Editor's note: Contributor Marcel Meth is an independent consultant in the Boston area, specializing in Microsoft SharePoint & Office related technologies. Follow him @marcelmeth
After the November 2012 SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas (#spc12) there were a number of blog posts and people saying that Access 2013 was great and would be replacing InfoPath. Marc Anderson and Ruven Gotz have short posts summarizing #SPC12 and touch on the subject of InfoPath and Access. I also spoke with several individuals shortly after #SPC12 and they were excited about Access 2013.
Since I rely heavily on InfoPath for much of what I do, I wanted to kick the tires and see what everyone was talking about. First, a few notes about SharePoint 2013 and Office 2013.
- Microsoft should rename Access: If you have tried to bing the word Access, then you know that the search results are overwhelming, because the word "access" is used for so many other purposes.
- Use the RTM version of Office 2013! I was performing my investigations by leveraging the Office 365 Beta and the Office Applications that come with it. Not much was working! After I uninstalled the Beta version of Office 2013 and Installed the RTM version everything seemed to work.
- Windows 7 and IE 9.0: The drag & drop that is being touted as "manna from heaven" seems to work well with Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and IE 10, but it does not work with IE 9!
- Non Microsoft browsers are still second class citizens (except for the drag & drop): Microsoft has finally done away with the Active X's for datasheet view (that is brilliant!) One can now see the newly minted datasheet view in many browsers. But I still find that one needs to be in IE to do a number of key manual opeartions. For example pasting numerous rows of data from a spreadsheet into the new sheet view works only in IE.
Microsoft Access is touted as a non developer tool. I know a number of people who are on the business side and love Access. These people will like the renewed energy that Microsoft has applied to Access. One should note that conceptually this functionality existed in SharePoint 2010. Here is what I see that is new:
+The new version works better: Although I haven't tested it fully, it seems that many more features that work on the Desktop version of Access, now work in the published Web Application which is hosted by SharePoint 2013.
+The new version has fairly robust browser based forms: End users can now fill in data using forms that are rendered in the browser.
+The published version that resides in SharePoint now uses its own SQL server tables. So the engine appears to be SQL Server, not a modified version of Access built for a server. This stands to be quite robust, but I imagine that some quirks will surface due to new model.
- Access is pretty much its own application and does not integrate with SharePoint building blocks. For example, an Access table is not easy to integrate with a SharePoint workflow. Further, although Access forms now are visible in a browser, they are not nearly as rich as InfoPath forms. InfoPath forms cannot easily integrate with the Access tables. In order to integrate SharePoint features and Access, one needs to tie SharePoint list(s) to Access as data sources. This overcomplicates the model and one may very well run into synchronization issues.
In short, although I believe there will be some people who will be happy with newly minted Access, I do not think that Access will be able to replace InfoPath and Workflow technologies. I do agree that Microsoft does not seem to have put much energy into InfoPath. If they leave a vacuum in this space, then others may very well take over, for instance Nintex Forms.