Product Review: AccessUI

Friday Jul 15th 2005 by Danny Lesandrini

It looks great, but can you change it so that it doesn't look so much like an Access database? Let's face it, we love Access, but its "look" hasn't changed significantly in a decade. Danny Lesandrini reviews AccessUI, a tool that provides Microsoft Access users and developers the ability to create professional, highly customizable user interfaces without writing any code.

Simplifying Microsoft Access Development

"It looks great, but can you change it so that it doesn't look so much like an Access database?"

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that in the last year, from both readers and clients alike. Let's face it, we love Access, but its "look" hasn't changed significantly in a decade. If you want to do anything really clever, you have to purchase 3rd party controls, learn how to use them, work out the bugs and possibly pay the distribution royalties. That has been such a big enough impediment for me that I have never used a third party control in nearly 10 years of developing applications with Microsoft Access. Suddenly, all that has changed, now that AccessUI is on the market.

What is AccessUI?

Its web site describes theinterface product as follows:

The AccessUI tool gives you a rich and professional-feeling user interface for any Microsoft Office application that is based on Microsoft Access database technology. There are three major components to the interface:

  • An Outlook-style menu bar that remembers users' favorite items
  • A command bar that can be configured with up to 4 levels
  • A dynamic treeview that can have Access forms/reports for each level

Recently, I was asked to create acustomer relationship management (CRM) tool for one of my clients. The client was looking for something fresh andsnazzy, something they would be proud to pull out and show to their clients. I converted their existing data from Excel spreadsheets to Access tables and used AccessUI as my menu system. In less thanfour hours I had a professional looking application consisting of the following:

  • The primary data table named tblOpportunity
  • One data entry form for managing opportunity records
  • AccessUI menu system (as shown below)

Large image

Four hours was all it took to produce a prototype good enough to show the client. They were blown away and quickly awarded me the contract. It was just what they wanted and was much more than I could ever have created, even if I had a hundred hours to devote to the project. Moreover, what they saw was just the beginning. As I learned more about how to use the tool, I became aware of its great power.

How AccessUI Works

While I do not want to bore you with all the minute details of every option and feature, you need to understand how the UI is implemented and what is required of you. What follows is a brief outline of the steps I followed to create my four-hour miracle:

  1. Purchase AccessUI from www.accessui.com Introductory cost: $399
  2. Register the developer admin tool online, which enables you to begin using the add-in (end users require no registration and they cannot edit developer settings)

  1. Unpack AccessUI files and register the OCX files that are used by AccessUI
  2. Import your tables, queries, forms, etc into the AccessUI shell mdb (UIForms2000 for Access 2000 apps or UIForms2002 for newer versions)
  3. Install the Administration Add-In and begin creating menus and tree views, setting system colors and icons, and a host of other cool features.

  1. Begin creating your own application masterpiece!

Feature Overview

I am a firm believer that a picture can convey much more information than can my keyboard, so I encourage you to visit the AccessUI web site to see a more detailed explanation of what this user interface can do for you.The site also provides a working demo based on the Northwind database that is free to download and explore. That having been said, I want to describe a couple of the most important, and interesting, features.

Command Bar Top Menu

Across the top of the application stretches the main command bar menu. Items are added to this menu through the Admin tool and users may create cascading menus with up to 4 levels. The command bar also supports buttons for launching forms, reports, etc.

Outlook Style Vertical Left Menu Bar

Of all the non-native-to-Access features requested by my clients, the Outlook style menu is the most desired. I know there are controls out there I could purchase and it probably would not be beyond me to figure out how to implement it, but it sure was nice to just plug-and-play this impressive feature.

However, it is more than just an Outlook style menu. It allows users to add items to their own favorites tab and it is integrated into a larger control that gives users four different ways to view the component windows, showingvarious combinations of the menu, the treeview and output screens.

Menu Items

Through the admin tool, you can add items to any of the Outlook bar tabs and control their behavior and appearance. In addition to the 50 icons included with the tool, users can supply up to 50 of their own icons to assign to menu items. Forms can be loaded into the AccessUI client area (as a subform) or be opened in popup mode. Reports can be opened in preview mode, or sent directly to the printer. All of this is handled through the add-in and once you get comfortable with the process, you will be amazed with how fast you can implement new application features for your users.


The treeview is the Piece de Resistance of the entire tool. As shown in the screen shot above, my application allows users to navigate through their CRM opportunities by sales rep in one treeview and by manufacturer in another. As the user drills down in my application, they see the list of customers and may expand that customer's programs and products. With AccessUI, I can create as many treeviews as I need and even control which users have access to which menu items.

It should be noted that these controls load very quickly and the tool even reports (in the status bar) the time required to load the client form, along with the total number of records affected.

A Boon to Developers

It should be obvious that I really love this product. In fact, I have decided to begin using it as my standard interface for all new clients and projects. A single developer license entitles me to create as many applications as I want and to distribute the client to as many users as need be, royalty free! The developers of this fantastic tool proudly and accurately boast:

The AccessUI tool provides Microsoft Access users and developers the ability to create professional, highly customizable user interfaces without writing any code. AccessUI's interface is completely customizable via the easy to use administration tool. With the AccessUI tool you can quickly add a professional interface to your new or existing Access applications and distribute them royalty-free.

I'm sold, and you will be too when you see the pizzazz it will add to your applications. As mentioned at the outset, this UI secured one contract for me and I have no doubt it will pay for itself many times over as I continue to dazzle my customers with professional, customizable applications that expose all the power and simplicity of Microsoft Access, but with a fresh new look.

» See All Articles by Columnist Danny J. Lesandrini

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