Product Review - Total Access
Speller For Access 2002
You only get one chance to make a good first impression. What first
impression do your Microsoft Access applications give? No matter how
clever your code, when a client sees misspelled words on forms and
reports, your user interface screams, "Loser!" Spell-checking object
properties in Access can be an error-prone manual process, unless
you're using Total Access Speller 2002 from FMS. Danny Lesandrini
takes it for a test drive.
Though I was born in the United States, my wife sometimes questions
whether or not English is my native language. You see, I'm living proof
that a college education doesn't guarantee good grammar and correct
spelling. In fact, after learning to speak Russian, I'm now able to
misspell words in two languages. I'm not aloneŚwe all make spelling
mistakes. Even if we know how to spell a particular word, there's always
the possibility that we might "fat finger" the keyboard as we type it.
We should be checking our forms and reports for typos, but, again, human
imperfection can cause us to overlook our own errors.
I was excited to hear that FMS Inc. has an object property and design
spell-checking product for Microsoft Access database applications. The
add-in, named, appropriately enough, Total Access Speller 2002 (TAS),
has a list price of $199 for a single license. There are separate
versions for Access 97, 2000, and 2002.
Installation and getting started
As is true with all FMS products I've used, installation is easy and
foolproof. The setup routine puts a program group on the Start |
Programs | FMS menu in a folder named Total Access Speller 2002,
alongside any other FMS products you may have installed. You can't
launch TAS from the menu because it's a Microsoft Access add-in that can
only be run from within the Microsoft Access environment with an mdb
file opened. The program group menu does, however, provide shortcuts to
the Help file and to the Update Wizard (which will keep your product
up-to-date). The installation doesn't require a restart of the computer.
To spell-check an application, you begin by opening any database. As
always, it's a good practice to make a backup before using any utility
that makes changes to object properties. You'll need to close any open
forms or reports in order to start TAS, though when I ran tests, it
didn't seem to matter if I had tables or queries open. To load the
utility, select Total Access Speller from Access's Tools | Add-Ins menu.
After viewing the Welcome screen, you're ready to select the objects
(tables, forms, queries, and so forth) that you want to include in the
spell-checking process from the object selection form (see Figure 1).
Running the Utility
There are a number of things to keep in mind when selecting objects
for spell-checking. The first database application I spell-checked was
very small (about 600KB) and contained only eight forms, two queries,
and one local table. Since the application was so small, I selected all
of the objects in the database, which was a mistake. It took forever to
spell-check the BuiltIn CmdBars, since all of the properties were
programmer-created words like "AutoForm" and "WebViewFolderIcon." Not
only did these words all show up as misspelled, changing any of them
would surely have caused the command bars to break. Though I can
understand why I'd want to spell-check my own custom User CmdBars, I
don't see any reason why I'd ever need to spell-check the BuiltIn
Fortunately, the user interface for selecting objects makes it simple
to exclude these objects. First, I chose the All Objects option and
clicked Select All. Then I chose the BuiltIn CmdBars and clicked on
Clear All, which cleared all the toolbars but left all other objects.
You may have noticed that there's a button on the object selection
form to edit the Property List (the list of properties to be
spell-checked). This list isn't comprehensive, containing only the 20
properties most likely to require spell-checking. By default they're all
selected, but you can filter for the specific properties you want by
checking or unchecking the check box next to each property. In addition
to being able to exclude various properties from the spell-check search,
you may add additional properties that aren't in the default list.
Caution is needed when adding additional properties. You wouldn't want,
for example, to change a BackColor property from "vbWhite" to "White,"
as this will cause an error when you attempt to compile or run the
application. It's appropriate that FMS included this option, especially
if you're in the habit of creating custom properties. In all likelihood,
you'll probably find that the FMS list is optimal and won't be adding or
deleting properties from this list.
Clicking the Next button starts the process of collecting metadata
about your application. This was fast for my little database. It
initially took hours for my largest database (a 24MB "mother of all
Access applications"). It took so long that I finally gave up and
canceled the operation after two hours. The problem turned out to be
linked tables to a SQL Server database that wasn't available because I
was disconnected from the network. Removing the linked tables solved the
problem (I could also have plugged in to the network to connect to the
database). I also complied, compacted, and repaired my database. After
these changes, TAS processed 240 forms, 60 tables, and 170 reports in
just a few minutes to present me with the Spell Checking screen, as
shown in Figure 2. When I got bored waiting for my initial run to
complete, I tried running a second copy of TAS to simultaneously
spell-check two different databases. This definitely doesn't work, as it
causes a conflict in TAS's metadata tables.
From this point on, spell-checking proceeds just as if you were
spell-checking field values in an Access table. Clicking the Spell Check
button brings up the familiar-looking Access spell-check window, where
you can Ignore or Change misspelled words as they're found. The Options
button allows you to ignore words all in uppercase, words containing
numbers, URLs, and file path names. There's also another button at the
top-right of the form, which allows you to exclude all properties of the
current field. However, clicking it is the same as saying you want to
ignore all misspelled words and will end your spell-check session.
It's important to note that no actual changes take place during this
process. All you're doing is correcting misspelled words in the metadata
table of the FMS mde file, not in your application's mdb. Once you
finish spell-checking, you must click the Next button to request that
your changes be committed to their corresponding database object
properties. Prior to committing the changes, you have the opportunity to
view and print a report with all pending changes. Clicking the Back
button clears the buffer of pending changes and lets you begin the
The report of pending changes is clean and easy to read. After
confirming the changes, you're presented with the final Changes Report
(see Figure 3), which looks a lot like the Pending Report. I strongly
suggest that you print a copy of this report so you'll be able to review
and correct any mistakes made during the spell-check process. Upon
closing the report, you'll find yourself back at the Welcome screen,
ready to request another spell-check session on a new group of objects.
What's the verdict?
Personally, I can't imagine an Access developer who wouldn't benefit
from this tool. It's a utility that I'll keep handy and use often. I was
disappointed that there wasn't an option to spell-check the code in
standard and class modules, but I appreciate the complexity of that
task. Even from a user's point of view, it's problematic to spell-check
code where function, sub, and variable names break all the rules of
spelling. Even so, there are times I'd like to have my comments and
MsgBox text checked for spelling errors. Perhaps this feature will be
included in a future release. (Note to self: Remember to run TAS's
Update Wizard from time to time.)
Pricing for upgrades, five-packs, and volume pricing is available at
the FMS Web site. At first, I thought that $199 for a
single-user license was high. Other FMS tools (for example,
Analyzer) do much more and appear to deliver more functionality for the
money. After all, the user interface for Total Access Speller is simple,
and it provides only one function. However, it's a function that will
help you avoid giving an unprofessional first impression. Some tools
save you time; some save face. The way I figure it, avoiding personal
embarrassment in front of my clients makes this product worth the price.