If you've used Microsoft Access before and want to know about the new features in Access 2007, then this article is a good starting place. It covers the main Access 2007 changes to the user interface and to table design, then summarises changes to forms and reports.

Launching Access 2007 takes you to the new opening screen with more templates choices than before. Once you open an existing database or create a new one, you are taken to the new user interface with its left hand "fluid" Navigation Pane and right hand viewing area.

Once a database is open, you'll see at the top of the screen, in common with the other Office 2007 applications, the Office button, Quick Access Toolbar and the new Ribbon navigator Tabs. The Office button contains various file management commands, the Quick Launch Toolbar has common Access commands which you can add to and the Ribbon Tabs is the new commands navigation system.

The Ribbon Tabs contain all Access commands organised in five separate Tabs, with each Tab containing groups of related commands. The Ribbon replaces the traditional menus and submenus and allow you to find Access commands via a couple of mouse clicks. The consensus amongst many Access users is that although Ribbon usage is awkward at first, once you get used to it, using it is quick and easy.

The Create Tab is particularly important as here you can create any Access 2007 object.

The new user interface consists of a left hand Navigation Pane and a right hand viewing area. The Navigation pane has selectable categories and groups, so you can group and list objects in many different ways. If you're not sure which category to choose, try "Object Type". This will give you a familiar group list of tables, queries, forms, reports and macros. Expand a group, for example "Tables" to show all database tables. Double click on any table to view it in the right hand viewing area.

The Access 2007 viewing pane lets you open multiple objects at the same time. You can minimise the Navigation Pane whilst viewing any object by clicking on the chevron on the upper right on the Pane. Restore the Pane by clicking once on the left hand minimised bar. To close the currently selected object click on the right hand upper cross at the top right of the viewing area.

Moving on to Tables, changes include: two extra views, table and field templates, column summing, improved searching, RTF memo formatting and new field types.

Tables can now be viewed in four views: Datasheet view, Pivot table view, Pivot Chart view and Design View. The new Pivot Table and Pivot Chart views make build such layouts much easier.

Table templates are new, chosen in the Create Tab, to let you add preset table designs, for example for Contacts or Tasks. Field templates are also new, chosen in the Datasheet tab, to let you pick from a range of standard or customised fields with preset formatting.

The new column summing feature lets you apply a sum (or average, min, max etc) to any numerical table field in datasheet view with a total row being added to the bottom of the table.

The improved search box available in Datasheet view is in the lower record navigation bar. If you start typing text into the search box, Access 2007 immediately matches the first record and field to match the typed text - keep on typing and the match changes.

Have you ever used the memo field in an Access table? Now you can set memo field formatting to Rich Text Format (RTF), and then in Datasheet View add memo content and RTF formatting. To create RTF formatting in a memo field, switch to table design view and create a new memo field. Then in the lower properties panel in "Text Format" property click the pop down and choose "Rich Text".

Have you ever wanted to add more than one value to a database field? Now you can configure text or numeric fields as multi value fields. This can be set in Table design view using the lookup wizard to select lookup data; the last screen in the wizard lets you choose "Allow multiple values".

A new Attachment field type replaces the OLED type (which remains for backward compatability) but is more efficient. If you create an attachment type field in Design View, then switch to Datasheet View, you'll see a paperclip icon to represent the item. Click the paperclip to add the attachment., such as spreadsheet, document, image etc.

Finishing our field changes summary, all date fields now have a calendar picker - makes for easy date entering.

Query building still works in exactly the same way but now there are five query views: Datasheet view, Pivot table View, PivotChart View, SQL View and Design View.

Changes to Forms include: one extra Layout view, improved search and the new split form.

The new Form Layout View lets you change many form design features whilst viewing actual data, so for example you can change or edit labels, controls, headers etc and see directly how the underlying data is affected.

The new split form combined a regular form with an embedded datasheet view of the same underlying data.

Changes to Reports include: two extra views and improved grouping and sorting.

Report views are now Report View, Print Preview, Layout View and Design View.

The new Report View lets you see the finished report without the need for print preview, and lets you click on fields to display any linked related table. The new Report Layout View lets you change many report design features whilst viewing actual data.

Whilst viewing a report in Design View, if you choose Group and Sort command, a new Group and sort panel appears under the design area, allowing you to very easily set up grouping and sorting criteria.

This article would not be complete without mentioning file formats. Access 2007 databases have the extension .accdb and earlier versions of Access cannot open this format. This new format allows for extra features such as multi value fields and attachment fields. You can save an Access 2007 database in an earlier format but only if you don't use such new features.

There are quite few other changes in Access 2007, such as exporting objects to PDF format, an improved Help system and user level security security settings replaced by password encryption. Best way to explore these and other changes to Access 2007 would be to attend either an Access 2007 conversion course or an Access 2007 Introduction course to build your skills further.