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Microsoft Access Runs Very Slowly

Most of the research that HISDU is involved with has the requirement that data be collected in isolated settings, which includes no internet access, no local network and no IT support. Given this, the principle investigators would like data to be entered on site, often for rapid turn around on interventions or for informing local policy implementers. Ideally a data collection system would be distributed, perhaps with a web based interface, using an enterprise rated database management system managed remotely by qualified systems administrators, however this is simply not possible for remote site projects on limited budgets.

After examining the offerings from the likes of Epi Info or EpiData, we usually fall back to Microsoft Access. Not because MS Access has any particular inherent quality over these other packages, but because if there is any local support then they usually more likely to be qualified to handle MS Access rather than EpiData or FileMaker. Additionally, most investigators are aware of MS Access, being part of the Microsoft Office installation on their computers.

What is wrong with Microsoft Access? Many things. The worst of which is that the databases tend to bloat themselves full of air rather quickly, particularly with dynamically modifying forms; in Access version 2007 you can tell the database to compact itself on exit ... but if you're running the database on a network drive then a bug appears to randomly delete the entire database. The limit of 250 fields per table becomes burdensome with regards to questionnaires despite what some advocates of "normal form" would say. Occasionally MS Access will put itself in a state where it will crash for no readily apparent reason when editing forms, although this has become less of a problem with newer versions. The object oriented nature MS Access means that vital options are widely distributed across a large number of menus, slowing development. Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) can make discovering that vital little property a rather lengthy investigation. Form construction in a customised manner is often a very manual process and cannot be automated beyond the small selection of templates that Microsoft supplies.

However, given suitable development time, the results can be pleasing, and the level of control is well above that of most other packages. Once you have built up a set of standard VBA modules then you can become quite efficient at producing solid forms and processes that can output codebooks, analysis conversion code and some statistical analyses.

When Microsoft Access runs slow
Occasionally Microsoft Access (2007) starts operating exceedingly slowly when you are editing forms or reports. Clearing temporary files, removing and reinstalling Microsoft Office, cleaning the registry (thank you CCleaner) just does not appear to solve anything. If you have a network printer then try setting the default printer to something local.