back to article SAP proves, yet again, that Excel is utterly unkillable

How unkillable is Microsoft Excel? SAP has just shown it might be nigh-on immortal because despite having built an analytics cloud it claims is capable of end-to-end decision-making, it’s decided it also needs Office 365 integration. “Many businesses tell us that one of the biggest challenges with their data is having no …

  1. Flak
    Thumb Up

    Excel excels

    IMHO there is no other application that comes close to Excel in terms of usability, versatility and usefulness.

    Disclaimer: No other application has been harmed in the creation of this message.

    Disclosure: I have no financial or other interest in Microsoft or other software vendors

    1. Franco Silver badge

      Re: Excel excels

      No doubt there's a lot to like about it, but also a lot to hate. Mostly (for me) the people who think it's a database program and expect it will happily keep 20 years of sales data and be usable in a multi-user environment

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Excel excels

        And those that don't understand that Excel likes to strip out zeros at the front if the column is unformatted.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Excel excels

          And lack of precision: use text if you want more than 15 digits…

      2. DoctorPaul

        Re: Excel excels

        That's my clients your talking about!

      3. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Excel excels

        people who think it's a database program

        OK. Mini rant here.

        This doesn't apply to big databases that definitely need the full relational hoo hah. But most don't.

        <rant>In my youth there were numerous flat form databases. Simple, easy to use. And for most purposes they did all you needed. e.g. List of members' or clients' names, date they used the service, date of payment etc etc. With some basic search facility. How many clients joined in January, that sort of thing.

        Simple, easy to use. Limited learning curve. Didn't need a specialist to set up. Then they all seemed to vanish.

        Now there's just Access, which is much more complicated to set up and if you're not used to it, not at all intuitive; or stuff that's even scarier/more expensive to buy/expensive to set up/complicated to use than even that.</rant>

        But there's also Excel.

        Which pretty much does what people need it to do for most use cases. So they start using it. And once they start on it they stay on it.

        I think maybe there needs to be a set of DB tools that can scale from flatform. Starting simple and easy, but with guidance to make itself into something a bit more complex, one step a a time as a need grows

        1. Franco Silver badge

          Re: Excel excels

          Not disputing that Excel can do the job, hell I use it myself a lot when working with CSVs for data input to PowerShell scripts etc. I've even used it on rare occasions to produce rack diagrams as the cells map nicely to rack units, even though Visio is a much better (albeit much more expensive) tool for the job.

          The problem (IME) is that in my long-past helpdesk days I've been on the receiving end of more than one incandescent user ranting about my crappy network because 15 of them are trying to edit the "Sales Database" (an Excel doc with about 100 subsheets) at the same time across the network. This has happened even at companies who have purchased software for this very purpose to replace Excel that the users don't like and won't use, and no amount of explaining that the file created 15 years ago when all this was fields and there were 2 users isn't designed to scale to a multi-user environment ever gets the message across.

          Excel is a prime example of the mantra "if the only tool you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail"

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Excel excels

            the file created 15 years ago when all this was fields and there were 2 users

            And that's the point I was trying to get at earlier.

            Because Excel is the go to start point for a simple data set it locks even large organisations in if they start with it, because they weren't a large organisation/department when they started.

            In effect it's not Excel is a prime example of the mantra "if the only tool you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail" so much as that when you are using an awful lot more nails you might need a bigger hammer.

            What's lacking is a simple ( Excel like) programme, that easily scales up without learning a new, complex and scary programme.

            I suppose the dream would be something that still looked like Excel even when it had been turned into a proper database under the bonnet.

            1. Kientha

              Re: Excel excels

              Some of the spreadsheets many of the PMO people I know have to use are insane and take forever to load because a network stored ridiculously sized spreadsheet has grown out of something once thrown together quickly to centrally store data from emails in. Some of them are also so complicated that no one knows how to fix them when they break because the person who made and hotfixed it has since moved on.

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: Excel excels

                In such cases you have to wonder;

                1) Was this actually the most sensible approach at the start, i.e. did they not think of creating something more appropriate or was this just one more example of that bane of our lives, short termism- get it done so that it works now and by the time it goes pear shaped they'll have moved on?

                or

                2) Was there a phase two point when they could have concluded that it was time to move to something more suitable while it was still practical to do so, but decided not to, because short termism again - bodge it so that it will last a bit longer - as above

                . Or

                3) Did no one ever even consider thinking about perhaps reviewing their current working practices in the light of increased complexity and size of the projects?

                I've hit my head against the consequences of all three over the years. And in every case it was all about not making a (spending) decision in this year's budget. And I've met plenty of other similar situations too.

                My (least) favourite example - the council decided to have all singing, all dancing copier printers everywhere, that could be networked to our PCs. But decided not to network ours, that year, to save a few bob.

                Two years down the line when it was very clear that this was wasting useful amounts of ££ and time they, eventually, agreed that it could be done, and then they another eventually later agreed to actually allocate time to do it. Except it couldn't be done. It wouldn't connect to the network. And after yet another eventually they realised that the machine had been installed without a network card, to save a few more pennies, And by the time they'd worked this out there were no available cards, or contract supplier's will, or something. So it didn't get done within the lifetime of the contract.

                No (apparently?) one knew who'd selected this or signed it off, of course.

    2. Christopher Reeve's Horse

      Re: Excel excels

      Indeed, Excel often is the single source of truth.

      1. logicalextreme

        Re: Excel excels

        A single source of many, many truths.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Excel excels

          Wish I could upvote you a hundred times. It is terrifying to think that a lot of businesses long term plans are just numbers and equations hacked away at by an accountant. One place I worked at as a summer job as an accounts clerk, they asked me to look at their cashflow spreadsheet because something wasn't adding up right; half the equations had been copied incorrectly and they had to revise a whole bunch of plans because even the numbers they thought were right were just plain wrong.

          1. jmch Silver badge

            Re: Excel excels

            The thing with excel is that everyone knows how to use it. That belief in turn gives them confidence trying advanced excel features, when the same user would balk at learning to do the same with a database. It's not how difficult it actually is, it's how difficult the user perceives it to be.

            The other thing is, businesses are unwilling to go to the expense of training so many users up, and giving them database licenses. It also takes time to get it exactly right, time which many businesses do not have.

            Excel gets it done OK enough right now, which always trumps getting it perfect next month or next year, because many businesses can operate with a bit of long term inefficiency, but most businesses would even start up if they had to wait weeks or months to be operational

          2. logicalextreme

            Re: Excel excels

            I don't believe I can do links yet, but this is a thing I've been throwing at people since it hit the news:

            https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/one-five-genetics-papers-contains-errors-thanks-microsoft-excel

    3. find users who cut cat tail

      Re: Excel excels

      As I was recently at the receiving end of data provided in Excel, with same data each time organised differently in a dozen ways, I'd say that versatility comes at a cost…

    4. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    5. Triggerfish

      Re: Excel excels

      Talked a a Prof of maths. Guy owned a data science company, went were he wanted for interesting course to teach at universities around the world. Still said excel is good for quick and dirty and that even though they use tons of actual proper tools for mathematical modelling and data visualisation. They still tended to present it in excel a lot because it was a format everyone know when you are looking at numbers.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: Excel excels

        *nods sadly*

        At [RedactedCo], we have some spreadsheets that our finance department uses that pulls in data from multiple sources, folds spindles, and mutilates it into a format that the analytical accountants can read through. Back in the early windows XP/7 days, we had to fit several of the computers that used these spreadsheets with more memory, because excel took all of it.

    6. whoseyourdaddy

      Re: Excel excels

      Alex. Microsoft Products for 600.

      "What application is used to capture company-critical information and turn it into an email attachment with laughable version control and is quickly lost forever?"

    7. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Excel excels

      There was originally competition, but Micro$haft blatantly abused its monopoly position on the desktop and they became victims of bundling.

      Difficult to dislodge it now so the world has one sub-par product, instead of a whole market segment dedicated to smb math/analytics.

      1. IneptAdept

        Re: Excel excels

        Downvoted for the use of Micro$haft are we not all grown ups

        We all hate Microsoft for what they have done over the years, but for the amount of hatred you must hold you must be well over the age of 30 and as such using such childish disses such as that are poor performance

    8. HildyJ Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: Excel excels

      Yes, Excel has limitations (as does SAP's product). But for 98.7654321098765% of users who can live with 15 digit precision, it's good enough. Not to mention the legacy code and user familiarity.

      Perfect is the enemy of good and El Reg is filled with tales of failed development projects where "nice to have" requirements became "mandatory" in pursuit of perfection.

      Besides, users don't want to be told "you're holding it wrong."

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: Excel excels

        For financial forecasting, you aren't going to get more than about 1 or 2 digits of accuracy due to the nature of what you are doing.

    9. druck Silver badge

      Re: Excel excels

      I think you mean there is no other application that comes close to a spreadsheet in terms of usability, versatility and usefulness.

      Excel is one example of a spreadsheet, with quite a few good features, but also a whole load of limitations and bugs, which my fellow commetards have only been too eager to point out.

  2. Paul 195
    Windows

    Your number one competitor for almost any application you can develop is Excel. As well as the things it does well, it can be made to do *almost anything* to varying degrees of success.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      A long time ago (in a galaxy far far different from the one we live in now) as I was bored of my job I did a BMP and JPG pixel to Excel cell mapper just for fun.

      Best of all, it wasn't completely pointless, as I got to know the innards of JPG compression.

      1. Ben D
        Thumb Up

        ExcelShop

        Nice! I used Excel to map a photo of One Canada Square at night to a series of ImageMagick scripts. A few hundred worksheets later, I had the following:

        https://youtu.be/_ybvvcH_w3A

        1. DubyaG
          Pint

          Re: ExcelShop

          Have an upvote. I watched the Youtube video. Impressive and looks like it may have been a tedious job.

    2. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      it can be made to do *almost anything* to varying degrees of success.

      Many, many moons ago I was rental manager for a stage lighting company. The tech guy for the company liked Macs (we had even had a Lisa before that) and he bought a stonkin' expensive Mac IIx for the rental department "so we could keep track of our bookings." Problem was, there was NO rental tracking software for Mac at the time.

      Enter Excel. I sat down with the printed manual (!) and figured out how to write macros that would subtract units from inventory over a selected time frame. Over a year, that evolved into a relatively mature and stable system with custom menu bar, dialog boxes, etc. that anyone in the department could use with minimal training. The company used it for years, even long after I left.

      All done with Excel for Macintosh (1.0 & 1.1 IIRC), half a decade before Windows 95.

      So yeah; I can see people being loyal to Excel. Sure, it makes everything numeric look like a nail; but you can accomplish a lot by hammering on things.

    3. logicalextreme

      A favourite thing of mine to say regarding using the right tool for the job is "you can build Tetris in Excel, but if you want to play Tetris you'll pick up a Game Boy".

    4. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      True. There was even a company once that wrote a flight simulator in Excel. Wonder what happened to them?

  3. legless82

    In my experience

    Every large corporate I've ever worked at basically runs on Excel.

    Give people fancy ERP, analytics and BI tools and all these will ever get used for is to create data extracts to be manipulated in Excel.

    Its always at best the second best tool for the job for anything, and users like its familiarity.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: In my experience

      Yep, I spend hours creating beautiful reports and dashboards for the users to just export to Excel.

      1. GlenP Silver badge

        Re: In my experience

        I gave up, I largely just create Excel spreadsheets with linked data. At least that way I can generally control the source.

      2. Christopher Reeve's Horse

        Re: In my experience

        Yes, but the users aren't always doing this out of blind stupidity. A 'corporate' system always crystallises to a particular scope, and inevitably the outputs need to be viewed, or post-processed, or further modelled along with other non-corporate data. Not all the the data can be crystallised into the main system, as - in almost every case - these are the areas where the processes are being actively designed and developed to the needs of the decision makers. Sometimes this just never stops long enough for crystallisation to be feasible.

        Excel enables a combination of roles - process design and decision making. This is almost always necessary when the process constantly evolves or never settles to a particular steady state. To separate these roles requires more resources and stability of the process, and comes of the expense of flexibility. And whilst an excel output lacks the control of a more formal system, these controls (validation, repeatability, ISO9001 etc.) can be built into the system by a competent enough end-user.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: In my experience

          >Yes, but the users aren't always doing this out of blind stupidity.

          Particularly, as once you've learnt how to do pivot tables, charts etc. in Excel, you can use that knowledge for any other package, whereas knowledge of SAP Analytics pivot tables is only applicable to SAP...

    2. DemeterLast

      Re: In my experience

      What's annoying is any spreadsheet of sufficient complexity is just as difficult to get right as spending the time to normalize your business logic into a database. The spreadsheet offers the deceptive simplicity of "changing this one thing here," but carries the risk of borking the rest of it. If your data is important, it's important to get somebody competent to build it for you.

      Graphic designers have the same issue with Word and Powerpoint. It's easy for amateurs to put something together, which makes the amateurs feel empowered. But amateurs think clip art and a half-dozen different fonts makes something "creative and fun!"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: In my experience

        But not important enough to actually plunk down, given plunking down will probably kill the budget...and the company.

      2. MattWPBS

        Re: In my experience

        "If your data is important, it's important to get somebody competent to build it for you."

        If you don't have the budget, back to Excel.

        1. logicalextreme

          Re: In my experience

          If you're using Excel there's a good chance you do have the budget, but you think that you don't.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: In my experience

            Budgets are somewhat elastic items. Depending, as they do on a foundation of net cash availability, overbuilt with internal politics, wilful ignorance, actual incapability and favouritism. e.g. the £20,000 that has been set aside for software improvements has largely been used to provide the department head a new set of furnishings for the corporate meeting room, that is never used for meetings unless they want to impress someone with the contents of the fancy drinks cupboard.

            *Personal experience- over the years my frontline educational support team were "gifted" a large number of nasty, useless and often inconvenient ( because blocked the entrance to our cramped premises - not for us the extensive office space that the "officers" skulked in) piles of junk. Because we needed computers, desks, etc. and the higher ups decided that their stuff wasn't good enough for their fancy corporate offices - but would be made good use of by us peasants who only did the actual assessing, educating, advising and training that gave them an excuse to have their much better paid jobs.

  4. Tinslave_the_Barelegged

    The Wheel of History

    Those of us who were in the trenches in the late 80s and early 90s remember that Lotus 123 enjoyed a similar position of worshipful allegiance. We still remember the beancounters writing letters using one big row per line, because the answer was Lotus 123, no matter the question.

    Excel may seem unassailable, but the history of computing suggests it's supremacy is just a matter of =TIME()

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: The Wheel of History

      For real nightmares, you need Lotus Notes rather than 123.

      1. Lotaresco Silver badge

        Re: The Wheel of History

        I'll see your Lotus Notes and raise you Lotus Manuscript.

      2. legless82

        Re: The Wheel of History

        I once worked at a place that used Lotus Notes, and I was glad to leave it behind.

        A week later, I found myself wanting Notes back. My new place used Novell Groupwise,,,

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: The Wheel of History

          I've used Notes (casually, and largely as a tech doing installs and troubleshooting). I've used Groupwise back during the Netware 4.x / 5.0 days. I've used Outlook in all it's forms; We'll leave Outlook Express (later renamed to simple "Mail" for win10) out of this discussion.

          They all that their good points, and at some level, they all suck various amounts of goat urine.

          While I've never used the back-end of Notes and Groupwise, I imagine they are on the same level as Exchange.

          I've yet to work with any application that does what those products do nearly as well and with that level of integration.

      3. logicalextreme

        Re: The Wheel of History

        The only thing I really remember about Lotus Notes was hitting F5 to refresh my inbox, because that's the standard refresh shortcut and no software would map it to something insane like the delete function…wait, where did that email go?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: The Wheel of History

      > writing letters using one big row per line

      Sounds like the "word processor" in Lotus Symphony (DOS version).

    3. Kane Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: The Wheel of History

      "Excel may seem unassailable, but the history of computing suggests it's supremacy is just a matter of =TIME()"

      There's a problem with this formula.

      Not trying to type a formula?

      When the first character is an equal (=) or minus (-) sign, Excel thinks it's a formula.

      • you type: =1+1, cell shows: 2

      To get around this, type an apostrophe (') first:

      • you type: '=1+1, cell shows: =1+1

    4. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: The Wheel of History

      Lotus 1-2-3 + Impress (or WYSIWYG) was incredible in 1992/3(?), just before Excel landed.

      (For the youthful, prior to Excel 1-2-3 was character mode, and Impress or WYSIWYG allowed you to tab into a graphical environment familiar to spreadsheet uses today).

      And Lotus Improv was out of this world at that time too....

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: The Wheel of History

        >And Lotus Improv was out of this world at that time too....

        Still is, Excel 2019/365 still can't do 3D spreadsheets as simply as Improv did.

    5. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: The Wheel of History

      Remember when Excel was a reason to buy Apple?

      It was far better than Lotus 123 & VisiCalc, and only available on a Mac.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Wheel of History

      Those of us suffering to work for HMRC know the joy* of writing letters using excel macros to screen scrape internet explorer.

      * by joy I mean unending lovecraftian horror

  5. Lotaresco Silver badge

    A few years ago

    I worked on a huge payroll system. We had a user who cost us a lot of time and money because he was phished with an Excel sheet that contained a macro virus. So security insisted on the introduction of code signing. Which was good. Within an hour an angry user appeared in my office screaming that I had "ruined" that weeks payroll run. I couldn't get much sense out of him so followed him to his desk where many excitable payroll people yelled at me, at lot.

    It turned out that there was an issue with how the payroll system presented dates. To work around this the shouter-in-chief had designed his own Excel spreadsheet with a macro to change the date format and prepare a CSV file that was exported to the secure print system to print out the payslips. He'd then insisted that his minions use his spreadsheet. Only now it didn't work because his greyware had never been tested or approved by anyone and he sure as heck couldn't get his code signed.

    I pointed out that it would take one of our DB people about, oh, fifteen seconds to change the database to display dates in the format they wanted and probably half a day maximum to get that through QA. But since it would be a trivial change that I could authorise the use of the code now and QA could follow on at their own pace. Not good enough for Mr Shouty. He wanted his code running *now* and wasn't prepared to accept that someone whose job it was to make changes could do a better job than him.

    He took it to the CEO. I lost, in the worst way possible. I was told to revert to permitting unsigned macros to be run because that way Mr Shouty could continue to "Add value to the business" with his homebrew. I think they still use the cobbled together mess.

    1. Christopher Reeve's Horse

      Re: A few years ago

      Now that, I agree, is dumb.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A few years ago

        Given payroll is involved, did you consider running this argument through the legal team and see if it runs afoul of laws like Sarbannes-Oaxley? Adding value won't mean much if it increases risks of the courts getting involved...

  6. Dr Who

    SuperCalc

    I used to know an accounts clerk who typed numbers into Lotus 123 on and IBM AT, added them up on a calculator, then typed in the total. And she kept a paper spreadsheet as a backup.

    I preferred SuperCalc myself.

  7. Binraider666

    Excel, and indeed spreadsheets in general are great. Until people start using them as databases, which seems to be 95% of cases.

    Worse, is the problem that manglement often won't support moving this to proper platform because £££.

    But SAP and Excel, god an unholy hybrid that is indeed.

    1. baud Bronze badge

      I got a school mate who's working now at SAP and he's got a business on the side where he sells extensions for excel/powerpoint… Maybe he got that idea while working on his day job

  8. Len Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Excel bugs

    It’s been years since I looked into this but I remember that when the people who developed the OpenDocument standard went about reverse engineering the Excel format for interoperability they ran into quite a few issues that put me off using Excel formats for anything important.

    The OpenDocument standards team received a lot of input from mathematics professors to prevent the mistakes that Microsoft had made. I believe they also had input from the European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group (whose list of Spreadsheet horrors is a frightening read) to prevent common human error when working with spreadsheets.

    There is a leap year bug carried over from Lotus 1-2-3. They screwed up the leap year maths and incorrectly considered 1900 to be a leap year. Not a problem if you never venture more than a century ago but if you have time series that go back to before 1900 your calculations will be off in Excel. (Excel wrongly assumes 1900 is a leap year)

    I believe there was an issue with the order in which Excel performs certain operations (not entirely BODMAS?). If I recall correctly it would screw up mortgage calculations.

    The challenge for standard developers is then to choose between perpetuating the error or lose roundtrip compatibility. For the leap year bug OpenDocument team chose not to perpetuate the error and MS now lists using the year 1900 as an incompatibility between .XLSX and .ODS formats (without stating that it's Excel that's at fault).

    Anyone know more about this? The leap year bug is a WONTFIX, any others?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Excel bugs

      there's an interesting story on the 1900 being a leap year bug: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2006/06/16/my-first-billg-review/

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Excel bugs

      Related to the 1900 issue, is the borked epoch so if you format "0" as a date you get 00.01.1900 though the epoch is actually 1899-12-30T00:00 but Excel won't actually display anything before 00.01.1900 which makes it pretty unreliable for dates. Doesn't stop people using it for that, of course.

      In fact the ability to mix both data and code is the biggest risk associated with any spreadsheet because you cannot guarantee values won't change the next time you look. Otherwise, bugs aside, it's about as good a report format as we've got, because at least it's typed and supports unicode.

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Excel bugs

      Ha! I just tested, and the Android date-pick widget insists Feb 1900 has 29 days. And won't go earlier than 1900 AT ALL.

  9. JakeMS
    Mushroom

    Yeah...

    I hate spreadsheets with a passion.

    My business has an outside accountant, who for the most part we just use for verifying our records before submission and the occasional tax questions.

    I do most of the accounting myself, I do a full reconciliation report etc.

    Anyway, initially they asked me to use Excel to submit it all to them, and after cursing at it getting slow, and having my hair turn gray, getting confused trying to put it all in a spreadsheet, I decided enough was enough.

    I found an open source locally run application that was built for accounting and works on any platform, it does everything I need perfectly, I love it.

    The biggest complications with the excel format is trying to calculate sales from online, instore and whether that money is cash (most fun is when someone paid a bit cash, and a bit card for the same transaction) , that money is card etc and having it all play nicely and tally up.

    Ofc, when cash is deposited, it is usually different to the total sales figure, due to change given and what-not. That's a PITA to calculate in excel, because you cannot do double entry accounting.

    So, the new app, can calculate that automatically and it all works great, and even fixed a few common errors in previous submissions, due to confusion in excel.

    It can even generate reports that are identical to what the account gives us after reviewing.

    After telling all of this to the accountant, guess what they said?

    Please submit your records in excel.

    They would not even look at it.

    At this point my head exploded and splattered all over the room, with bits of brain matter stuck to the walls. So, I just copied and pasted the generated reports into excel.

    The only good of excel is that I can use Libreoffice to make the excel files for them.

    1. dak

      Re: Yeah...

      Why are you still with that accountant? Our current one is about to have a rude reminder of just who the customer is on our relationship...

      1. JakeMS
        Thumb Up

        Re: Yeah...

        That's a good question. Once this little virus thing blows over I'll look into some more local accountants to see if they can use the new app. I guess we are with them because it's who we always had.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Excel and spreadsheets

    We spent a fair amount of time with one particular project and placed it live. We found that the users (forensic accounting btw) didn't like summarised or rolled up dashboards and wanted access to the lower level ledger data in Excel export to run their magic.

    Accountants love excel and no matter of tech will get them over this - including SAP or Oracle...

  11. MattWPBS

    Excel's a Swiss army knife

    Seriously. You can use it to do enough small different things reasonably enough. Like you can use it to open a wine bottle, open a tinned can, or trim a branch.

    Problem is when people try to use it for a bigger project, get to the level where it's the equivalent of where you should use a chainsaw to chop down a copse of trees.

  12. James Anderson Silver badge

    Been doing this for years

    Rather than go through the pain of speccing reports, messing around with headers footers etc. only to be told "we need the widget id on the item line and subtotals by tax period" two days before go live.

    I just dump anything useful is a downloadable spreadsheet and let the users work out what they need in real time. Works a treat.

    What does not work so well is using spreadsheets as primary input. I have done this rather than go through a massive data entry re-work of a semi manual system where most of the data was in spreadsheets we just read the spreadsheets. About 20 different variations in the format over a few thousand files, and, I will gladly de-sanguinate anyone who even thinks "merged cell".

    It all went relatively smoothly - bet then they insisted on continuing to enter data via spreadsheets.

  13. Joe Gurman

    Not exactly (ever in any way) a Microsoft fan, but....

    ....if Excel does what people want was well as they want it done, let them use it?

    Obviously, if you have 20 years' worth of data for (hundreds of?) thousands of accounts, it's not the tool of choice, but there are lots of other use cases. Lots.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When you have to make 100+ rungs of nearly identical ladder logic to input map things, excel kinda sorta works.

    Text export the master rungs, notepad++ shenanigans to get it to CSV with easily changed areas, open in excel, copy and fill-paste to size, modify mappings, save back to CSV, strip out the commas with more shenanigans in n++, and pray to the spaghetti monster it imports back into Logix.

    It's a horrible horrible bodge from years ago, that I thankfully documented for when the inevitable orders for units with different I/O requirements came in.

  15. John H Woods Silver badge

    Not affiliated in any way, but ...

    I urge anyone with doubts about excel to have a go at Quantrix, the successor to Improv. YMMV but I absolutely love it.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Not affiliated in any way, but ...

      Need an enlightened employer... Quantrix Modeller - "the successor to Improv" is only 2,450 USD pa per user.

      I find where vendors put a "Request a Free Trial" form rather than permit the download of a 30-day trial version, off-putting in the extreme.

  16. Kev99

    I used to use Quattro Pro 4 for DOS. It had tabs, macros, basic graphics capabilities and was fast. Excel has yet to match it.

  17. Why Not?

    When you only have excel everything is a nail!

    I have written plenty of vital tools in Excel. It is Business's hammer!

    I do now use GDPR & Governance as a lever to kill Excel in the front line. If only most customers knew how much of their personal data was blasted throughout almost every organisation in Excel.

    SharePoint for data input and SQL server for handling data with PowerBI as the display. I can then at least try to tell who has seen what.

    Other tools are available.!

  18. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Spreadsheets

    Spreadsheets are the original malware as they are very difficult to verify once the size or complexity is beyond dead simple. They are useful for certain tasks but because of they appear to require minimal training to be competent using they have an allure that makes them 'femme fatale' of the office suite. You can do more damage with a buggy spreadsheet than with any other office program. Worse it is often not easily noticed.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020