Educate Users About Your Application with Startup Tips

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Aa140099.ima-logo(en-us,office.10).gifACCESS 2000 & POWERPOINT 2000

Educate Users About Your Application with Startup Tips

This content is no longer actively maintained. It is provided as is, for anyone who may still be using these technologies, with no warranties or claims of accuracy with regard to the most recent product version or service Sean Kavanagh

When you provide instructions for using an Access application you've created, you probably organize the documentation so that users can get up to speed as quickly as possible. To do so, you likely start with just enough information so users can perform essential tasks. Then, once they've mastered the basics, they can learn additional features and techniques that may be more efficient, but would be confusing without a solid foundation.

Unfortunately, this "walk before you run" approach has a problem--many users will never return to their documentation to learn about additional features. One way that you can ensure that users are aware of your application's features is to display startup tips when the application is launched, such as the example shown in Figure A. In this article, we'll show you how to implement such a tip feature. We'll also show you how to provide users with control over whether the tips are displayed at startup and what types of tips are displayed.

Figure A: You can help users get the most out of your application by providing tips at startup.
[Figure A]


By this point, users have grown accustomed to features like Office's Tip Of The Day. By replicating this functionality, you can communicate brief tips and techniques in a manner that users are comfortable with. We'll use a hidden table in a database to store tips that are displayed in a form at startup. As you've probably noticed with applications that provide startup tips, the "Tip of the Day" phrase is somewhat inaccurate. The tips have nothing to do with a particular day, they're simply rotated each time you open the application so that you don't see the same tip each time. To ensure that a different tip is displayed each time someone opens your Access database, we'll store the ID of the tip that's displayed when the user closes the tip form. Then, the next time the form is opened, we'll use code to display the next tip in the underlying table.

To store the tip ID information, we'll use techniques we discussed in last month's article "Maintain custom settings using the Windows registry." We'll build upon the previous techniques to show ways to manage custom application options. For instance, you also want to accommodate power users who may not have any interest in seeing tips every time they open the database. We'll use registry keys to give users control over how and what tips are displayed.

Set up the data and form

Before we get into creating code, let's set up the basic data and form we'll work with. We'll store the text for the tips in an Access table. In a new Access database, use Table A as a guide for creating a table called tblTips with TipID as its primary key. Then enter the sample data shown in Figure B.

Table A: Specifications for tblTips

FieldName Property Value
TipID Data Type AutoNumber
Tip Data Type Text
    Field Size 255
Humorous Data Type Yes/No

Figure B: This table will be the record source for your Tip Of The Day form.
[Figure B]

Create the Tip Of The Day form

Now, let's set up the form that displays your tips. Close tblTips and make sure it's selected in the Database window. Then, choose Form from the New Object button's menu and click OK in the New Form dialog box. Using Figure C as a guide, add and orient the three fields from tblTips. Then, ensure that the Control Wizards button isn't selected on the Toolbox and add the checkbox and command button controls shown on the bottom of the form. Finally, use Table B to set the controls' properties and save the form as frmTipOfTheDay.

Figure C: This basic form is designed to display different tips when users launch the application.
[Figure C]

Table B: frmTipOfTheDay object properties

Object Property Value
Form Caption
Default View
Views Allowed
Allow Deletions
Allow Additions
Scroll Bars
Record Selectors
Navigation Buttons
Dividing Lines
Border Style
Control Box
Tip Of The Day
Single Form
Tip Label Caption
Font Size
Font Weight
Font Underline
Today's Tip:
Tip Enabled
Font Size
TipID Visible No
Humorous Visible No
Checkbox Name chkTips
Checkbox Label Caption Don't show any tips at startup
Button 1 Name
Button 2 Name
Button 3 Name

Save tip information to the registry

Let's attach some code to the form's cmdClose button to save information to the registry. First, click the Code button on the Form Design toolbar. Then, choose cmdClose from the Object dropdown list. At the insertion point, enter the code shown in Listing A.

Listing A: Code to save settings to the registry

  If Me.chkTips = -1 Then
	SaveSetting "MyApplication", _
		"TipSettings", "ShowTips", 0
End If
SaveSetting "MyApplication", _
	"TipSettings", "LastTip", Me.TipID

To save information to the registry, we use the SaveSetting statement. As you can see, we created two registry keys,ShowTips and LastTip. We arbitrarily chose the imaginative name MyApplication for our application and we're storing all of our registry keys in a section named TipSettings.

If the chkTips box is selected on the form, it will have a value of -1, indicating that the user doesn't want tips shown the next time that the application is launched. Therefore, we stored the value that's equivalent to False, 0, in the ShowTips registry key. Regardless of what the user's tip preference is, we store the TipID of the current tip in the LastTip key. If the two keys don't already exist in the registry, the SaveSetting statement creates them. If the keys already exist, they will be updated without raising an error.

Retrieve the ShowTips key

Now, we'll use the GetSetting function to retrieve the ShowTips value from the registry and determine whether frmTipOfTheDay should be opened. First, choose Form from the Object dropdown list. Ensure that Load is selected from the Procedure dropdown list and then enter the code shown in Listing B at the insertion point.

Listing B: Code to retrieve the ShowTips value

  If GetSetting("MyApplication", _
	"TipSettings", "ShowTips") = "0" Then
		DoCmd.Close acForm, "frmTipOfTheDay"
		Exit Sub
End If

Note that when we initially saved the ShowTips key's value, we simply saved it as 0. However, when we check the value using GetSetting, we enclose the value in double quotes. This is because GetSetting returns the value as a string, regardless of the data type you initially saved. If the value in ShowTips equals 0, our code immediately closes the tip form and exits the procedure.

Test the existing procedures

At this point, you may want to check out the functionality of our two procedures. Save and close the module, then save the form and close it. You can open and close the form as many times as you want without incident. Now, open the form, select the Don't Show Any Tips At Startup check box, and click Close. When you try to open the form again, you can't.

Taking control of your application with default settings

If you save user preferences to the registry, you'll most likely want to provide an easy tool for setting the preferences, such as a dedicated form. Let's create such a form and in the process examine how you can use the default argument in the GetSetting function to handle cases where a setting hasn't been explicitly specified.

Our control panel form will allow users to determine whether tips are shown at startup. In our application, we included humorous tips, like the "You can hurt yourself if you run with scissors," tip you may have seen when launching Access. We'll also give users a way to filter out these tips so that they only see those that have a genuine impact on the application.

Since these values may not be explicitly set when a user launches the application, we'll assume that both settings should be true by default. In addition, we'll provide users with the ability to reset the tip settings by deleting all of the associated registry keys.

Set up the control panel form

First, click the New button on the Forms sheet of the Database window. Then, double-click on Design View. Using the finished form shown in Form view in Figure D as a guide, resize the form and add the appropriate checkbox, line and command button controls. Set the checkbox labels and button captions appropriately. Then, set the same Form properties that you used from Table B, but set the Caption property to My Application Settings. Finally, change the control names using Table C and save the form as frmControlPanel.

Figure D: Users can set their tip preferences using this form.
[Figure D]

Table C: frmControlPanel control names

Object Property Value
Checkbox 1 Name chkTipStartup
Checkbox 2 Name chkHumorous
Button 1 Name cmdReset
Button 2 Name cmdOK
Button 3 Name cmdApply

Retrieve and update the tip settings

At this point, we're ready to add the code that manipulates our tip-related registry keys. Click the Code button and then enter the procedures shown in Listing C.

Listing C:

  Sub CheckboxUpdate()
chkTipStartup = GetSetting("MyApplication", _
	"TipSettings", "ShowTips", -1)
chkHumorous = GetSetting("MyApplication", _
	"TipSettings", "ShowHumorous", -1)
End SubSub ApplySettings()
SaveSetting "MyApplication", _
	"TipSettings", "ShowTips", _
SaveSetting "MyApplication", _
	"TipSettings", "ShowHumorous", _
End Sub

The first procedure ensures that the checkbox controls display the correct states that reflect the ShowTips and ShowHumorous keys. If the keys don't exist in the registry, defaults of -1 are returned so that the checkboxes are displayed as being selected. The CheckboxUpdate procedure should run when the form is opened, so choose Form from the Object dropdown list and ensure that Load is selected from the Procedure dropdown list. Then, enter CheckboxUpdate at the insertion point.

The ApplySettings procedure saves the current values of chkTipStartup and chkHumorous to the appropriate registry keys. Users can change the settings and commit them by clicking the Apply button. Whatever state the checkboxes are in will also be saved when users click the OK button, which will then close the form.

Let's enter the code for the command buttons. First, choose cmdApply from the Object dropdown list and enter ApplySettings in the Click event procedure. Next, choose cmdOK from the Object dropdown list and enter

DoCmd.Close acForm, Me.Name

at the insertion point.

Remove your custom settings from the registry to restore the default options

One way to allow users to re-enable the tip feature is to use the SaveSetting statement to save a value other than 0 to the ShowTips key, as we did in Listing C. However, since the GetSetting function we used in Listing C returns True default values, you can accomplish the same result by deleting the ShowTips key altogether. In fact, we'll use the DeleteSetting statement to remove the entire MyApplication registry entry, effectively restoring all of the tip options to their defaults.

First, choose cmdReset from the Object dropdown list and enter the code shown in Listing D at the insertion point. We trap for error number 5, which occurs when you try to delete a registry key that doesn't exist. Save and close the module, then save the form and switch to Form view.

Listing D: Code to delete registry keys

  On Error GoTo ErrorHandling
DeleteSetting "MyApplication"
Exit Sub
If Err = 5 Then
	Resume Next
	MsgBox Err & _
		": " & Err.Description
End If

Test the control panel form

At this point, your form resembles the one shown in Figure D. Click the Reset To Defaults button and you'll see that both check boxes become selected, indicating that the tip form can now be opened. Close frmControlPanel and open frmTipOfTheDay--it should open without any problems.

Rotate the tips

At this point, we've given users control of whether the tip form is displayed. Now, we need to add the final code that allows them to move between tips and to screen out humorous entries. To keep our code as simple as possible, we'll use the DoCmd object to move between records.

First, switch to Design view and click the Code button. Press [Ctrl][End] to move to the end of the existing code and then enter the procedure shown in Listing E. This procedure changes the tip displayed in the tip form by moving forward or backward through its underlying recordset.

Listing E: Code to move between records

  Sub ChangeTip(bytDirection As Byte)
Dim blnShowHumorous As Boolean
Dim blnFoundTip As BooleanOn Error GoTo ErrorHandlingDo Until blnFoundTip = True
	If bytDirection = 0 Then
		DoCmd.GoToRecord , , acNext
  		DoCmd.GoToRecord , , acPrevious
	End If
	blnShowHumorous = GetSetting("MyApplication", _
  		"TipSettings", "ShowHumorous", "-1")	If blnShowHumorous = "0" And Me.Humorous = -1 Then
		blnFoundTip = False
		blnFoundTip = True
	End If
Exit SubErrorHandling:
Select Case Err
Case 2105
	If bytDirection = 0 Then
		DoCmd.GoToRecord , , acFirst
		DoCmd.GoToRecord , , acLast
	End If
	Resume Next
Case Else
	MsgBox Err & ": " & Err.Description
End Select
End Sub

The first If statement and the bytDirection variable determine the direction that records are cycled through. The Do Until...Loop continues moving through records if the selected record is flagged as Humorous and the user has specified that they don't want to see humorous entries, as defined by the variable blnShowHumorous. When the code tries to move past either end of the recordset, an error of 2105 is raised, and our simple error trapping directs the focus to the first or last record of the recordset as appropriate.

To enable the navigation between tips, we need to pass a value of 0 or 1 to the ChangeTip procedure. We'll start with the code for the Next button. First, choose cmdNext from the Object dropdown list. Then, enter

  ChangeTip (0)

at the insertion point. Next, select cmdBack and enter the same thing, but change the 0 to 1.

The last bit of code we'll add checks the registry for the TipID value of the last tip that the tip form displayed. Then, the procedure will find that record and simply move to the next one in the recordset. To add this code, replace the existing code in the Form object's Load event procedure with the code shown in Listing F. The error number we trap for, 3077, occurs when the FindFirst method is called and there is no LastTip registry key. This will be the case the first time the form is opened or after a user has clicked the Reset button on frmControlPanel. In such a case, we assume that the first record should be displayed and our code handles the error accordingly.

Listing F: Code to display next tip in rotation

  On Error GoTo ErrorHandlingIf GetSetting("MyApplication", _
  "TipSettings", "ShowTips") = "0" Then
    DoCmd.Close acForm, "frmTipOfTheDay"
    Exit Sub
End IfMe.RecordsetClone.FindFirst _
    "[TipID] = " & GetSetting("MyApplication", _
    "TipSettings", "LastTip")
 Me.Bookmark = Me.RecordsetClone.BookmarkChangeTip (0)
DoCmd.GoToControl ("cmdClose")
Exit SubErrorHandling:
Select Case Err
Case 3077
    DoCmd.GoToRecord , , acFirst
    Exit Sub
Case Else
    MsgBox Err & ": " & Err.Description
End Select

The final touches

Now that the hard part is over, we'll do a few minor adjustments to make the tip form more attractive and hide the tip table from users. First, save and close the form's module. Then, select cmdBack, display the command button's property sheet and click in the Picture text box. Next, click the Build button to the right of the text box and select an appropriate graphic from the Available Pictures list box, as shown in Figure E. Click OK to finish the selection and then use the same process to select graphics for cmdNext and cmdClose.

Figure E: Spruce up the tip form by adding graphics to the command buttons.
[Figure E]

When you've finished adding the button pictures, save and close the form. Then, right-click on tblTips on the Tables sheet of the Database window and choose Properties from the shortcut menu. Select the Hidden check box and then click OK to keep the table hidden from view.

Implementing the tip feature

We've shown you one way to set up data and a form to display rotating messages when a form is opened. We've also shown you how to effectively put the Windows registry to work to store customized settings. You can combine these techniques with the methods described in the September 2000 article, "Create a polished application with customized startup options", to create a fully customized Tip of the Day feature.

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