Stupid database! Be more connecty!
March 20, 2007 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Can I connect a flash program to a local offline Access database without having to run my computer as a webserver?

I would like to use Flash as a front end for a local Access database. Ideally, to run a swf file and connect to an access .mdb on the network, or in the same folder if need be. All searches for tutorials brought me running .asp on a webserver and I'd rather not have to do that.

I know very little about Flash, nothing about .ASP (which all the tutorials seem to suggest), a decent understanding of MySQL, VB and a good understanding of database theory.

If you have any other suggestions, I'll gladly read and investigate, but I'm a designer by trade not a programmer so I'm limited in what I can learn or buy.

Why not use Access itself? Well, because I'm writing a program for relative computer illiterates that will replace a task that's been done by hand for years. So the more I can hold their hand, interfacewise (sliding transitions from one form to another) and the more I can make the metaphors work the way they should as opposed to just dressing them up, the more comfortable they'll feel, the smoother the transition will be, the more tickertape parades for me.

I realize there are more advanced development environments that connect to Access, but since all the work I'll be doing can be applied back to the database in simple queries they all seem to be overkill. And flash seems to be the easiest development environment that suited itself to "flashy" applications and animations (and I already have it...)

Don't worry, this isn't mission critical or anything.
posted by Brainy to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just because you happen to have a hammer doesn't mean everything is a nail.

Use Access itself. Or better yet, hire someone who knows what they are doing and ride them to make the ui flashy. Seriously, you are setting yourself up for a lot of pain here.
posted by mrbugsentry at 8:08 AM on March 20, 2007

Can someone, sure.

Can YOU, maybe not.

A quick google of the words flash and odbc turns up a lot of stuff so there's no doubt in my mind it can be accomplished. However as MrBug says, you sound like you have a case of hammer-itis here.

In my experience doing this kind of thing - which I have been for about 10-15 years - what's really important here isn't flash and raz-a-ma-taz, it's an understanding of the users work flow.

Change resistance aside, you'll make more progress with a boring text interface that mirrors the steps and process they're used to following than you will something glitzy that forces them to change old patterns of behavior.
posted by phearlez at 8:22 AM on March 20, 2007

It can't be done without some kind of middleware, either a web application or executable code bolted onto the Flash projector.

SWF Studio 3 might allow you to use the latter approach, as its site features an example of retrieving records from an Access database.
posted by malevolent at 8:46 AM on March 20, 2007

Response by poster: Phearlez, your last sentence is actually exactly what I'm trying to do. I study cognitive interface design, so rest assured, the workflow is first and foremost in my goals. I was afraid of this. My fault in trying to make the question more consise. I downplayed my abilities and up-played the glitziness. Here I shall launch into the entire situation to assure you.

I layout a monthly flyer. The current workflow is that people cut and paste previous from months to create a paste-up of the next month which I then redo in InDesign. Probably the least efficient and safe workflow ever, right?

I have written a program in Access that can take a list of items for a page and construct a press ready InDesign document from of it (no small feat, it involved adapting complex treemap algorithms). The problem is implementing a workflow to get this list of items. Since we have a monthly deadline, it's desireable we slip this program in, since otherwise we're all pulling double duty of manually doing some pages while trying to perfect automating others.

I've written a prototype of the Virtual Flyer program and it's relatively solid in the way it works. I've been able to "port" quite a few of the previous workflow's processes as metaphors. They will be able to browse previous Virtual Flyers (we'll import back catalog as much as possible) and "cut & paste" these to the current page, even importing entire previous "pages" to then modify. I'm actually quite proud of it. I even made the forms look stylish but not overbearing.

But here's the problem. It's all forms popping up and clicking on items in a list. The way to browse to a page to work on is to open up the Flyer form, and double-click on a list of Pages. I got Listview to display icons, but they don't respond to doubleclicks on the icon, just on the entire control. Why not? Don't know. Have to get deep into ActiveX controls and all it's variations and varieties.

I think they could make the short jump of mapping previous flyers to a list, previous pages to a list, but I think that there's a very good chance they'll get lost in the myriad of windows that pop up that look similar. They'll have no context, things will look the same and I'll get frequent calls of "I'm just trying to do this one thing but I can't remember where it was..." That's the last thing I want.

I want them to "Flow" while doing this, for things to be intuitive. I think that the more subtle nuances I can add (moving from one stage to another slides the form over so that they get a mental model of progression would be much better than a window popping up and replacing the one they were just looking at), the better chance they have of adapting to this new workflow. Think OS X's helpful eyecandy. Poofs when you drag things out of the dock, windows that shrink to where they're going, iChat's resorting lists. That kind of interactivity: letting you know something has happened and that things will respond.

Right now I'm just trying it out. If it doesn't work, or if I can't work it, I can go back to the Access forms, but I want to at least give it a try.
posted by Brainy at 8:54 AM on March 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks Malevolent, I downloaded that builder and the example. It built but it's giving me an error so I have to look that up.

I'm totally fine with the idea of middleware, just didn't want to have to reconfigure my whole system as an .asp server.
posted by Brainy at 9:05 AM on March 20, 2007

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