Total Access Agent

Visual Programming ++ (VB++) by Don Kiely

Total Access Agent is a maintenance scheduling utility for Microsoft Access/Jet databases. It works with all versions of jet .MDB database files, so you can use it with VB and all Access releases. The product is a program scheduler tailored for easy maintenance of Access databases. It includes several standard, pre-configured actions: archive a database, archive table data, compact and/or repair a database, gather statistics about database objects and execute named macros. It also includes a custom command option that lets you run any command line. Archiving table data is a nice touch, because macros, forms, reports, and code can take up a lot of disk space but rarely change, so why back them up hourly?

Total Access Agent consists of three components: the Manager, Monitor, and Engine. You use the Manager to maintain actions, such as to add and remove databases, schedule events, and specify network passwords. The Monitor runs continuously and launches the action at the scheduled time. Finally, the Engine is the backend that runs everything-it has an OLE interface so you can launch events programmatically.

Total Access Agent can schedule hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly events. The hourly and and daily intervals had all the flexibility I needed, but I would like to see more options for the weekly and monthly intervals. For example, you can select the particular days of the week to run an event, but you can only run monthly events on a particular day of the month, such as the 15th. It would be useful to run something on the third Thursday of the month or every other week without creating multiple, duplicate actions.

The utility has some slick scheduling features. I was impressed with how it manages database files. Once you add a particular file to an event, it is added to a master database list, no matter how many actions use it. That means that if you change a single database file that is used in 15 Total Access Agent actions, you only have to change one setting in one place. This is just one benefit of a well-defined and consistent user interface that belies the work that went into planning the product.

DOING THE TESTING

I setup the program on Windows NT 3.51 and 95 machines connected on an NT Server network to put Total Access Agent through its paces. I used two large Access databases for testing and performed just about every available event as frequently as possible. Once I got everything set up properly, the program performed flawlessly, repeatedly backing up the databases and gathering statistics.

Some impressive features include automatically emailing a message when an error occurs, copying whole groups of events so you don't have to recreate them by hand, and suspending an event so that you don't have to delete and then recreate it. It even includes a Test button so you can immediately test any scheduled action to make sure that you've set it correctly. FMS did a nice job with these extra touches.

The 73-page manual is well-written, concise, clear, and indexed. It has almost too much detail, but this is a testimony to the quality of product design rather than a flaw in the manual. The Windows help file contains the same material as the manual--another nice touch. The documentation is careful to point out the program's limitations, such as to caution you that Total Access Agent uses the Jet engine's database repair capabilities, so don't expect miracles if Access itself can't fix a file. Total Access Agent includes both 16- and 32- bit versions, so it runs under windows 3.x, 95, and NT using all Jet database versions.

WINDOWS NT GOTCHA

I did encounter a minor problem with Total Access Agent on my Windows NT 3.51 SP4 development machine. Total Access Manager ran fine. as did Monitor, but I got an OLE error any time the Engine tried to perform an action. Technical Support via email and phone was helpful and responsive, and we ultimately solved the problem: the server wasn't registered properly--a typical NT problem. The product worked great on Windows 95.

Besides this small problem with the Windows NT installation, there are a few minor improvements I'd like to see. There isn't always a list presented to the user when it would make sense, such as when you enter the name of an existing macro in the database you want to schedule. It would be easy enough to get a list of macros; the utility does present a list of tables to archive. If you change the scheduled events in Manager, you have to remember to either restart Monitor or click the Refresh Event Schedule button for the changes to take effect. I'd prefer having an option for the schedule to refresh itself at a specified interval, because this could easily be overlooked.

My first impression on learning about Total Access Agent was, why bother? Access itself can do all the maintenance chores that Total Access Agent handles, and a simple program scheduler will run them. But it would take you a long time to match Total Access Agent's ease of use and elegance. So if you have Access databases to maintain, I'd definitely suggest you consider Total Access Agent.

Don Kiely is a Development Manager for the Arctic Development Council on the North Slope of Alaska. He programs in VB and writes about it when he isn't chasing polar bears. He's written several books about VB and VB++, including Visual Basic 4 Database How-To (co-author) from Waite Group Press and the Ultimate VB 4 Controls Sourcebook from Coriolis Group Books.

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"Total Visual Agent is a real find, a rare combination of ease of use, and bang for the buck. In the end, no other competitor even comes close."

Thomas Wagner, Product Review in MS Office and VBA Developer

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