PC WeekTotal Access Analyzer: Takes Care of Drudge Work

Timothy Dyck, PC Week

September 8, 1998

Programmers who like doing documentation are about as rare as those who like meetings, so when a program such as Total Access Analyzer comes along that does the first chore (and costs just a couple hundred bucks), we here at PC Week Labs are already half-sold on the idea.

FMS Inc.'s updated documentation tool for Microsoft Corp.'s Access 97 database is a great example of how well-suited software is for the drudgery of system documentation. With just a few mouse clicks, Total Access Analyzer 8.0 created beautifully formatted object dependency charts, code printouts and table relationship diagrams - results that would either have taken hours of work or been nearly impossible without the tool.

Serious Access programmers needing to produce detailed documentation for their projects will find the product indispensable, but those with less demanding needs will probably find the good documentation tools Access has are up to the job.

Total Access Analyzer 8.0, which shipped in July, costs $199; upgrades for the previous version are $99.

In addition to its reporting strengths, Total Access Analyzer wears a second hat - not only can it describe a database, it also tries to discover what's wrong with the design.

Although Total Access Analyzer's data collection step was slow on a test 3MB database (taking between 5 and 15 minutes, even on a Pentium system with 32MB of RAM), the software cached its results to disk for fast access during later sessions.

When its analysis was complete, Total Access Analyzer listed 66 things wrong with the database, but when we went carefully through the list, wee really didn't find significant items in the software's analysis.

Total Access Analyzer did a great job of finding simple suspect situations,, including queries that returned a high number of fields or uncompiled code, but it didn't catch the kinds of errors that really bring Access databases to their knees. We don't think the developers who should by Total Access Analyzer will make the kinds of mistakes it finds.

For example, we had a number of queries that used subselects in their Where clauses and were taking minutes to complete. After we optimized the queries (by pulling out the subselect into a separate query and using a join), the database's performance improved tenfold. It's this kind of sophisticated optimization that Total Access Analyzer's market needs.

In addition, a number of Total Access Analyzer's suggestions were wrong (it misinterpreted user-supplied parameters as missing columns* and listed free disk space incorrectly), and the software can't fix the errors it finds, as Access' own Analyzer Performance command can.

Total Access Analyzer's auto-documentation tools, on the other hand, roundly trounced Access' similar offerings. Some of Total Access Analyzer's 220-odd reports fill big gaps in Access' own feature set, while other reports go far beyond Access, such as detailed object dependency listings, exhaustive lists of form and control properties, query SQL listings and beautified code printouts, attractively matted and organized.

[*FMS Note: Total Access Analyzer detects query references to missing fields. If a parameter is not explicitly defined as such under Query|Parameters, it is flagged as a missing field.]

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