I guess its one of lifes little mysteries how Microsoft can put a childish toytown interface on Excel, yet at the same time re-engineer its deepest scariest innards to work in High Performance Computing Clusters. (Noddy and Big Ears go to a 20 node teraflop cluster?)
Anyway its a very interesting proposition, and note this is different to Excel services. This is the full client operating as part of a cluster. This will allow (certain) VBA to be parallelised. This is a big deal. I understand there are a few restrictions on the features this new approach will support but it still sounds massive. (for restrictions think along the lines of current restrictions for UDFs.)
There are now a somewhat confusing array of Excel/Server products, not all of which are endowed with Magnificent Microsoft Margeting Monikers yet.
There is Excel services that lets you stick a workbook on Sharepoint and let people access and modify their version of it via a browser. This does not support VBA, it is well connected with .net instead. In 2010 ES gets some big updates, one of the most useful being the ability to load a workbook with unsupported features and let ES do what it can. In O2007 ES would only work with .xlsx for example, in O2010 you can use an .xlsm with VBA, it will load and the grid part will work. The VBA and other unsupported features won’t work but they don’t force you to use 2 versions, full fat and ES approved anymore.
There are the web apps, I don’t know anything about them. But I assume they are a limited browser based clunky pale reflection of the real office client.
There are thread safe xlls that can be offloaded to a cluster, this is an extension of the multi threaded calc in E2007.
And there is this new richer cluster feature which isn’t quite putting the full client on a server but it allows you to offload certain calculation and VBA activities to a cluster. I’m not sure the full feature set is settled yet but it sounds just the job for massive simulations where you pump in some numbers, calc some stuff, hold some intermediate results then load some new numbers etc etc.
There is some other good stuff in 2010 that I’ll be talking about as time goes on, in particular the development story.
I’d have more to say but I hosed my TP build to make way for the Beta, only to have major external drive hassles trying to install it. So currently I don’t have a working 2010 (or 2007 actually). Ooops!