You've never heard of Access .MDX files?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/05/05 03:01 -04:00, original URI:

(Nothing in this post is secret anymore, as the products involved have not only shipped, but they shipped over 10 years ago -- this is a purely historical post to help provide the backstory behind the answer a question that came up in the newsgroups recently!)

You shouldn't feel bad if you have never heard of Access .MDX files. I mean, they were never actually a part of any product with that name, after all.

Let's scan back a bit, to Access 95. I was an external then -- not even contracting for Microsoft, and not yet an MVP.

There was a bit of a stir among the Beta testers about the fact that the Access wizard files were in some type of locked form that did not allow you to look at the code or the form/report design surfaces.

Why the stir? Well, the usual reason. The fact that none of us knew how it was done. The way you can tell that some of the people who use Access really are developers at heart is the way they want every feature that exists to (1) be exposed and (2) be exposed programatically. :-)

Shortly thereafter (some time after Access 97 Beta 1), I found myself in Redmond working on a contract for the MS Certification folks, and David Lazar asked me if I was interested in doing a little wizard work for the recently shipped Access 95 for DAD (Desktop Applications Division) Marketing. So I found myself temporarily on the Access team....

I noticed when I installed debug daily builds of Access (which I was doing most days, after I found that the rest of the development team was doing it and I wanted to fit in!) that there was a function exported in the debug version of msaccess.exe that was not in the retail version. I didn't have access to source at that point, so in the same spirit that I used to reverse engineer the AddressOf functionality in Access 97, I figured how to call it and what it did. It created what was then called .MDX files -- the eXecutable versions of .MDB files that were in Access 97 renamed to .MDE files).

Now I feel obliged to point out that I was doing all this on my own time, unpaid, and the only real use I ever got out of doing it was several months later, when Drew suggested that we should run FDeliverDb on the Access 95 Publish to Web Wizard and that he would show me how to do it since it was pretty quirky in Access 95. He was in shock when I got to tell him I already knew how it worked (it may have led to my first actual wizard contract, as opposed to this one that the marketing folks were paying for!).

I must truly be a geek since

I am not sure whether the name change from the internally known .MDX files of Access 95 to the documented .MDE files of Access 97 was done by Program Management or Marketing. But the idea of the files being thought of as Microsoft Access Executables was a name that did not stick -- in documentation they are just thought of as "Microsoft Access MDE Databases". Although the name is the original inspiration for both the old extension and the new ones, it is odd an interesting way.

You see, in many cases an acronym becomes a word and then many people no longer know what the acronym stands for -- LASER is a good example (it stands for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation, though most people  no longer seem to know this). 

Anyway, the official name of the files is actually kind of cool since .MDE is an acronym that was never defined in public as such a thing -- it simply became a word, even though all offthe other analagous Access file extensions (.MDB, .MDA, .MDW) had known, historical origins as acronyms.

I asked Kieran if there was an official term for the phenomenon regarding acronyms becoming de facto words, but she wasn't sure there was one. And a quick perusal of Language Log did not find clues regarding either the general phenomenon or the lack of it in this particular (.MDE) case. We may need to get the folks over at Language Log Plaza involved! :-)


This post brought to you by "X" (U+0058, a.k.a. LATIN CAPITAL LETTER X)
(The truth is out there!)

# josh on 5 May 2006 9:39 PM:

"You see, in many cases an acronym becomes a word and then many people no longer know what the acronym stands for -- LASER is a good example (it stands for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation, though most people  no longer seem to know this)."

Which is why you get people spelling it with a Z...  OTOH, sometimes an acronym stays an acronym but people don't know what it stands for anyway, like PCMCIA.  Or would you count that as a word?  It seems wrong to me to call it a word if you don't pronounce it...

# Michael S. Kaplan on 6 May 2006 11:21 AM:

Hmmmm... another interesting question! Does PCMCIA count as a word? Seems like it shouldn't, since it is never pronounced as a word.... like i18n (which is not an acronym, but still....)

I believe it stands for 'Personal Computer Memory Card International Association', or alternately it could be thought of as 'People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms'. :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 6 May 2006 11:26 AM:

Wikipedia had an even funnier one -- 'Personal Computer Manufacturers Can't Invent Acronyms'. Very true!

Michael S. Kaplan on 6 May 2006 2:11 PM:

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2007/06/12 Not exactly reverse engineering....

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