The road to Excel Services

I am sure there are very few of us here naive enough to assume tinkering with Excel services would be a 10 minute job. But just in case, I’m here to tell you that was not the case for me!!

This post will document my battles to try out this technology.

Hopefully we are all aware that Excel services is a newish feature of Sharepoint 2007. Bear in mind its only in the Enterprise version of Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007 (catchy eh?). That would be your first check then – what version of MOSS2007 can you get access to?

Before that though you may want to consider how/where this MOSS2007 will be.

Here is my plan:

On a virtual machine on a USB drive. Yep I know the performance will be poor. Maybe I can delete a few Gb of junk off my laptop and squeeze it on there. But experience tells me messing with virtual images when disc space is tight is bad news.

So the first thing is that Virtual pc is not up to the job. You need virtual server. Thanks to rather aggressive competition in that area, those nice Microsoftians give this product away. I won’t link to where it was because it won’t be there by the time this get published, probably.

Anyway I bought myself a new USB drive (WD Passport – bus powered, handy). It came formatted as FAT32 – great for interoperability, crap for files larger than 2Gb. I tried to repartition to leave some FAT32 and make most of it NTFS. Partition Manager was not prepared to do that for me, Ghost crashed (as usual). So in the end I just reformatted the whole thing to NTFS – this took over an hour!

I should have checked what Ubuntu could have done – next time…

MS do a trial version of MOSS as a virtual image on Windows Server 2003. This was my target, this is six 700 Mb downloads. But it saves any install hassles. It’s time limited for 30 days and includes Office 2007. You can just recycle the virtual image after 30 days. This seems fair enough to me, although its easy enough to find 60/90/180 day trial versions of many of Microsofts products.

The first version I found had a hard expiry date of October 2008 not a right lot of use – did they really think they would have 100% uptake by then, with no more need for demos??

It’s bloody hard to work through Microsofts maze of shitty names – there are only a couple of differentiating characters in each 90 character name.

Anway I found this one. Which works.

March update – of course a few images have expired, and been reinstalled.

Anyway on getting VS up (needed me to reset my default web site in IIS) you need to create a new site – choose the document library one.

Setting up Sharepoint is pretty obvious, once you get used to the limitations of a brwser interface for an app that patently need a proper UI.

Once you have a document library you can open Excel 2007 and publish docs to it. You can then browse to them.

In Excel you can set up range names as usual, but when saving to SP you set them as parameters. You can then modify these values in the browser version later and see the impact.

I’ve only just dipped my toe in the water, I hope to do more before this current image expires. In particular I want to find a compelling use case, I’m sure the technology has value, I just havent worked out where I can apply it in the stuff that I do yet.

Anyone else working with ES? In what circumstances?

cheers

simon

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10 Responses to “The road to Excel Services”

  1. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    http://xldennis.wordpress.com/2008/12/14/back-to-school/
    http://xldennis.wordpress.com/2009/02/14/sharepoint-the-start/

    Now that my work with the 2nd edition of PED is done I can work extensively with MOSS and Excet Services.

    Given the plattform, i.e. MOSS, I find the Excel Services to be OK.

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

  2. sam Says:

    Hi Simon,
    Can you do a post on Sharepoint.. What it does….what are the pros and cons….I have not been able to figure out what it is….Is it a fancy name given to a shared network folder…

  3. Doug Glancy Says:

    Dennis, I got excited when you mentioned PED 2 and even more when I googled and found that you are adding your .NET knowledge to the mix! Do you know when it will be out?

  4. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    Doug,

    Thanks!

    Actually, You can read an interview with me by Ross at the following URL:
    http://www.blog.methodsinexcel.co.uk/2009/03/15/ped-professional-excel-development-second-edition/

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

  5. Marcus from London Says:

    You’re slow off the mark Doug :P I’ve already put in my order at amazon.co.uk. I’m also looking forward to the .Net content – thanks for your contribution Dennis.

    Back on the topic. I’ve tried to ‘encourage’ the use of ES in a project migrating an Op Risk Monte Carlo from Excel/Access/VBA. HOwever, the client didn’t want to spend anything on infrastructure and we used their existing technology to implement a (suboptimal) solution.

  6. Simon Says:

    Dennis thx for the links, I managed to do a quick ES demo at the Excel conf.
    I have a couple of projects in mind, but I foresee some serious battles to change peoples mindset. (and free up some budget ;-)).

  7. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    Simon,

    The mindset is indeed a challenge. I try to define MOSS as a central location for all the corporate’s documents including reports. MOSS Enterprise provides in addition different services including Excel services which makes it possible to create more dynamic reports.

    I believe that most corporates will find the standard version of MOSS to be attractive while the Enterprise version is less attractive due to the price.

    And yes, like all other tools MOSS solve some issues but at the same time also create new issues so if the persons at a corporate don’t know what kind of needs they have then it’s better to save the money and invest them to identify critical business needs.

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

  8. Harlan Grove Says:

    If we’re talking about central repositories of templates or read-only file, fine. Sharepoint is simply Microsoft’s flavor. Hard to see how it’s more robust than a shared read-only directory on a simple file server.

    If we’re talking about multiple user applications, meaning different users could (in theory) save changes to the same model at the same time with their respective changes stored in Sharepoint, then my concern is how Sharepoint would handle conflicting entries from different users. For example, if Bob chose to use values for range X supplied by Charlie, who in turn chose to use values for range Y supplied by Anne, who in turn chose to use values for range Z supplied by Bob, and there were formula dependencies involved, would that produce the equivalent of a circular reference?

  9. BIGGUS DICKUS Says:

    I have been hearing about Excel Services and looking at early versions since before it even had a name. I have still yet to see a scenario where it can benefit me and my apps.

    I am willing to make the rule that anyone who uses my Excel spreadsheets must have a copy of Excel on their client machine (a safe assumption that I would think would be to MS’s benefit). That kinda negates most of the value I could derive from E.S. It also gives me the power to include all (and I mean ALL) the functionality within Excel for my clients.

    I do use MOSS though for hosting files and in Access entire applications. I agree that it is mostly MS’s flavour of a Portal and a Browser-based central file management product (which I really like by the way). But Excel Services are yet to do anything for me – as much as I wish I could find a reason.

    Dick

  10. Bane Says:

    It does seem there’s almost nothing Excel Services can really do, which can’t be done in other ways. It has some major entry barriers, such as getting IT to turn on Excel Services in the first place (which may require a business case that’s currently extremely tough to think up due to ES’ lack of functionality), and learning a whole bunch of new stuff.

    The most obvious way I could see it being used – if it ever gets this capability in a new version – is as a read-write, robust version of a shared workbook where changes are seen in real time (something like Google Spreadsheet). But, as Harlan mentioned, there would be a host of issues to solve to get that working.

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