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New Linked Table Manager – Suggested Improvements, Fixes, and Relative Path Relinking

Suggested Improvements & Fixes for the NEW Linked Table Manager (now available to Office 365 Insiders and Office 2019):

First, I want to say I really appreciate the new Linked Table Manager in Access (as available for Office 365 Insiders and Office 2019) and it's many incredible improvements. However, I have some suggestions to improve usability, address issues and add functionality to it:

1. Remove / Clarify Repeated Relink Table prompts when Change Data Source Path

Clarify "Do you want to relink the selected tables in the new data source" as for optional table renaming and replace "Cancel" button for Relink Table prompt with "OK to All"

Currently "Do you want to relink the selected tables in the new data source" prompt is shown after browse to select new data source file, but it's confusing, seeming (to myself and even MVPs I've seen) to be a data source (eg. filepath) edit confirmation, instead of prompt to show dozens of rename (Relink Table) prompts. This should be clarified.

And, for those who click without meaning or wanting, at least add "OK to All" to the following dozens of Relink Table prompts. Ideally that would replace the "Cancel" button, because that has the unexpected side effect of causing all following tables to end up with "Failed" status (skipping showing them all) even though wouldn't be Failed if didn't choose "Do you want to relink" originally.

Instead, only show Relink Table prompts for Not Found tables when Relinking entire data source

You can always easily edit specific tables by checking each then Relink (or in one click, as suggested further below) and rarely need to rename every single table.

Also you may want to remove the "&" from the "Re&link {LocalTableName}" prompt title.

2. Add / Rename Columns, Making Editable, Sortable & Resizable (Also removing need for confusing Edit/Relink buttons and repeated prompts)

● Local Source Name / Table (editable, renamed from "Data Source Name")
● Source Type (Access, Excel, CSV, etc.) (as a drop-down)
● Target Path / Table / Source (editable, renamed from "Data Source Information")
● Browse/Edit button column (shown like hyperlink, opens up Browse or large Connection String editor dialog)
● Delete button column
● Password (editable, shown as ***)

Having editable cells and inline buttons/links entirely removes need for Edit and Relink buttons and even for checkboxes.

That would also avoid confusion with Edit vs. Relink, why Edit isn't shown when only select Tables, etc. and removes need for repeated Table rename prompts (with Cancel issues and confusing "Do you want to relink" prompt before that).

If absolutely needed, you could allow multiple selection + Delete key (or Delete hyperlink for Source/Table or Delete button where it is now), so checkboxes become unnecessary and just confusing or time-consuming (checked vs. selected, need to uncheck all then check vs. just click to select & edit).

3. Allow Relinking Easily when Relative Paths or File Names remain the same (eg. "Relink Find in Folder" or "Relink Base Path") (An often requested feature can build into New Linked Table Manager!)

Please consider adding support for Relinking based on relative file paths into the new Linked Table Manager.
You can allow selecting a new folder to be used to find all selected data sources in, for those with the same file name, ideally searching subfolders too if not found.
You can allow specifying old base path to be removed from absolute paths to determine relative paths, if needed.
This is arguably the most common use case by far for Linked Table Manager – just changing paths due to different absolute (but same relative) file paths, such as when receive file from someone else or when begin working on development copy or before switch back to production backend usage.

4. Don't disable Linked Table Manager for new databases

Linked Table Manager is disabled in External Data ribbon when there aren't any existing Linked Tables. This should change now that Linked Table Manager can be used to Add new data sources / linked tables (vs. just edit them), especially for those who don't know that Add Data Source button = Add Linked Table, or for those who prefer radio buttons to drop-down buttons.

5. Add an "Add Table" button and/or context menu action to add new Linked Tables to existing Data Sources:

This will avoid need to setup connection/source repeatedly and workaround the below mentioned issue related to that.
Add Table dialog should show already-added tables as grayed out or filtered out.

6. Issue: Fails to Detect / Group as Same Data Source without Copy-Paste Connection String:

If you add a new linked table for existing data source (by re-entering data source, etc. as is needed now, until Add Table for Data Source is supported) it fails to be grouped under an existing data source, even if Source Name and Connection String/Path matches.
Workaround: You have to use Edit on existing source > Copy, then Edit on new source > Paste, then the two data sources end up combined.

7. Stop showing repeated "Could not find object …" error message boxes (with OK and Help buttons) for every broken table for every time you Refresh:

Just show a single warning message pointing that failures occurred and referring user to look at the Refresh Status column (ideally can also list all failed tables in that message box too).
I'd also suggest having Failed text in Refresh Status column shown in red or highlighting those failed tables in some other fashion.

8. Add "Text / CSV / HTML / XML" to Data source type radio buttons

Add "Text / CSV / HTML / XML" as another "Select data source:" instead of just lumping under Custom now.
This way you get browse dialog upfront for CSV files just like for Excels, and without Connection String complexity.
Also, ensure CSV is mentioned in name since Text may be confusing (many just open CSV in Excel, not considering to be Text files).

9. Add other major data source types to radio buttons

dBASE
SharePoint List
Outlook/Exchange Folder
ODBC Database
Data Services

You could start out just reusing existing wizards (from New Data Source), ideally skipping or setting default for initial "Import vs. Link" wizard prompt if possible.

10. Edit dialog should have a Browse button, like supported with Relink and Add dialogs.

11. Auto generate unique Data Source names (File Name + incremented) to avoid all sources named "Access", etc.

What, if anything (beyond description) is Data Source Names used for or may want to be unique for?

12. Add a "Refresh All" button to Linked Table Manager + in Ribbon for that common use case

"Refresh All" button on ribbon (like commonly used "Refresh All" in Excel) could skip showing Linked Table Manager (or auto open and close) or just show it if errors occur.

Can you clarify what exactly Refresh does?

13. Rename "Edit" button to "Edit Data Source" and "Relink" to "Relink Tables" to clarify difference and when can be used (eg. why Edit is unavailable when select subset of tables)

14. Provide Global Option to always remove schema prefix when renaming (vs. just fixing from "dbo." to "dbo_" as do now).

Thanks again to the Access development team for its incredible improvements in functionality and usability with not only the new Linked Table Manager, but with Microsoft Access in general of late (ranging from Modern Charts and Salesforce & Dynamics connectors to Big Int, Black theme and Northwind template)!

I hope this feedback proves helpful in refining your incredible new Linked Table Manager further.

Appreciatively,
Dan

--

Dan Moorehead
Founder, PowerAccess (https://PowerAccess.net)

"Empowering Microsoft Access with new PowerAccess Tools | VBA Framework | PowerGit | PowerSQL | CodeGen | Excel ➜ Access ➜ SQL Conversion"

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    Dan Moorehead — PowerAccess shared this idea  ·   ·  Flag idea as inappropriate…  ·  Admin →

    3 comments

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      • Dan Moorehead — PowerAccess commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        Thanks, that's great news! I really appreciate your considering my suggestions, as well as the incredibly quick response to them.

        As I know my feedback is a bit long, covering a number of different items, I've provided a summary below of my top suggestions (taking into account improved usability vs. time to implement), together reasons why I'd suggest these as priorities (as bullet points, together with suggestions for simplest case implementation):

        1. Make "Linked Table Manager" always enabled in Ribbon

        • This is currently disabled in Ribbon unless have at least 1 Linked Table already.
        • Quickest way of making Linked Table Manager a "one-stop-shop for creating and editing alike for Linked Tables".
        • Avoids confusion (eg. "Why can't I create a Linked Table?") for some users, since use different terminology (Data Source vs. Linked Table) for the "New Data Source" in Ribbon.

        2. Add "Text / CSV / HTML / XML" radio button

        • At least for this most common case. Instead of requiring use of complex Custom connection string editing.
        • Instead of describing as just "Text" like with Custom connection option now (as many may not associate "Text" with the CSV files they often just open in Excel)
        • Especially makes sense for Text vs. showing connection string editor followed by Wizard/Dialog for delimiters, etc. like done now

        3. Add radio buttons for remaining data source types (reusing existing wizard dialogs)

        • For: ODBC Database , dBASE, Outlook/Exchange Folder, SharePoint List and Data Services
        • Just reuse existing Wizards (for New Data Source > ODBC Database, etc.) here (just skipping or defaulting to "Link" for the first "Link or Import?" dialog step) until if/when have time for a custom advanced edit dialog.
        • Alternative: Just show with Connection String editor with Provider + associated parameters / common template
        • Either way, would at least let users know what types of connections are supported and ensure Linked Table Manager is functionally equivalent alternative to use for creating and editing alike for Linked Tables.

        4. "Add Table (to Data Source)" button

        • Faster and easier for this most common use case.
        • [Alternative:] Fix the "Fails to Detect / Group as Same Data Source without Copy-Paste Connection String" issue I'd reported (which this would otherwise much reduce the need for)

        5. Browse button for "Edit" dialog

        • Much easier to use. For consistency (as Relink and Add dialogs all support it).

        6. Add Editable Columns

        • Simplifies UI, removing Edit/Relink buttons/dialogs ambiguity.
        • Replaces with additional sortable, editable columns, useful for sorting and quick overview too.
        • [Either Way:] Rename "Data Source Name" column to "Local Source Name / Table" (since used primarily for Table name in most cases) (also suggested even if don't add editable columns)
        • [Alternative:] Fixing all the "Remove / Clarify Repeated Relink Table" issues
        • However, this would entirely avoid need for that

        If you think it would help for me to create a separate User Voice suggestion for any of the above, just let me know.

        Also, I would be happy to provide further feedback, clarifications or details directly (at Dan@PowerAccess.net, dan.moorehead on Skype, or (206) 792-9969) or even beta test (if possible for non-MVPs or those being nominated for it?) further Linked Table Manager enhancements or any other new Access features.

        I really appreciate your response, coming from a member of the Access Engineering team, as I consider Access to be one of the most disruptive tools ever to have been developed, with its ability to empower technical and non-technical users alike, making database creation accessible to anyone and everyone.

        In fact, it was for that reason (along with my experience developing the first 3D Game Engine & Toolset for C#/.NET, Visual3D – with visual scripting, live editing, CodeGen & database creation tools) which had led me to develop the PowerAccess (https://PowerAccess.net) All-in-One Toolset – to bring VBA CodeGen, Global Find & Replace, SQL Editor Intellisense, automated PowerGit versioning/edit merging, Machine Learning-automated Query/VBA to SQL Server backend migration, and other high-level tools to Microsoft Access – and the PowerAccess Framework – to bring Power Query-like PowerSQL functions, XPrevRow Excel Formulas, User Permissions, Logging, OnAppExit, Calculated Tables and Low Code database creation to Access.

        Considering that shared passion for developing empowering tools in Microsoft Access, I appreciate any chance to speak with a member of the Access Engineering team, whether for feedback, beta testing, or on UserVoice.

        Sincerely,
        Dan

      • Derek McLachlan commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        The new linked table manager is a great improvement but:

        It doesn't relink pass through queries by updating the ODBC connection string.

        We all use DSNless connections these days & the only option here is still DSN. Which make it almost useless.

        So I will be sticking with my own linked table manager that does all of the above.

      • Maria Barnes commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        One correction, Linked Table is not available for Office 2019. It is in the process of being rolled out to the Office 365 channels

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