Catch-up: MS-Office 2010 Excel

You could say there’s not much new in MSO-2010’s version of Excel. Since there was less wrong with it in the first place, the major effort has gone into the other applications.

Microsoft Excel is still considered the premier spreadsheet that all others have to emulate…Sparklines
The most glitzy and possibly useful addition is Sparklines, small cell-sized charts that you can embed in a worksheet alongside a data-range to get a quick visual representation of that data. For example, a Sparkline for each product showing order levels over time, in the most compact way.

Sparklines are a small, stand-alone graphs without visible X and Y axes that condense a limited data range; they don’t provide the detail of a normal graph, but their condensed form will fit into small spaces in the body of a spreadsheet.

Excel 2010 offers three types of Sparklines; line, column and win/loss. Line and column will be familiar to anyone who has used charts before. The line chart makes a simple line graph of the data points; the column chart makes each data point a sized column. The win/loss Sparkline presents information a little differently, as a binary “up” or “down” box.

There is a Sparklines button on the Insert tab; you select the data you want to graph and everything else happens automatically. You can select from the Sparkline Tools tab to adjust the resulting graph. Change markers and colours to highlight trending data, for example.

With Conditions
Conditional formatting has been refined including the addition of more styles and icons. The ability to apply a format to a range of cells according to the value of the cells was always a bit brittle and not easy to pick up, hopefully this will make life easier for more people.

Collaboration
Excel has gained collaboration tools for sharing data with other people, including multiple people working on a document at a time. So we get explicit permissions and sharing options with some versioning information.

Economies of Scale
Excel spreadsheets usually start small, but quickly turn into monsters. Several organisations I know run modelling and forecasting, effectively data warehouses, through a suite of hundreds of spreadsheets pages, all updated by linking to database tables. I’m not sure that we really want to perpetuate this sort of thing, but Microsoft, perhaps recognizing the real world behaviour of business people, is trying to make it easier.

At the ‘front-end,’ tagged ‘Groups Save Time’, Excel 2010 aims to do this by grouping sheets. The grouping lets you automatically reproduce formatting on one page of a spreadsheet on all other pages. For example, the annual budget spreadsheet needs only one month formatted for the rest of the year sheets grouped with it to adopt.

If you want to edit every page you have open, you can right-click on any Sheet tab and then click Select All Pages. All of the page tabs should be highlighted in white to indicate they’re being edited together. Alternatively, you can control-select individual sheets. Either way you should see [Group] prefix the sheet name on the title bar.

At the ‘back-end’ Microsoft is pushing and add-on, Project Gemini, that can handle very large amounts of data up to hundreds of millions of rows. It is released imminently as part of SQL Server 2008 R2. It is part of the latest push into enterprise data warehousing, a bottom-up strategy Microsoft has adopted over several years in an attempt to cut out rival big-database and tools vendors who sell top-down (yes Oracle, they mean you!).

Verdict
Despite a lack of ‘wow’ features, Excel 2010 remains the benchmark against which all other spreadsheets are measured. AJS

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