Sorry it took a minute to get back. Had to run some arrands, anyway, one of the best free ones I had used was http://www.icsharpcode.net/OpenSource/SD/Download/
It allows for development of not just vb.net but quite a few others as well. It has some decent tools to go along with it. Lastly it's open source and I love open source programs.
As for the express edition of vb.net would be fine as long as your not doing any team building or need crazy advanced debugging tools. There are some really nice debugging tools in the paid for editions but most of the time it's not worth it for just one developer.
Lastly this one only has a 30 day trial but it is a really awsome programming platform. It's not exactly vb.net but it follows it very close so it's easy to adapt to. Plus it allows you to program for Linux, Mac, and Windows in the same platform!
That being said check it out on their comparison site and you can see how much they are. Much less than microcrap http://www.realsoftware.com/realstudio/compare.php
I hope that helps a little. Any of these you could make full blown apps with. Also a side note I have developed (and still am) access databases with over 10K users in some. So access can handle it if you program it correctly and know and watch for it's limitations. I am not saying this is the right way to go but it does get the job done in a lot of cases.
Laters and good luck,