I have been using the Access runtime since 1997 when I purchased the Access Developer edition. The Developer edition included a license to distribute the Access runtime. Starting with Access 2007 Microsoft has made the developer extensions and a license to distribute the runtime free.
The Access Runtime is like a database viewer. It is similar to the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Acrobat Reader will open a PDF. It will not allow you to create a PDF. Similarly, you can use the Access Runtime to “view” a database. You can use the Forms and Reports that have already been created. It will run existing queries, macros, and VBA code. You can enter data. You can’t get to design mode for any objects. To create an Access database and design object you will need the full version of Access.
It is common in software development platforms to have two versions:
1) The Developer Edition - used for creating applications. Normally this must be purchased.
2) The Runtime Engine - used to run the application. This is not always free.
With Access the Full/Retail version is your developer edition. The Access runtime version is a runtime engine. The runtime version is definitely [b]NOT[/b] the same as the full Retail version. It does have some limitations. Since it is free you do not get the paid feature of Office like the spell checker, Office Clipboard, etc.
Who should use the Access Runtime version?
The Access runtime doesn’t include the all built-in features of Access’s UI available on the Ribbons or Menu. Some of the advanced features like Filter-by-Form and spell check are not available. That is reasonable since you have not paid for them. The Access Runtime is great for databases where a developer has created the entire feature set they want the user to have. This is done without relying on the built-in features available through the Access UI.
The way I have always viewed using the runtime is that it is a FREE Lite version. It is a database viewer for people that do not need all the full power of the retail version of Access. It is great for data entry users. It is not good for the power user that needs a lot of advanced features, like Filter by form. In my opinion, this is fair since you are not paying for the more advanced features. If you need all of the advanced features in the retail (paid) version then it is probably best to purchase the full retail version. If you do want the same features included in the paid version in the free lite runtime version then you will need to have a developer (normally means additional cost) create the required features. If you need all the features of the full/paid version of Access then the Access runtime may not be for you. Especially if this will be a small deployment. It may be cheaper to just purchase full licenses of Access. For large deployments, it can have cost savings to use the free/runtime version. The extra development costs are offset by the reduced licensing fees. It can have significant savings with large deployments.
How to obtain the Access Runtime version
Starting with Access 2007 the Access Runtime version and developer extensions are free. With prior versions, you have to purchase the Developer Extensions which included to the Access Runtime setup and a license to distribute the Access Runtime version.
Where to install the Runtime version?
The Access Runtime version should only be installed on a machine that does not already have the full version of Access installed. I would not recommend installing the Access Runtime version of the same machine that has the Full version of Access installed. I like to use Virtual PC for testing the installation of the Access Runtime version.
I do whatever I can to ensure that only one version of Access is installed on a User's machine. If there is already a compatible version of Access installed then I recommend using it. I would not install another version of Access if at all possible.
I just installed the Access Runtime version. Where is it?
You will not see the Access Runtime on your Start Menu with the other Microsoft Office applications. The Access runtime is not used in the same way you would use the full version of Access. The Access Runtime can only be used with existing databases. It is possible to use Windows Explorer to find the database file and double click on it to open it in the Access Runtime. I find it better to create a shortcut to launch the database with the Access runtime. You can place the shortcut on the desktop and/or the Start Menu.
Forcing the full version of Access into Runtime Mode
You can simulate the Access Runtime environment with the Full version of Access. With Access 2000-2010 you can create a shortcut that starts Access and loads a database using the /runtime command line switch.
Example Shortcut for Access 2003:
"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11\MSACCESS.EXE" "C:\my2003DB.mdb" /runtime
With Access 2007 and 2010, it is even easier. You can simply rename your database from the .accdb or .accde to a .accdr. Now double click on the .accdr file and Access will load in Runtime mode.
- TIP: You can also rename a .mdb or .mde to a .accdr to get Access 2007 or 2010 to open it in runtime mode.
It is important to note that this only simulates the runtime version. It is close but not a 100% match to the Access Runtime Installation. There are features that will work in with the full version of Access in runtime mode that does not work the same as the actual Access Runtime version installation. From the best I have been able to figure out is that there are things installed with the full version that will still work when forced into Runtime mode. These same features (files/reg keys, etc.) are not installed with the Access Runtime version installation package. So these features don’t work in the Runtime installation as they did with the full version in runtime mode.
The only way to truly test the Access Runtime environment is to install and run the Access Runtime on a clean machine. I like to use a VM. I have used a Virtual PC. The rollback feature is great for testing an installer package.
Errors and the Advantages of using an MDE/ACCDE with the Runtime
With an MDB in the Access runtime errors can cause Access to shut down or appear to crash. If it does not shutdown then it will probably reset all memory variables to 0 or Nothing/Null. One of the advantages of using an MDE with the Access Runtime is that errors that are not trapped don't cause variables to get reset or the Access Runtime to shut down. With errors that are not trapped with an MDE in the Runtime mode your application keeps running but it is very difficult to figure out what causes the error. It is important to have error handling to trap errors.
When deploying your application with the Access Runtime, or full Access in Runtime mode, I recommend converting your Applications (Front ends) into an MDE/ACCDE. It will make your applications more stable if they encounter errors that are not trapped. Error Handling is still important and should not be neglected.
How to set up a machine with the Access runtime
You can install the Access Runtime from the free download at Microsoft (You can find links here). Copy your front end database (back end also if needed) to the machine. Open the database. No different than if you were to install the full version of Access and set up your database. You do not have to create an installer package unless you want to bundle it into a neat little installer package.
Packaging your Front end with the Acces Runtime
Using the Acess developer extensions you can create an installer package that will install your Access database and the Acess runtime.