Microsoft Access: The Only Low-Code/No-Code/High-Code Data Application on the Market

Microsoft Access was the original low-code tool before low-code tools were all the rage. There's an important reason why Access remains the king.

Microsoft Access: The Only Low-Code/No-Code/High-Code Data Application on the Market

"I can work as much or as little as you need me to."

Those are the words of my mentor and former boss, Bruce Grandjean, shortly after I had purchased his software development company.  At the time, we were a company of two.  If you've ever grown a small business–especially a professional services business–you know the challenges of hiring at that scale: hire too soon and you might not have enough work; hire too late and you might miss out on opportunities.

With his offer, Bruce took away both sources of risk for me.  

Fast forward several years.  Bruce had transitioned to part-time and I had two other full-time developers working for me.  He was enjoying his semi-retirement: extended trips in his RV; trans-Atlantic sailing voyages; and spending time with his grandkids.  Against this backdrop we had another conversation about his role with the company.  He still enjoyed working and being involved, but this time his terms were slightly modified.

"I can work as little as you need me to."

Other Low-Code/No-Code Tools: "I can work as little as you need me to."

The market is teeming with low-code/no-code application builders:

  • Airtable
  • Caspio
  • Creatio
  • FileMaker Pro
  • Knack
  • Microsoft Power Platform
  • OpenOffice Base
  • Oracle APEX
  • Etc.

These tools tend to be great at getting very simple data-heavy applications up and running quickly.  

But what happens when you ask these tools to do something beyond what they were built for?

In most cases, the answer is you're out of luck.  You either live with the limitations or you REWRITE THE APPLICATION with another tool.  That can be an expensive endeavor, not to mention the painful data migration that comes with it!

Microsoft Access: "I can work as much or as little as you need me to."

While Microsoft often touts Access as a "low-code" development tool, this marketing approach obscures the fact that Access is capable of much more than that.

In the hands of a skilled developer, there is no limit to Microsoft Access's ability to implement even the most complex business logic.  VBA is a full-fledged programming language.  What it lacks in modern features it makes up for in consistency.  (Contrast that with a constantly evolving language like C#, where every six months or so there is a new way to solve old problems.)

When paired with a capable back-end database like SQL Server or MySQL, Access is not artificially limited by laughably low record limits, as many low-code tools are:

  • Knack: $219/month for up to 125K database records (per account!)
  • Airtable: $54/month for up to 125K database records (per database)
  • Caspio: $270/month for up to 2M database records
  • FileMaker Pro: $43/month for 2GB per user

Low-Code Tools Have a Role in Enterprise IT

I'm a big fan of using low-code tools to prove the business case for software.

Eisenhower, when he was president of Columbia University, presided over the creation of new sidewalks. People said, “Where should we put the sidewalks? What’s the best design?” He said, “Do nothing for a year. See where the students walk, naturally. And where they have beaten a path, put a sidewalk.”
-"True Paths", by Jay Nordlinger

Ike's approach to sidewalk construction is instructive for CTOs.  

The footpaths are the low-code/no-code prototype apps and the sidewalks are the enterprise software projects.  Before investing six or seven figures in a software project, a four- or five-figure investment in a low-code app can help establish that there is in fact a need for the larger investment.

The benefit of quick prototyping without having to invest large development resources up front means that adopting any low-code toolwhen done strategically–can be a massive net benefit for an organization.

Not All Low-Code Tools are the Same

Access is like Bruce when I first took the reins of the business: it can do as much or as little as you need it to.

Those other tools are like Bruce after a taste of that sweet, sweet retirement life: they can do as little as you need them to.

In other words, unlike typical low-code tools,

Access can be used to build the footpaths AND the sidewalks.

Referenced articles

Cowpathing with Microsoft Access
How do you decide where to spend your software development dollars? Don’t guess what your users need, let them show you with Access.

All original code samples by Mike Wolfe are licensed under CC BY 4.0