So we’ve looked at some of the benefits, and there were some excellent comments.
But what is the single biggest downside to spreadsheet usage?
I was thinking the management of the uncontrolled duplication and ‘versionitis’ (good description Marcus), but actually I’m not sure that is unique to spreadsheets. I think it is most severe in spreadsheets, but I’ve seen that with Word docs too (‘which version of the spec are you working too? oh no, you should be using the one thats on my personal drive!’).
I reckon the biggest disadvantage of spreadsheet use is it encourages people to tangle up the data and a specific view of the data (eg a report). I think it was the Smalltalk community that introduced the MVC model (model, view controller), which seems pretty fundamental these days. MFC still uses the MVC approach, and I’m sure plenty of other dev tools do too. Access does for example (in fact all the database products I can think of do), you have tables for storing data, and queries or reports for seeing different views.
This lack of separation of data and view seems to me to be a barrier stopping many people making massive improvements in their use of data. I certainly think it explains why so many spreadsheet users can’t understand Access, even after training. I think it also explains why people often struggle with pivot tables.
I totally accept this feature is also one of the benefits, and is a contributory factor in the development speed associated with spreadsheeting. As with most things, sensible use will maximise the benefits whilst minimising the negative impacts.
What do you think about the separation issue? what do you think is the biggest spreadsheet downside?