Archive for November, 2007

Please can I go to the Excel conf 3

Thursday, 8th November, 2007

I wasn’t going to do any more of these on here but then I got sent this real life (successful) approach:


Hi xxxxxxxxx(the Boss),

Not sure if this is viewed as relevant.

I got the link from Simon Murphy’s blog (smurfonspreadsheets)
Its good value at £ 269 basic 2 day package.

Anyway, I was wondering if we could put something in the training budget for the one in Sydney in 2008?


xxxxxx (very shrewd negotiator)


This is the sort of approach I need to follow to get the OK to go to the Sydney one. I might have to look for some sales tips on that idea though (and now I know just the person to ask!).

If anyone has a better approach for getting approval for the conf let me know, especially if its worked in real life. Also anyone with reusable justifications for the OZ user conf , that might work with Mrs S, send those through too.



Is this you? (uk only)

Thursday, 8th November, 2007

Queuing in the rain for your i-phone? (The Apple store starts selling them at 6.02pm Friday night)(on the O2 network – I wonder how long the ‘margeting’ department spent ‘thought showering’ that one?). Thought shower is the new, approved, politically correct, term for what uncaring insensitive beasts used to call brainstorming. I think it is only used in government departments?

I’m wondering if I should expect a sharp drop off in readers as you all rush off to Regents street to book your place in history? (I’d be there myself of course, except I have to tidy my sock drawer today). I hope this post doesn’t make it even worse.

I could be wrong but I don’t remember people queuing outside anywhere for the release of Office 2007 (or OpenOffice 2.0). Did you?

I can’t be too cynical though – I’ve just pre-ordered one of these: Asus eee 701. Due in Bighty next week, more info to follow when/if it makes it to sunny Cumbria.

Anyone else got their eye on any ‘essential’ (honest!) gadgets?



Developers and sys admins

Thursday, 8th November, 2007

Devs often have a hot and cold relationship with their sys admins. On the one hand sys admins love nothing more than to prevent us from doing our job (“need admin rights on your local pc? – sorry its against policy”, “need access to the command line? – sorry its against policy”…).

On the other hand we are having to be nicer and nicer to them as they hold the keys to the .net security policy can of worms. And more and more we need to know more and more about systems policies, office admin policies, and group policies.

Absolutely THE biggest thing (by a mile) I love about Excel/VBA projects is the utterly trivial deployment. Its so completely trivial most of us don’t even consider it as a separate phase in the development cycle. Its passed UAT (User Acceptance Testing) , its live. Thats it, no separate package and deployment phase, no dependencies worries (unless you used non Office components). This means as a business developer I concentrate solely on solving the business issues, I don’t get bogged down in system stuff, and admin fluff.

I accept there is a management and security trade off to this ease of deployment, but personally I’m happy to take that trade. One other big benefit is I rarely have to deal with those sys admin jobsworths. (If you are a nice sys admin, or you know one – sorry for the stereotype).

I wonder if the .net way is a step too far in the direction of Administrivia, and away from solving business problems. (Or maybe I shouldn’t be so dismissive of the security aspect?)

What do you think?



Excel conference

Wednesday, 7th November, 2007

I’ve just posted a more in-depth outline of the Excel Pivot table session I’ll be presenting at the conference. Its here (on the dedicated conference blog).

I’ve got a half built VBA utility that makes it easy to build pivot table data sources from workbooks structures that would normally not pivot well. I’m planning on polishing that up (that would be ‘polish’ to my ‘agricultural’ level rather than Marcus’s work of art level) as a give away, and demoing it as part of getting data into a usable format.

Of course I’m delighted to be the opening speaker – I don’t normally wake up properly until 11, I guess this is what coffee was invented for.

Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything critical out of my session outline.



Pushing water uphill

Tuesday, 6th November, 2007

We’ve talked at some length about the friction point between IS and the business, and this is a common source of spreadsheet systems, and the occasional quick and dirty hack.

Most discussions of server based technologies (Excel Services, VSTO, .net, etc) end on the somewhat pessimistic note that if the business isn’t allowed to control the resources it will never work. This clearly indicates a significant lack of trust between the 2 departments.

I can imagine a situation where the business comes up with a good design that neatly stratifies all the components to sensible resources, only for IS to come back and say ‘You can’t do that, and you cant do that, and if you do that we’ll have to cross charge you x millions’.

In fact I’ve experienced it. What did we do? threw together an Excel/VBA hack and went live with that instead.

This makes me think that IS probably can’t stop the business developing systems. What they can do is stop the business from deploying good ones. Where good means well designed n-tier type stuff.

I’m thinking of the times I’ve been refused a sign-on for Oracle and had to use multiple worksheets or Jet. Or the times I have been bounced from trying to install dlls on a server, so in the end I had to replicate the functionality on each desktop. Often its not a straight no, more of a yes, if you jump through all these hoops and wait an unrealistic time.
Seems to me a bit like IS are trying to push water uphill. What do you think?

And as all the problems with the dirty hacks surface in the business, leaving IS blameless, is it a bit self fuelling? ‘Look what a pigs ear they made of that, there is no way I’m letting those Excel clickers on my sever!’.

Anyone else seen this (/make a living from this!).



Excel 2003 mainstream support ends Jan 2009

Tuesday, 6th November, 2007

It ends Jan 13 2009 to be precise. It would be amusing if that was a Friday, but it isn’t.

Here is a link- its to the Google cache version so you can avoid the intrusive malware that seems to have infected the MS Office site recently

So that is 14 months away, just over a year! Office 14 is pencilled in for mid 2009 release so it looks like for a while there 2007 will be the only supported version. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that will leave the majority of their customers with an unsupported version of Office. 2003 is probably at 60% now, but was around 30% in 2005, 2 years after release.

If 2007 follows the same curve (and there are plenty of arguments that it could be better or worse) it will be around 30% in 2009 at the point it becomes the only version with mainstream support. That leaves 70% of Office users without mainstream support. If that isn’t an opportunity for alternative productivity suites I don’t know what is.

Office 2003 has not been officially available since June 2007, although I’m sure that won’t stop most orgs accessing it for new pcs, either via a subscription downgrade, or some other method.

Likewise just because their version is not supported doesn’t mean orgs are going to abandon it either. Currently around 40% of the market are running a version of Excel that is either out of mainstream support, or out of all support (2002 or older).

I’m assuming the logic goes something like tried and tested, but unsupported is better than unproven but supported. Do you see it differently? (each org will have its own definition of ‘better’)

This is the only explanation I can think of for why users of unsupported versions don’t abandon ship to an alternative like OpenOffice. That and the investment they have in functioning Excel/VBA based line of business apps and reports. Microsoft clearly don’t see retraining as an adoption blocker, otherwise 2007 would have had a compatibility mode.

Lack of support is the number one reason I hear for lack of adoption of open source stuff, but in these modern day times of OS bounties you could probably get OS stuff patched for the same price as a full cost support call.

Do you think its just inertia? Do you foresee any significant changes in the spreadsheet market? Increased fragmentation?

I can imagine in 12-24 months needing Excel2003, Excel2007, OpenOffice and Google Docs knowledge to cover the same proportion of the market you cover now with just Excel97-2003 skills. Can you?



Visual Studio 2008 to RTM in November

Monday, 5th November, 2007

Did I miss an RC?

VS2008 due out before the end of the month.

That means deployable VSTO before Christmas (what else could a geek want?).

Perhaps we should have a session about it after all at the dev conf Dec1?



Access User group seminar coming up

Monday, 5th November, 2007

I meant to mention this a couple of weeks ago. i went to an AUG event a few months ago and it was really good. I’m thinking of going to this one too, anyone else going?

Friday 16th November 2007
Microsoft Offices, Reading

The next Access User Group seminar will be on 16th of November at Microsoft’s Offices in Reading. Topics include:

Office 2007 Client Developer Features presented by Martin Parry, Microsoft
Application Development – Sharepoint As An Alternative Tool to Access presented by Stuart Holywell, Gordon Associates
Application Development – Working with Access 2007 and SharePoint Together presented by Derek Goodridge, WorkerThread Limited

Access 2007 Is Great – No It Isn’t – Yes It Is – No It Isn’t: a review of the new version of Access presented by Alan Cossey

Converting SQL from Access to SQL Server presented by Andy Couch
Overview of Office 2007 – All The Other Products presented by Rod Gordon, Gordon Associates

[edit: Doh – heres the link]



UK Excel Conference Blog

Sunday, 4th November, 2007

We have set up a conference blog here.

We will be using that to keep everyone upto date with developments as they happen. We’ll also provide in depth session outlines so you can decide which session will give you the most benefit.

That will also save me having to put

this topic will be covered in more depth at the UK Excel User Conference

at the bottom of every post, although I still might.

I’m really looking forward to it, last year was a great event, this year has many of the same great speakers, and lots of interesting content.

hope to see you there (at the conference blog, and at the event itself)



[And don’t think I’ll be neglecting this blog, I’ve loads of developer type questions I would like to discuss]

Staying for tea

Sunday, 4th November, 2007

When I was a kid I used to go and play at my mates houses, and they came to ours. That was pretty easy to arrange, often we would walk or ride to each others house and call on each other. In and free = play, out or busy = no play. simple stuff.

Sometimes the chance to stay for tea (evening meal – not cucumber sandwiches like down south) cropped up. Generally this involved asking permission of a grown up. Playing out (technically ‘leccin’ out’ in Yorkshire) rarely had this overhead, and risk of denial.


Excel/VBA = playing out, no adult involvement required.

.net or COM dll (or Excel Services?), or anything with deployment effort = asking an adult to stay for tea.


(IS department plays the part of the responsible adult, rightly (?) or wrongly (?))

And where is the real power do you think in the orgs you have worked? Can IS really stop business system deployment, or just hold it up/frustrate? I reckon I’ve seen IS as master and servant in different orgs. I prefer the ‘IS is a service’ model (funny old thing).