Access executable will be integrated into SP1 for Office 2003 and is already part of Office XP SP3. The Access Conversion Toolkit will be offered free and via download from http://www.microsoft.com/access/ .
More information about TechEd 2004 can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/events/teched/default.asp .
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