The World Runs On Excel

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about the importance of Excel and that Excel is everywhere.

I’d even go as far as saying that most of the world in one way or another runs on Excel. Excel in my opinion is the best piece of software Microsoft has made so far (other people seem to agree with me, by the way). While Microsoft didn’t invent the spreadsheet – that credit goes to VisiCalc and IBM with Lotus 1-2-3 – they were the ones who popularized the use of spreadsheets to an extent that nowadays the term spreadsheet itself has become synonymous to Excel.

Excel has become a general purpose tool that’s used by business people to quickly implement software solutions. Excel is not only used for calculations but for data storage, data entry and even fully-fledged applications with complex user interactions. Most software developers would probably argue that this is a pretty dangerous development because Excel wasn’t meant to be used as a general purpose programming tool, IDE or relational database and lacks a lot of features of proper software development tools and RDBMS. Developing business tools with Excel introduces a lot of problems such as data inconsistency, a software maintenance hell and lack of version control and multi-user capabilities. These problems certainly are valid and proper software developers are – to an extent – right in bashing Excel-based solutions.

However, the point this criticism misses is that Excel is a tool that gets the job done. The results often might not be pretty or well-designed software but they quickly provide solutions to problems that might have taken a lot longer if implemented properly with proper tools. In a way, Excel is like Perl in that respect, it makes easy things easy and hard things possible. So, I’d say that as entrepreneurs and developers we shouldn’t disregard Excel-based solutions but instead should embrace them and think about how we can help Excel users with improving their solutions.

Several points come to mind as to how Excel-based software might be improved:

  • Using version control for storing and sharing Excel spreadsheets.
  • Introducing best practices for Excel-based software development.
  • Promoting code review and code reuse by storing user-created functions and macros in some kind of central repository that is accessible for everyone in an organisation.

These are just some quick thoughts. There sure are ample opportunities for entrepreneurs to provide useful services and products to Excel users.

About the author: Bjoern
Independent IT consultant, entrepreneur
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