back to article BOFH: You can take our lives, but you'll never take OUR MACROS

"...And I can't seem to import all of the data I need," the user explains. "And you're importing into Excel from what... a CSV file?" the PFY asks. "Yes." "And the import fails?" "I just stops. It says something about resources." "So perhaps you should get rid of some of the data in the spreadsheet?" "It's an almost …


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  1. Karlis 1

    Steering a luser to use Access. No way that is going to end well.

    My bet is on Access requiring a plugin installation to work with data older than 7 years, installation media for which was just delivered in the basement, in the shipment with a carpet, showel and to bags of lime.

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Its better than letting user have access to SQL, running several queries at once which deadlock and lock and wonder why the Information Something department is yelling at them to stop it.

      1. Down not across

        Its better than letting user have access to SQL, running several queries at once which deadlock and lock and wonder why the Information Something department is yelling at them to stop it.

        What? Like when they decide to just cobble up some forms in Access and point them to live RDBMS via ODBC resulting in some interesting locking in target RDBMS?

        Access should be burnt on a stake. No wait. Probably better and more satisfying to just do that to the users...

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Oh, I don't know. Eternity might be a whole lot closer while they try and figure out how to write queries in Access… Access' version of SQL is somewhat special!

    3. Rampant Spaniel

      Access gets fat more stick than it deserves, usually because people don't understand what it is aimed at and the fact that access isn't a database. Jet is the database and it is a vaguely acceptable single user database. The beauty of access is its ability to do what the bean counter wants without screwing up the central database and with a more user friendly user interface. Our had had its fair share of wonky scripting languages but if you want to drag a significant amount of data off a corporate database and play around with it with zero risk of falling down and stairs, access is what you need. It's also pretty cheap and easy to lean (compared to say Oracle forms and plsql). If you want to run a new report is usually a matter of a few minutes work and you are done. It's those scenarios where access shines.

      However, try and run an entire department of a single jet database and toy get what you deserve. If you want to make a quick read only front end for an entire department to access a corporate database then access does that well.

      1. Stoneshop

        Jet is the database

        And like the real thing, it sucks and blows at the same time. Also, when something other than air gets sucked into it, it either comes out again totally shredded, or it causes the engine to explode.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      "Steering a luser to use Access. No way that is going to end well."

      And then ... give him admin access to his own sharepoint subsite...

    5. Daniel B.


      I've once done the Excel to Access to Access-but-using-PostgreSQL-backend dance. A pretty nice lady from Payments had to do a big-ass cost analysis which involved call logs for the last 3 years. Back then, Excel had the 65536 row limitation. So I went on "hmmm… Access can handle this" only to find that Jet would start barfing somewhere around the 300k record mark. However, I had already done the whole DB query stuff, and found out about "linked tables" so I used that and ended up dumping all the data into Postgres. Then I just pulled a view from Postgres out to Access, then used that with my lady friend. Worked really good, and Postgres does the heavy grunt work in 40 seconds.

  2. GettinSadda

    Cruelest Ending!

    Of all the awful things that the BOFH and his PFY sidekick have ever done, this has to be the worst! Introducing someone to Access!?!?!?

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: Cruelest Ending!

      They get what they deserve.

      All on its own the chief actuary decided to do the loss triangles etc. in Access. It's unintelligible beyond believe - having to understand what they do I came as close to slowly torturing someone to death as possible without becoming felon.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
        Thumb Up

        Re: Cruelest Ending!

        Cruel and unusual punishment. Love the neat and understated style

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Cruelest Ending!

        "All on its own the chief actuary decided to do the loss triangles etc. in Access."

        Having endured business decisions to use excel for everything, It can't be much worse.

        After 5 years and interminable wars we finally managed to get a real financials system, imported all the raw data and promptly discovered a $250k discrepency in our financials (close to what I was expecting, vs what the execl system was claiming)

        The scary part is that the same excel setup was being used by the local health trust to run several hospitals and suchlike, covering about 2 million people (it was all setup by the same people and they just used the same templates for us as they'd developed for the health authority)

    2. NumptyScrub

      Re: Cruelest Ending!

      quote: "Of all the awful things that the BOFH and his PFY sidekick have ever done, this has to be the worst! Introducing someone to Access!?!?!?"

      In fairness, they are introducing Access to someone who has been using Excel as a pseudo-database. Impossible as it sounds, Access may actually be slightly less of a headache once they get the concepts...

      (I have a friend who once told me, completely straight faced, that he loved using Access "because I can use Excel spreadsheets directly as a table". Some things are their own reward)

    3. KirstarK

      Re: Cruelest Ending!

      god access. what a pile.

    4. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: GettinSadda Re: Cruelest Ending!

      "....Introducing someone to Access!?!?!?" Well, it could have been worse, they could have suggested DB2.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brilliantly evil..

    Pointing someone to Access, no. That could almost revive my own conscience, that's beyond evil..

  4. Tim99 Silver badge

    Single user PC database might be OK

    The worry is that MS Access on a single PC of the sort, and with the amount of RAM, that a bean-counter will have demanded could probably do it with a bit of fiddling.

    I don't know about SQL Server lite, MS will have crippled it; but SQLite almost certainly could do this :

    1. breakfast Silver badge

      Re: Single user PC database might be OK

      One of the great things about Access is that it is so massively internally broken at the design level that it has a "repair" button so you can fix all the horrible things that your database has done to itself.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Single user PC database might be OK

        My experience has been:

        Step 1: Excel

        Step 2: Import data into poorly written Access database

        Step 3: Hire data entry monkeys to enter data as quickly as possible to try an d meet some deadline

        Step 4: Discover why Access wasn't a great idea....

        Step 5: Discuss moving to a standard MSSQL/Oracle/other company standard database for £££

        Step 6: Silence

        Step 7: Discover that said department has decided to upgrade to the latest version of Access in the hope of resolving the problem.

        Step 8: Goto step 1

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Single user PC database might be OK

          I've found Access to be quite useful.

          1) Get sent the data as stack of Excel spreadsheets

          2) Import that data and build quick'n'dirty mockup in Access. Get most of the business logic agreed

          3) Port to another database and front end

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Single user PC database might be OK


          Step 1: Excel

          Step 2: Discover existence of VBS, ODBC and PostgreSQL

          Step 3: Read a book on VBS (cost: 1 day) write a VBS script that reads Excel data and spits out an SQL file you just have to run in psql to create and populate tables (cost: 1 day)

          Step 3: hook up excel to PostgreSQL via ODBC (cost: 30 to 35 seconds)

          Step 4: schedule a script that retrieves latest data from production database to update data in PostgreSQL. (cost: 1/2 day - we are talking production db, so extensive testing is required)

          Access is pretty good with forms, as a database, though, it is utter crap.

          I did this for a customer some years ago before powershell was available, today I would probably do it in powershell. Solution is still running to this day ... and I knew VBS/PostgreSQL/ODBC already before I started on the project. Did that as an ad hoc project, since project manager had overestimated implementation time of the actual project I was hired-in for - I simply asked, since we are done with this, what else is causing pain around here? The answer was a massive Excel file with data out of SAP ...

  5. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Love the instant consensus here

    Every single first comment hits on Access :)

    A worthy end to the week. Bottoms up!

  6. Gordon 10


    I cant wait until the bean counter hits the 2gb limit.... right about now......

    1. Kubla Cant

      Re: Access

      To repurpose a joke about regular expressions*: you have a problem. You decide to solve it with Access. Now you have two problems.

      *as far as I know this is actually the only joke about regular expressions.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Access

        *as far as I know this is actually the only joke about regular expressions.


      2. Martin Budden

        Re: Access

        *as far as I know this is actually the only joke about regular expressions.

        Also obligatory, and yes it is THE joke:

        1. Old_Polish_Proverb

          Re: Access

          I'm not a programmer. but I sit next to one at work.

          Does this count?

      3. Allan George Dyer

        Re: the only joke about regular expressions

        No-one remembers the one about them being indistinguishable from modem line noise?

        I must be getting old.

      4. gaz.thomas

        Re: Access

        Or indeed this one:

        I wonder if there is a way to trawl xkcd to determine whether there are any more regular expression jokes...

        1. Martin Budden

          Re: Access

          I wonder if there is a way to trawl xkcd to determine whether there are any more regular expression jokes...


  7. Alfie

    Bane of my life

    I swear western civilisation would crumble to dust if anything ever happened to all the Excel spreadsheets that appear to run most businesses...

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Bane of my life

      This pdf about how "Shadow IT" (notably Excel) harms business is now nearly a decade old. Yet I still work with many clients who suffer the debilitating disease.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bane of my life

        The writer of that Shadow IT article has it nailed. I've even done Shadow IT. It's what you do when you have a load of information, you need to do stuff with that and no one has given you budget, training, admin support or appropriate tools.

        No one is responsible for setting the workers up in anything better.-

        IT have been told to concentrate on the important stuff defined by what some executive types somewhere believe that IT departments should do. mostly buying and fixing.

        So we cobble together something that gets the job done.

    2. plrndl

      Re: Bane of my life

      If MS produced a version of Excel that fixed all the bugs that have previously been reclassified as features, that would be the end.

    3. Nigel 11

      Re: Bane of my life

      I swear western civilisation would crumble to dust if anything ever happened to all the Excel spreadsheets that appear to run most businesses...

      But it already has! (for pretty much all possible values of "Anything" )

      There's a theory that if anybody ever manages to understand the universe, it will abruptly end and be replaced by something less understandable. There is another theory that this has already happened. many times. My personal theory is that this explains hangovers.

      1. Fungus Bob

        Re: Bane of my life

        "I swear western civilisation would crumble to dust if anything ever happened to all the Excel spreadsheets that appear to run most businesses..."

        You say that like its a bad thing....

      2. Alan W. Rateliff, II
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Bane of my life

        "There's a theory that if anybody ever manages to understand the universe, it will abruptly end and be replaced by something less understandable. There is another theory that this has already happened. many times. My personal theory is that this explains hangovers."

        I have never been formally exposed to that theory, but have in experience. A long long time ago in a burst, a flash of understanding as though the Earth had finished running its millennia-long program and sent its output through my brain... I understood women.

        Nothing has been the same since.

    4. Christian Berger

      Re: Bane of my life

      I'm not sure about it. Yes it's used by many businesses, but the question is if it's used by important ones. I mean our civilization wouldn't suffer much if certain companies would cease to exist.

      Your bakery or fish monger doesn't Spreadsheets to do their work.

  8. DropBear

    I beg your pardon... can't possibly mean there are people who don't have an Excel - uh, hold on... s/Excel/GCstar/ - catalogue of their DVDs, including a "watched" flag, surely...? What sort of person would fail to do such a thing?!?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: I beg your pardon...

      No , but I do have all my books on an Alpha4 (v11) database - no books read tag though

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

        Re: I beg your pardon...

        No, the only two spreadsheets I maintain for personal use are one to log the deep sky objects I have seen through my scopes or binoculars, listing catalogue/number,alternative names, type, constellation, date observed etc, and one in which I list the number of species of fish and seafood my kids have eaten (79 for the youngest (10), 80 for the eldest (12)), listing English and Dutch common names and who ate them. The first helps me select new objects to tackle, the second encourages the kids to try more different kinds of food.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: I beg your pardon...

      Yeah, I just rely on Google/Apple/etc. to tell me what I've been watching!

  9. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Lines to become legendary

    "Sorry, I think I just slipped into a coma, but I'm back now."

    "The main limitation being that it has an inbuilt stupidity limiter..."

    And Access... what a great ending! That 'lil piece of dung surely caused me more problems than it ever was supposed to solve.

  10. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    A Heavenly Space ...... Devoid of Minded Idiots.

    If only all of that were no so true, Simon. :-)

  11. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    I think I may have a few of them here... data could easily be stored in the existing central ERP system. But no, it's stored in spreadsheets that are emailed between team members.

    I don't hate myself enough to push a user to MS Access. It'll just cause more pain for me later.

  12. Adrian Harvey

    More bits

    Should have got him to upgrade to the 64-bit version of Excel first. Handles heaps more rows than 32-bit. And all his plugins won't work... Bwhahahaha!

  13. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

    Spreadsheet nightmares

    Sounds like our days, regret giving everyone ODBC links (10 years ago mind you) to everything now can't get them removed (Lynch mobs form with fire and pickaxes).

    Spend goodness knows how much on reporting software and in the end everyone just uses 50 million different versions of a spreadsheet no-one knows how works because the person who designed it left years ago.

    1. Apdsmith

      Re: Spreadsheet nightmares

      Our lot are somewhat similar - ancient ODBC spreadsheets that slow down the production system when refreshed, check, lynch mobs, check - however, their solution was innovative - you see, they got tired of waiting for the refresh when they change parameters ("What do you mean, what date? I don't put a date in...") they've instead saved a version of the spreadsheet for all of the different parameters they used - with the data saved, of course. One hundred and twelve Meg per spreadsheet, we counted 50 the last time we asked to _please_ stop murdering the file server (that's for one spreadsheet - this department takes up ~15% of the file server all by itself), or, even, perhaps, use the new report that the nice lads in Business Intelligence have built for them.

      As a compromise they've deleted the reports that they've been holding for the people who left two+ years ago. Gee, thanks.

  14. PeeKay

    Typical really

    How many of us here have had that exact same conversation with a bean counter? I can think of at least 4 previous companies I've worked for...<sigh>

    1. danny_0x98

      Re: Typical really

      Yo soy uno compuador de frijoles. I was a cracker-jack with macros in the Quattro Pro era (1992). Wild things: the instructions would reside in cells that were executed in sequence in a column, so I could write future instructions in the midst of the computation.

      Now, I was working with architects and we all thought it would be awesome for me to take furniture specification data, organize it in a spreadsheets and spit out purchase orders by creating a merge document with Word Perfect. This is 1996 or so.

      And things were beautiful, until we got a client with too much data. Down went the 486. I was on vacation, so the greetings upon my return were rather frosty among those who had to type out the info.

      And I started to figure out Access. And then I learned VBA. And then — dissatisfied with how OOP VBA/1998 gave me no insights into the concept of OOP — learned java. And then learned Unix. And then went Linux/BSD for my personal desktop. And then learned postgresql. And then went OS X. That journey took about 4 years.

      And, today, other than a predictable waste of a few minutes as I review a problem, develop a database schema, and then realize it would be easier to just do it in Excel, I am a very versatile but underemployed bean counter.

      I think the lesson is clear.

      1. tony2heads


        So Quattro Pro was just a gateway drug, now you are hooked on the hard stuff

    2. Charles Manning

      I had a similar discussion with a mechanical engineer

      He wrote a bunch of Excel macros that used a spread sheet to drive an NC milling machine.

      He asked for help when the spreadsheet got sluggish and the resulting NC milling was all wonky.

      I suggest he rewrote things using a programming language (C, Pascal, even BASIC). Nope. He was "frightened of programming"/

      Eventually he came around when I explained to him that he'd been programming for years in Excel macros and using a real programming language to do this task would end up being easier.

  15. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    "proper way" and "Access"...

    ...within 4 lines in the same text. Uncanny what modern science can do.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given the monstrosities that many non-programmers manage to concoct in Access and Excel, I can see this biting Simon and the PFY in the bum in a few years.

  17. Shady
    Paris Hilton

    Using Excel to catalogue film collections....

    ... is for non-techies.

    At a younger age I built a micro-CMS to catalogue all my porn clips - depending on my mood that night (or that morning, or mid-afternoon, as long as my Mum was out shopping) I could sort them by my star rating, how many times watched (ah, I'm fed up with TP, I'm going to watch JJ for a bit instead), or category (er, Position? "Finish?")

    No Joke-Icon. Honestly. But curiously enough, One Night In Paris only scored 1/5 for me.

    1. The First Dave

      Re: Using Excel to catalogue film collections....

      Definitely a job for HyperCard, prefereably running on a Mac Plus.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Bloody beancounters," the PFY says. "You'd write email in excel if you could figure out how to do it in a font you like.

    Like when Kelly Rowland texts her boyfriend in Excel on a Nokia Communicator:

  19. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

    Before I fled, I worked as a 'DBA' for a Big Aerospace company and was forced to use Access for everything - the spods in IT were outsourced morons who wouldn't allow anyone to actually do anything with IT beyond what was on the desktop. So we had Access and we made it jump through all sorts of hoops. When my boss and I quit there were hundreds of them! All with hundreds of users, and because it was so rubbish at multi user, it was split up and so only a dozen users were in any instance, which another Access db later pulled in and merged, and so on.

    The 'backups' were insane. They were done by another series of Access databases, so when some muppet deleted all their weeks reporting "by accident' we could still get it.

    There was a Access db front end menu that looked up which version of which database that user was to be presented with when they clicked 'the' button - which was actually changed depending on where, when and who did the clicking...

    This was all backed up on a 'secret' HDD that was swapped in and it of the bosses laptop, as he couldn't get permission to store so much data anywhere. (It was also on the network, but since it was a database, IT couldn't cope with backing it up! They'd back up the initial file, but anything that changed they didn't notice. And this was a major IT company! )

    So anyway, when my boss quit, I wasn't long behind him. And I became a locksmith. (Still a very technical job, but far fewer computers!)

    I still sometimes wonder how the muppets got on. They were the kind of users baffled by the scroll bar moving the page down...

    1. Stretch

      "you don't have a spreadsheet at home with all your DVDs and CDs"

      My wife does...

      "video shop"

      the what?


      "who wouldn't allow anyone to actually do anything with IT beyond what was on the desktop"

      Seems very sensible frankly.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I still sometimes wonder how the muppets got on

      They probably went on to found some NoSQL company and are busy at the moment drinking cocktails paid for by our pension funds!

  20. TheSisko

    Making a convincing argument for Access (at least to the uninitiated) is a touch of genius, even if in reality, the end user would then make this my problem too.....

    Thank goodness I don't have to use FoxPro anymore though

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spot on

    I remember working as a COBOL programmer at a pension company in 1997. The beancounters were forever asking if we could give them a daily download of ALL the data in the mainframe database so they could import it into Excel rather than using the Mainframe software.

    Never mind that the resulting CSV file would have been bigger than the hard disks of their PCs and would have taken several days to download over the 9600 baud serial cable. LOL.

    1. MrWibble

      Re: Spot on

      "1997... a daily download of ALL the data in the mainframe database so they could import it into Excel rather than using the Mainframe software."

      Pah! The company I work for does that now!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Spot on

        Are you hiring?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Spot on

      Never mind that the resulting CSV file would have been bigger than the hard disks of their PCs and would have taken several days to download over the 9600 baud serial cable. LOL.

      Okay, rare anonymous post from me, only because this is a current client that we're working a solution for. I don't want to embarrass anyone.

      We have a client that wanted to do something similar: a year's worth of energy meter data (~12 data points at 32-bits each sampled at 10 minute intervals) downloaded in 10 minutes over a 19200 baud serial link (the maximum the energy meter would support: the meter was chosen on cost). Of course we didn't find out about the 10-minute download time requirement until after they complained it was too slow.

      It never occurred to anyone there that 32-bits == 4 bytes, that 12 samples at 4 bytes each is 48 bytes, plus a time-stamp, call that 52 bytes, per sample. 144 samples per day is 7488 bytes generated daily, or about 2.7MB per year which would take over 18 minutes assuming no protocol overheads.

      To be fair, "19200 baud" was probably meaningless. It sounds like a lot to the untechnical user. Over RS-485 which sends one bit per symbol, that's 19.2kbps. When you're used to ADSL connections at 1.5Mbps minimum, you forget how slow 19.2kbps is. More than fast enough for reporting energy readings, and collecting data out of a meter on a frequent basis, but rather slow if you're going to download in bulk annually.

      What we're doing instead: plug an industrial computer into the meter permanently, reading data out of the meter at regular intervals to store on an internal memory card. Then use udev hotplug scripts to detect the insertion of a USB memory stick to trigger a mount-dump-unmount script. We should be able to do this in under a minute.

      People will have expectations that, to them may sound reasonable. It's up to us technical people to figure out how to manage or meet that expectation. Our measure as a technical person is in how well we can achieve this.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Spot on


    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Spot on

      My answer would have been "No problem. Do you mind drinking from a firehose?"

  22. Stephen 24


    I hope Microsoft is sufficiently generous in sponsoring this blatant product placement...

    1. phil 27

      Re: Kerr-ching

      Do you work in finance perchance?

  23. dmcq

    Eeek - I'm a closet beancounter!

    That's awful. I was the treasurer for a hall for some years and generated emails or letters and envelopes from the spreadsheet automatically. And I've a speadsheet with CDs in it for a club and collect statistics about popularity. And I've got macros for importing from an SQL database dump automatically including reading the database description and doing some database operations. I think I should keep a low profile or some BOFH is going to open the lift doors for me when when there's no lift behind.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Eeek - I'm a closet beancounter! So is Windows Media Player!

      Windows Media Player does all that crap. Badly. Excel 32-bit badly.

      I, ahem, "imported" a song list from a drummer friend of mine. Over 3 weeks of music playtime, more than your average FM radio broadcaster. Over 17.000 songs. 15 lbs of CDs and a whole afternoon of "backup".

      I just wanted WMP to make a list of all the songs I never heard, or, "heard <1 time". It craps out at 10.000, but it is capable to recognize I never heard that music, or "played 0 times". Since it is an automatic list, I just rebuild it every time I play. I leave it blaring away on that playlist of over 40 GB of high bitrate MP3.

      It still couldn't reach 10.000 'unheard' songs, 2 years later. The albums include front cover, my personal rating, how many times I heard, bitrate... but WMP can't see over 10k songs. I'm guessing that when it filters under criteria, the best it can do is to return 10.000 matches, but it can work with a larger 'database'. At least it never crashed.

  24. Tim99 Silver badge


    How about a bit of truth based on someone who had to develop in Access from V1.1 to 2010 (and Oracle, Rdb, Informix, PostgreSQL, Sybase,SQL Server, etc).

    Within its limitations, And IF done by someone who had slogged up the very long and very steep learning curve Acess generally reasonable - IF:

    The forms,, code and reports are in a separate front-end from the back-end database.

    No more than 5-10 concurrent connections to a shared writable Access back-end.

    No more than 50-100,000 rows in a table which should not be linked to more than a couple of smallish tables.

    No wireless networking.

    If you really, really, need to go beyond this, Access is fine if you use the separate front-end to a SQL Server backend, when experience has shown that 10 million rows, up to 50 or so concurrent users, many more relationships, and wireless clients are OK, provided that you rewrite any queries to be on the back-end and use stored procedures.

    Now can the web kiddies who use MySQL because it is scalable and reliable please keep the noise down while I go for my senior citizen's nap?

    1. Anonymous Dutch Coward

      Re: Access?

      @Tim99: Well, yes IF... I agree.

      Unfortunately, Access sufferes from the VB disease: too easy for nincompoops to slap something spaghetti-like together which then gives the product a bad name...

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: Access?

        Lots of really, really big IFs there.

        Hmmm. Any (ex) Access users off their meds yet :)

        1. breakfast Silver badge

          Re: Access?

          They're probably still having their naps.

          1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: Access?

            Or more likely they're too busy laughing at the sharepoint users who have a much more borked system that somehow managed to inherit a lot of access issues.

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Re: Access?

      "Within its limitations, And IF done by someone who had slogged up the very long and very steep learning curve Acess generally reasonable - IF: [...]"

      I totally agree: Access is almost as good as any other entry-level database system, only a lot more convoluted to use, less reliable, with more limitations, and (for most) more expensive. It doesn't make it completely unusable if you really, really have to (as I did at some point). It does make it the least efficient tool of its class* and a right PITA though.

      *that I have encountered, obviously. There may be worse. I've been told horror tales about the database tools in early releases of OpenOffice, for example, but I have no first-hand experience about it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I still have flashbacks

    ... when I recall one Access DB that an end user proudly showed me. A quick look at "relationships" showed 40 odd tables in a grid formation each linked to the eight surrounding it, with random links running elsewhere. I muttered something about changing the links to enable cascading updates and forgot to mention deletes also cascade.

    I still have no idea what it was supposed to do and I'm sure they managed to recover from backups.

  26. Caff

    ms gave in

    They developed PowerQuery ......

  27. Jack's_Rage

    Not usually the programs fault.

    The blame lies with who makes the requirements and projected requirements for a system. Access has some use like for a single user that has no always on machine. Problem is people latch on to the fast solution because no thought is given to where something will end up in a year or mores time or what it truly needs to be able to accomplish. I fixed payrolls excel sheets twice last week, and by fixed i mean restored from previous and told them to start over, best way to fix a messed up cell.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Not usually the programs fault.

      Access has some use like for a single user

      No, it doesn't. There's almost always something more suitable around.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not usually the programs fault.

        No, it doesn't. There's almost always something more suitable around.

        I successfully manage to avoid Access and Foxpro. I had to use databases in the days of dBase, and I didn't get on with it. However, Borland's Paradox and I were pretty much go from the moment I started messing around with it, and I've cooked up all sorts of weird stuff over the years (mostly grabbing data from other systems which wasn't meant to be exported, using bits of Turbo Pascal to clean it up).

        I was mainly hacking my way around problems or make things more efficient in a way that was repeatable and stable. It was fun, but then I got into networking and sort of never looked back.

  28. Pirate Dave Silver badge

    Bean counter and Excel

    Our head bean counter has been here for about 12 years and I don't know that he has yet created a NEW spreadsheet. It seems that all of his spreadsheets are just new copies of spreadsheets that the prior head bean counters had created. Which makes sense in a way - why should a man who is both a skilled brain surgeon and an obviously God-gifted rocket scientist need to know how to create a spreadsheet? But back to the point, this HBC loves to link spreadsheets. In fact, I think his spreadsheet for this year's financials probably links back to the original spreadsheet from 2002. All by way of the intervening 11 year's worth of spreadsheets, which are all themselves interlinked in a recursive fashion. So he frequently complains that "my PC is slow". Yeah, it's not hard having Excel read 23 different spreadsheets at once or anything. All while the guy has at least 20 different windows opened for things like Internet-radio, email, several Word documents, numerous instances of Explorer and Firefox. And other, unrelated spreadsheets.

    Head Bean Counters - definitely make me wish we'd scrap all the desktop PCs and go back to VT100 terminals...

  29. tony2heads

    excel as a database

    Just say No.

    Maybe that should be "Just say Nooooooo!"

    If you want to take statistics on your database you can use a statistics package like Sofa - which connects to databases.

  30. 2Fat2Bald

    Access has it's place

    For me, Access is not bad software. Neither is Excel. They're just mis-applied by people who don't understand them.

    The problem is that it's powerful, flexible, easy to use software that a lot of people get access to. Then the small project get a few extra requirements. Then people don't use it just for indication, but start to really rely on the data. Then the bloke what wrote it moves on (or just forgets everything)... It's not BAD software, it's just being horrendously mis-used. But it's like saying a family hatchback is crap for courier work (it is, but it can do it) or a HGV is crap as a family car (it can do it, but it's a bitch to park in Tescos, and uses vastly more fuel than necessary)... Horses for Courses. I control this by giving only the runtime version of Access - unless people can convince me they genuinely need it and are going to apply it appropriately.

    Excel - great as a spreadsheet. Would people *PLEASE* stop using it as a micro-database, though? It's simply not designed to do that, and it's testimony to the flexibility of the design that it can. Kinda. But it's really there for recording, calculating and displaying relatively small amounts of data in a particular format.... It's not there to be a faux front-end on a database...

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Access has it's place

      "Would people *PLEASE* stop using it as a micro-database, though?"

      That's the problem right there, isn't it?

  31. ItsNotMe

    I know this BOFH is only satire...but...

    My wife has a brother-in-law who is a Beancounter...and her sister was one for a long while also (before she thought she should go and find God...and that has been a real laugh)...and this Anal Retentive idiot accounts for every penny he and his wife spend on a daily basis.

    When they used to come and visit us (fortunately, haven't had them visit in years), he would pour out his wife's wallet...empty his pockets and wallet onto our Den coffee table...arrange every coin and paper bill in neat stacks by denomination...and then make a hand written accounting of their day's expenditures.

    It creeped my wife out so much, that she told the both of them to stop doing this in our house.

    But they still do it in their own home. Pathetic pair they are.

    1. Herby

      Re: I know this BOFH is only satire...but...

      Look, BOFH is NOT satire. It happens every day, and we all want the proper cattle prod that we can use on the current "boss", but he hasn't approved the budget yet.

      One of these days.

      As for spreadsheets: My dad could "audit" spreadsheets that were produced manually in the 60's (sometimes they took a full day to do all the calculations). He could take a quick look and point to cell "H10" and say "This is wrong". It scared lots of people.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: I know this BOFH is only satire...but...


      To be honest,that sounds more like your actual Apergers Syndrome, which is probably quite a good thing for beancounters ( and some sorts of IT guy as a previous artilcle in El R once covered.)

  32. OGShakes

    Its not just Bean counters

    The Boss uses Excel for everything and the trainee adds macros to them all. We are an outsources IT company, I have just rebuilt all our client records in to a wiki and my boss was amazed how much easier it was to find things that one endless table per client. He still uses them for project management and keeping records of quotes etc, but I will solve this addiction soon...

  33. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Those lusers will believe anything...

    "Inbuilt stupidity limiter" in Excel? Who would ever believe THAT?!?!?

  34. Tech Hippy

    And lo..

    another unsupported undocumented system was born, that one day would be passed to the developers to support..

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: And lo..

      "another unsupported undocumented system was born, that one day would be passed to the developers to support.."

      You say that as though this was a Bad Thing(tm).

  35. ecofeco Silver badge


    You really have seen it all, haven't you?

    My sides hurt.

  36. Dave Bell

    I would venture that the bean-counter knows about as much about computer programming as the BOFH and PFY know about bookkeeping.

    A spreadsheet is pretty close to a physical accounts book in appearance, It's not a dreadful general-purpose tool. But it's limited in scale. I wouldn't use Excel, but a spreadsheet for storing data such as the details of a video collection should work.

  37. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    The economics of hammers and nails

    Take a tool that you know and a problem that you don't. For sufficiently small/simple instances of the problem, it is easier to (ab)use the tool that you know rather than learn a new tool. Having done that, it is even easier to continue the abuse even as the problem grows in scale or complexity.

    That's why we end up with Excel as a database. That's why people use languages like Javascript, Java, Python and the rest for serious development. (They were all developed as "toy" languages trading rigour for ease of use in very limited contexts.) That's why people adopted C++ when object-oriented programming became popular. That's why people use toy operating systems like the original Unix (and the original Minix, and I suppose CP/M and DOS) as the basis for OSes that are now running datacenters and server farms. That's why people virtualise an entire OS rather than use an OS that is capable of properly separating multiple tasks.

    Almost everything we love and hate in IT happens because quick and dirty is easier, or cheaper, and in that sense *better*, than "doing it properly".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The economics of hammers and nails

      There's a nail with a sore head (to continue the analogy)...

      My organisation has taken a small Excel spreadsheet used to track sales costs and blown it up to be the central basis for all costs, price and margin calculations for each line item (potentially thousands) across each deal. It's a Frankenstein's Monster of a horrendous POS which constantly craps out, taking Excel as a whole with it.

      Plenty of off-the-shelf tools out there which would do the job quicker, better and without crashing every two minutes but will we buy them? NoooOOOooo...


  38. cyberelf

    Microsoft date system

    Does Excel still return a different date depending on what OS you run it on? ref

  39. TimChuma

    No love for MS Access?

    I still remember the "rename Hatten.ttf" trick to get 97 and 2000 running on the same computer.

    I did read two thick books on Access at the time (the second one was mostly office automation), but moved on to SQL Server. Pity I never kept up with .NET or I would be a lot richer today.

  40. Mr Badger


    Just tell the beancounter the cost of an MS SQL licence, that will shut him/her up.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Just tell the bean counter the price of licensing MS SQL. That should shut them up!

  42. adam payne

    This reminds me of a financial controller we had, the guy just wouldn't believe in was his spreadsheet causing the issue.

    Excel using 900MB of RAM and pagefile size through the roof, horse to water and that kind of thing.

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