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How to retreive data from multiple tables - using SOQLs

I am trying to migrate a VBA document automation applicaiton from an Access database to Saleforce, calling SF data and populating local word templates. 
What is the best approach with VB.NET - I have been pointed towards datasets, but am not entirely sure what is the best practice..
Is it possible to define the relationships locally (in a local MDB for example), so that when SOQL string comes in, the relationship is already defined and couldl make processing faster(?).
My key concern is that if I have to write very bespoke data sets for each SOQL data set, if my Saleforce data fields change, is there any way to pick these up automatically, or would I have to change my VB code each time?
Is it likely in the future that SOQL will support joins - or is there any 3rd party VB query tool that could make the above much simpler?
Any pointers would be appreciated

Hi Andrew,

Using DBAmp and the free SQL Server Express 2005 (or your own SQL Server), you could access the real-time data as tables within Access. Then you could let the business logic embedded in the VBA code stand and just swap out the data layer (an Access MDB for a SQL Server table). You would 'pick up' join capability (in fact, full SQL capability) to the data.