The Access Wizard Newsletter Tips, Tricks, and Traps for Access Users and Developers
March 2011

Hidden Gems - Custom Groups

I recently did a road trip with my two sons - Robert,, a Junior at Southwestern University (who looks like he's having way too much fun, but is doing so well academically that I can't complain) and Jason,, a budding entrepreneur and public speaker. We were driving from where we live, Westford, Massachusetts, to Austin, Texas, where Robert is going to school. The distance between Westford and Austin is about 2,000 miles.

There are two different ways you can approach this type of trip. One is to drive as if possessed: Gotta get there as soon as possible - take no breaks and drive like the dickens. There are times when this makes sense, but I would call that approach to a road trip a living purgatory. It's nothing but drive, drive, drive - miles and miles of boredom. The way that we chose to go was to find interesting adventures along the way, stopping where we found offbeat things to do and spending each night in an interesting spot. We stayed in Washington D.C.; Nashville, Tennessee; Mt. Airy, North Carolina (the inspiration for Mayberry of Andy Griffith fame); and Hope, Arkansas, the boyhood home of former President Bill Clinton.

Each city has its own special charm, but just as interesting were the places we stopped on a whim because we thought they might be fun. A couple of them were true gems. We visited Foamhenge in Natural Bridge, Virginia, It is a replica of the real Stonehenge in England except it's made of foam. We got to meet the artist, who is quite a character.

The other truly astounding place was The Minister's Tree House in Crossville, Tennessee,, supposedly the largest tree house in the world. We roamed around in a structure that spanned seven trees. Once again we were incredibly lucky and got to meet the creator.

We stopped at these places only because we had some guidance from a program called Roadside America,, a site that lists interesting things to do on a road trip. Had we not had a tool like this, we probably wouldn't have found such interesting places.

With this month's Wizard, we start a similar source of hidden-gems - things in Access that you might not know about but have great value once you are led to them. We'll begin with the hidden gem of Custom Groups.

In this Issue
  • Tip of the Month - How to Force a Record Save Operation
  • Custom Groups - The Navigation Pane
  • Limitations and Earlier Versions
  • Conclusion

  • Custom Groups - The Navigation Pane

    Custom groups reside in the navigation pane. In Office 2007 and 2010, the navigation pane replaced the database window. There are enough differences between the navigation pane and the database window so that will be the focus of a separate article. Today we will walk through a step-by-step process for creating and using a custom group in the Navigation pane.

    Think of a custom group as a place that you can use to easily get to selected tables, queries, forms and reports amidst all the objects in the database. Once you have your favorites established in a custom group it will save you considerable time as you navigate through your database.

    There are several different views of the Navigation Pane. Below is one I find easy to use.

    This is the navigation pane with all objects collapsed. Other views include showing a list of tables, queries, and other objects. You can get to this view by right clicking on the topmost grey bar, choosing Category | Object Type, and then right click on any of the other gray bars and choose Collapse All Objects.

    From this view, left-click on the top bar and the following menu will appear.

    Click on custom and you'll see:

    Right click on the white area below Unassigned Objects, then choose navigation options and you will get the following screen.

    Click on custom and you will see that there is a single group on the right side called Unassigned Objects. This is a default group that shows you all the possible objects you can add to a group.

    Now click on add group, and give your new group a name, I'll called mine Favorites. You've now created your first group. Click once again on the topmost Navigation pane and choose Custom. At this point, you will see that your new group, Favorites, now appears.

    The next step is to move objects into the favorites group. This is a fairly straight forward exercise. Simply click on unassigned objects then right-click on whatever tables, queries, forms or reports that you'd like to have in your Favorites group, and choose Add to Groups | Favorites.

    At this point, you are essentially done. Anytime you need to get to one of your favorite objects left-click the first item in the navigation pane choose custom and you will be able to easily get to the items in your favorites group.

    Limitations and Earlier Versions

    Groups are a powerful feature. However you are limited to a maximum of 10 groups, each of which can contain more items than you will want to put in them.

    For Access versions prior to 2007, the process is simpler. The groups show directly in the database window. You create a new group by right-clicking in the Groups pane, then click on individual tables, queries, etc., to add to your groups.


    The addition of Custom Groups is a tool that will help you navigate your databases more easily and make you more productive.

    We have barely scratched the surface of the navigation pane; there are dozens of new features beyond those that are obvious at first glance. You may say to yourself, why does Microsoft make it so complex and unfriendly? I would have to agree that the complexity level has increased with a healthy dose of an unfriendly interface thrown in when compared to the old database window. However, once you get down the learning curve, you might find, as I have, that some of the new features are really nifty. It just takes some time to get used to.

    Tip of the Month - How to Force a Record Save Operation

    Sometimes when you're entering data in a complicated form it may take you several minutes to complete the entries for a single record. Periodically you may want to make sure that you don't lose your work. It's a good idea to save it even if you haven't finished the entire entry.

    There are two ways you can do this. The first is to send the keyboard shortcut of Control-Enter, but remembering a shortcut like this is not always easy. The second way includes a visual clue that can make it easy to save.

    While you are working in a form, if you see the following pencil icon
    on left side, it's an indication that you've made changes to the data, but those changes haven't yet been saved.

    If you'd like to save it, even though you haven't completely finished the entire record, simply click on the pencil icon and your record will be written to the database.

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