Saturday, July 20, 2013

The History of Excel

+Bill Jelen just highlighted this video of the history of Excel on Google+


It brings back memories of the names we have heard about. The famous Charles Simonyi (who also gave us the Hungarian Notation), names like Jeff Raikes, Jon Devaan.

Multiplan  wasn't just "a" spreadsheet. It was "the" spreadsheet for Microsoft. I experienced it on CP/M and MS-DOS. I didn't like it because I have this dyslexic type issue with Row 1 Column 1 - I keep getting my rows and columns mixed up and I guess most of the world too. So the Visicalc / Supercalc / Lotus 1-2-3 / Symphony family became much more popular because that family uses the A1 notation - the same notation that maps often use (like Melbourne's Melways).

But I had a healthy respect for it. On 64k RAM machines, it pioneered the idea of multiple file Consolidation - a feature that Excel carries to this day. And that R1C1 notation is a strong part of the Excel Object programming model. You can refer to a cell as Range("A1") or you can refer to a cell as Cells(1,1). In programming rather than hands on use, the ability to interpose Cells(x,y) where x and y are index variables that can be iterated in an array, is so much more preferable than thinking  FOR X=1 TO what number is AZ ?

For those who never experienced the Lotus 1-2-3 Macro language, it was at first, more approachable because it copied keystrokes exactly and directly - there was no mouse then, no other program running side by side to distract the program. We used to dream in /RE~

But VBA + Excel Object Model + DAO (Data Access Objects) are so much more powerful, detailed and clearer to understand and write once you get it

The Office Suite

Jeff Raikes says that proposing that Microsoft sell Word + Excel + Powerpoint + Access as a suite of programs was real brave. To me in those days, it was a no-brainer. Because the genre of an integrated single program with multiple facets had run its course. Remember Lotus Symphony (which was a spreadsheet that tried to be a single table database, wordprocessor, chartist, console window, presenter), Context MBA (which seemed to only live on HP computers), Ashton Tate Framework (I actually produced a dot matrix Company report) ? Or Microsoft Works? Nah, the better way was to just package separate specialised programs in a sales package rather than a technology solution.

Run Everywhere

Charles Simonyi said that Multiplan was the most portable program they had. It ran everywhere. So Microsoft used their end user product to encourage their compiler product teams to produce executable binaries on many platforms.  Come back to the present. Office desktop runs on Windows 8 Intel. Office RT is not the full suite of products and runs on ARM processors on Windows 8 RT. Office Web Apps run on Skydrive in the cloud. But none of the single products like Excel, actually have all the features that Office desktop has. Maybe that's what's wrong with Microsoft today - they don't have the magic to make things work.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Lorem Ipsum Generators

It's a quiet secret that if you type =RAND() as the first letters in a Word document, Microsoft Word generates some ipsum for you. I often use this when I run training classes on Word. Sometimes I need that for other programs as well.

Thanks to +Adrian Tritschler who highlighted several other web based generators:

Collaboratively administrate empowered markets via plug-and-play networks. Dynamically procrastinate B2C users after installed base benefits. Dramatically visualize customer directed convergence without revolutionary ROI.

The resource quickly synergizes win-win solutions, relative to our peers, while pursuing this route will enable us to broaden our enterprise-wide, future-oriented and dynamic executions.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Playing with Excel 2013

In a recent discussion with +Bill Jelen  (Mr. Excel himself), we drew the impression that Excel 2013 is not flooding the market place like Excel 2007 and even more dominantly Excel 2010. I've had Excel 2013 for a long while but haven't used it in production because my clients are running either Excel 2007 or Excel 2010. So tonight, testing out some training material (written for Excel 2010), I came across these quirks in Excel.

  • Excel 2013 uses a Single Document Interface (SDI). Each workbook opens in a separate window. This is long overdue because a fair number of power users are on two screens and Excel pre 2013 loads all the workbooks into the same window unless you run Excel empty as another instance and then use File . Open to load the next workbook you want to use. So SDI is good. However, it is said to give macros that switch workbooks some issues.
  • Excel 2013 has an Quick Analyze pop up icon at the bottom right corner of a dense block of cells. This offers options to carry out charting, creation of tables, pivot tables, conditional formatting, add subtotal row. However, it seems to automatically choose the columns in your block of cells to carry out this operation. I can't yet see the usefulness in that.
  • Excel 2013 seems to have lost the tin stubs at the end of the scroll bars. I like using them to split a window into panes. The Command Ribbon . Views Tab still has the Split Window icon.
  • For the new generation Excel, 2007 and later, creation of a table in the workbook blocks the use of the Views . Custom Views feature.
  • You can use Custom Lists for Advanced Sorting in Excel 2007 and later. But Custom Lists are stored in the specific Windows registry of the machine (MSKBID 213796). You can produce lists on a worksheet, then run a macro to take those lists and push them into the registry of another machine.
       Application.AddCustomList ListArray:=Sheets("Sheet1").Range("A1:A50")

More as I encounter