Archive for December, 2008

Sharepoint 2007

Thursday, 18th December, 2008

I often see clients using long server paths and long file names to cram a load of information into the full path name. Things like the date the file relates to, the business unit, the type of report or analysis, author, etc etc.

Generally I recommend these clients look at how they structure their work, and I also recommend they take a look at Sharepoint. Sharepoint allows users of files to search for them by all the categories above, and more. And it allows them to better manage how they consume the data.

You can also use Sharepoint as a version history, change control tool.
I’m not convinced it is especially rich from a spreadsheet dev pov, but I havent used a recent version of SP.

I have a question though for those of you using it in anger:

Is it realistic to use it for 10 or 20 Mb spreadsheets that get updated daily, or even more frequently. Can it cope with maintaining a full fidelity history. If the server is in the same location is performance (opening, saving) similar to just saving to a folder share. Or it it only really suitable for v lightweight spreadsheets and/or browser based stuff?

Any advice from the trenches gratefully recieved.

I need to refresh my Sharepoint knowledge, but then again I have a million and one things I need to do… (Excel services is on my radar too – I have just bought the book that has been in my Amazon cart for about 6 month!


Proof of the ribbons success

Wednesday, 17th December, 2008

Anyone seen any?

Office 2007 has been out for 2 years now.

I have been wondering what research MS (the Effluent UI team) have done to demonstrate that the ribbon had succeeded in (one of) its claimed aims to reduce the number of people asking for features that already exist.

It’s basic process improvement right? measure, change, measure the improvement (or not ;-))

My honest guess is the Fail UI has not improved that one single bit. Not just because its crap, but also because technology won’t fix social issues. And asking for something before bothering to do any proper research is a social issue (technical term: lazy (or busy)).

So I’m looking for links to proper studies that show Excel/Office 2007 to be an improvement in any shape or form.

Productivity? eg reduced clicks (ha ha ha…)

Discoverability? eg. increase in the number of features in an average spreadsheet? I’m talking appropriately used features, not the all too common feature/function/format overload.

Improved quality/reduced risk/errors?

I’m guessing the lack of significant deployments, and the fact that many of the migrations are probably to compatibility mode only, will mean a lack of hard data. But please post a link if you have one, not too many per comment or Akismet will ‘ave ya.



Are newsgroups undermining learning?

Wednesday, 17th December, 2008

I was having a chat about the newgroups with one of my mates the other day.

I wondered if the ease of getting an answer, and the quality of (some ;-)) answers, the ability to stay anonymous all lead to people asking first, thinking second.

  • Do people go to the newsgroups and just ask away?
  • Do they try Google Live Umbongo Search for an answer first?
  • Do they even search the archives first?

My feeling is an increasing number don’t do any of those, don’t take any responsibility for their learning, they just fire away and wait to be spoonfed the answer.

I think the newsgroups are a superb resource, but I wonder if we are in danger of creating an overly dependent user base?

(I’m no fan of the snarky ‘did you try Google?’ type responses either btw)

What do you think?

I have to say I’m a big fan of the Excel-l newsgroup/listserv. I have been on that for 10 years on and off. Its my favourite Excel place, because its friendly (in general ;-)), its focused and most folks do search first and do try first. There are very few ‘pls do my homework for me thx’ type requests. And few ‘build my enterprise system for me for free pls thx’. And of course its full of smart people who as a group have done pretty much everything you could imagine in and around Excel and VBA. you don’t see many questions go unanswered, even the hard ones.

The other thing I like is the complete lack of commercial aspect. The intrusive ads for crappy add-ins at some other places turn me right off. As do the annoying auto linking popup thingies. Plain text maan – its the future…

Are newsgroup dumbing things down?

what are your favourite sites/forums and lists, and why?



Safe spreadsheeting

Tuesday, 16th December, 2008

Has anyone done the safe spreasheet assessment from Q-Validus here?

A few (/load) of us did it at Eusprig last year as a trial run. I thought it was pretty good. Better than some of the on-line assessments I have done over the years.

Has anyone implemented a policy where only people who have passed that test and/or done some advanced training get to work on mission critical spreadsheets? How did that work?

One of the papers at Eusprig last year had it as a proposal that seemed logical and yet was strongly resisted. I can see why it would be, given the freewheeling nature of the end user computing world. But I can also see how it makes sense from a risk management pov.

Would you take the test (if ‘encouraged’)?

Do you think you could get the folks you work with or support to do it?

Do you have some ad-hoc or in house assessment process for managing access to these important resources?



Quick Netbook advice

Monday, 15th December, 2008

I’m back on my Asus at the moment.

If you are thinking of getting a netbook and you will be doing lots of reading/surfing on it, I would recommend one where page up and down are a single button each.

On this Asus page up is fn+ up arrow.

Needing 2 hands on the keyboard makes surfing a bit too much like work, because the trackpads are small I find I use the keyboard maybe a bit more than a desktop.

Mind you I’m using a Dell corporate small style keyboard at the moment, I think the tiny crappy Asus keyboard is easier to use.
Just a thought…



Excel VBA Freetards

Sunday, 14th December, 2008

I get quite a few requests for help, in fact during the Excel User Conference last year I got a phone call from someone wanting free help to fix their Excel VBA app.

I have a somewhat inconsistent response, if its an interesting issue, either crashing Excel, xlls, COM or similar, and I’m not in a crunch, then there is a fair chance I’ll take a look. Likewise if its a two minute job I may take a look. What I have found though in general is a significant proportion of people can’t even be bothered to reply with a ‘thanks, that worked’ email.

The latest approach got blown out because the tone was very demanding and they included an attachment. I pointed them to the Excel newsgroups, and they replied saying my knowledge was a gift from God and wouldn’t I like to share it!

Excuse me! my knowledge wasn’t a ‘gift’ from anywhere, I got it by working hard and making sacrifices (last year I spent 5K GBP of my own money on training).

I would rather struggle for days with a problem than ask on a newsgroup. Not because I can’t admit I don’t know something, just because I like the satisfaction of working it out for myself. And the harder the lesson the deeper the learning.

I actually suspect it could have been an attempted hack/scam trying to lure me into opening their malware infested file.

What do others do with these requests for help?



Thank Feck for that

Friday, 12th December, 2008

Feck is offically NOT a swear word, at least in the UK.

I mentioned Feck a while ago when we discussed septic English.

Personally I find the very idea that a bunch of people can decide a word is ‘bad’ and then we should all be shocked and apalled when someone uses it com-fecking-pletely ridiculous. But there you go.

There is no spreadsheet angle to this post – but it is the weekend.



Best/Favourite Excel version

Thursday, 11th December, 2008

Which is your favourite Excel version and why. Include all the factors you feel are important.

For me its 2003 no question. Its much more stable than previous versions. Has all the features of a proper spreadsheet (proper UI for example).

I’ve seen all kinds of mess with previous versions, but my 2003 install has been rock solid, no matter how dumb I’ve been. It is possible to crash, but it recovers more cleanly than previous versions.

If your favourite spreadsheet app is not Excel, which is it and why?

I have been meaning to try Lotus and Quattro pro for ages, but just never seem to get around to it.

In fact here are my top 5 spreadsheets in order:

  1. Excel 2003
  2. Gnumeric
  3. OpenOffice Calc
  4. Excel 95 (such a step forward from 4.0)
  5. Lotus 3.something – the dos one where \ (/?) did menus and : (?) did formatting – what a step from the previous

Whats yours and why



UK Excel user conference

Wednesday, 10th December, 2008

Just a word of warning if you are thinking of coming to the (FREE) UK Excel user conf in April:

Get booked in quick – its nearly full!

Nick has the info here.

I think there will be a waiting list, and it looks like that’s going to be started soon. Within a week of announcing the event!

If you are booked on and can no longer make it please let us know so we can give your place to the baying crowd.

If you are not bothered about the content or too busy/important to attend during the day but fancy meeting up for meal and drinks then let Nick know via the above link. That will delight him as he hasn’t got a column for that option in his spreadsheet!



Get patching

Wednesday, 10th December, 2008

I’ve finally found some readable details of the patches MS released yesterday. I’ve been looking out for them since JP emailed me last week asking what was going on (I didn’t know).

Anyway SANS has a good summary here. Note the traffic lights Red == Patch NOW

MS detail here for Excel.

Summary – Open a dodgy workbook, get pwned.

No need to enable macros, this is an error in the file parser that allows the bad guys to run what they want on your box.

Also there is a bunch of VB runtime bugs around several Activex controls.

Let us know if you hit any problems patching.