Developers often think that forms exist solely for the purpose of data entry. To the contrary, forms serve many different purposes in Access 2003:
Data entry? They can be used for displaying and editing data.
Application flow? They can be used for navigating through an application.
Custom dialog boxes? They can be used to provide messages to users.
Printing information? They can be used to provide hard copies of data-entry information.
Probably the most common use of an Access form is as a vehicle for displaying and editing existing data or for adding new data. Fortunately, Access offers many features that allow you to build forms that ease data entry for users. Access also makes it easy for you to design forms that let users view and modify data, view data but not modify it, or add new records only. Much of what you can do with forms you can also accomplish from Datasheet view. You will find that forms are much easier to look at and work with than Datasheet view. They also provide additional protection against data entry errors.
Although not everyone immediately thinks of an Access form as a means of navigating through an application, forms are quite strong in this area. Figure 4.1 shows a form created with the Switchboard Manager in Access 2003; Figure 4.2 shows a "homegrown" switchboard form. Although the Switchboard Manager makes designing a switchboard form very simple, any type of switchboard is easy to develop. You can be creative with switchboard forms by designing forms that are both utilitarian and exciting. Switchboard forms are covered in detail in Hour 24, "Finishing Touches."
You can use Access to create custom dialog boxes that display information or retrieve information from users. The custom dialog box shown in Figure 4.3 gets the information needed to run a report. The user must fill in the required information before he or she can proceed.
Another strength of Access is its capability to produce professional-looking printed forms. With many other products, it's difficult to print a data-entry form; sometimes the entire form needs to be re-created as a report. In Access, printing a form is simply a matter of clicking a button that has a little code written behind it. You have the option of creating a report that displays the information the user is entering or of printing the form itself.
Access offers many styles of forms. You can display the data in a form one record at a time, or you can let the user view several records at once. You can display forms modally, meaning that the user must respond to and close the form before continuing, or you can display forms so that the user can move through open forms at will. The important thing to remember is that there are many uses for and styles of forms. You will learn about them throughout this hour, in Hour 11, "Creating Forms," and in Hour 16, "Power Form Techniques." As you read the text in this hour, remember that your forms are limited only by your imagination.