Archive for March, 2011

Excel 2010 TP review

Thursday, 31st March, 2011

[I wrote this some time ago (pre release), but I thought I would stick out there as its still relevant, and I havent done much more on 2010 since]

I’ve been playing around with twenty ten, and reading around some of the features. Bear in mind though this is pre release, so it may be missing some polish etc.

Here are those features I consider most important.

  1. You can still insert and write XLM. (So what? – XLM UDFs can be way faster than VBA ones, XLM used to cover a few thins you could not do in VBA (they are addressing these VBA gaps). But also XLM is the best guidance we have for VBA’s lifetime – and its looking like 2023 minimum) (2010 + 2010 – 1997))
  2. VBA still primary development environment, no obvious changes from 1997 IDE.
  3. VBA got ported to 64 bit – so its going to be around for some time.
  4. There is a new xll SDK – suggesting this will still be the add-in technology of choice.
  5. UI Customisation is back, programmability will probably reappear in V next +1, then we will just need to able able to adjust the ribbon size and orientate it at the side, and maybe drag and drop, and we will be back at 1995 (or earlier?), minus a few bazillion dollars of course.
  6. Base UI appears consistent with 2007 which is a relief
  7. Massive re-write of key stats functions
  8. High performance cluster stuff sounds like they are serious about Excel as a calc engine for serious application, especially with the new massive file size potential of 64 bit.

So in summary 2010 is reassuring to me, the 2007 noddy UI worried me that MS think Excel is for numpties and kids. 2010 suggests they see very serious applications.

Killer features to persuade you to migrate? Dunno, I’m not sure the real value proposition is in the client alone anymore. But I will move I think.

Are you live on 2010? what do you think? (some people are calling it O2007 SP3)



Too much cheese

Wednesday, 30th March, 2011

Its deja vu-tastic round here at the moment, best cut back on the late night gorgonzola!

When C# was released it aimed right between VB and C++. VB was seen as lacking in a few areas, and C++was seen as too hard/dangerous/inefficient. C# slotted nicely in the middle.

Many VB devs made the move to C# and enjoyed the extra power and easy access the the .net framework.

Most C++ devs stayed away though, claiming it wasnt powerful enough. And lo over time all those things that made C++ hard have been added into C# so it now as complex as C++ ever was.

Imagine where we would be if, instead of creating a brand new language they had invested all the time money and effort into STL and Boost, C++ would be IT. whatever the question.

But at least they addressed the power issue in C#, and in 4.0 they have improved the Office interoperability.

And so to user interface.

‘No one modifies their Office interface so we have taken away the facility to do it’, oh hang on – that was Office 2007, in 2010 its back in – but very clumsy (could change).

Now, to me this adding back in is a big thing, because it shows a couple of vital things:

  1. Their user experience ‘data’ was misleading, and this is an acknowledgement of that (they wouldn’t add (back) a feature that ‘only 2% use’ would they?
  2. Microsoft can and do listen to their the community, and will make things right, even if ‘evidence’ does not back it up.

I think point 2 there is brilliant news. I just hope they can fully discredit the CIP ‘data’ and undo all the mistakes over reliance on it has led them to make.

But mainly I am pleased and re-assured they are listening – 2010 is shaping up to be an Excellers Excel.



Any of you iphone botherers late for work today??

Monday, 28th March, 2011

How many clock changes will they need to get this right?

tee hee

If you had a motorola droid you could enjoy random wake ups everyday. (that’s been my experience anyway)

And fwiw blackberry alarms fail when you change time zones (again in my experience)

btw my Macbook pro had no problems…



Comedy Monday

Sunday, 27th March, 2011

I found a link to this comedy .net developer critique this weekend. Oh how I laughed.

For several reasons…

The main one being its some deadend expenses reporting startup moaning about struggling to find staff. I thought Excel was a bit pass̩, but expenses reporting Рpurlease!

Secondly, I kind of agree with some of his sentiment, just not the way he has categorised it. Yep people who get overly reliant on advanced tools do lose some edge on the underlying stuff, we agree on that. Is it just .net devs? no. Is it an all bad thing to lose some of that edge? no its 2011 ffs, we need to move on from machine code, its a little thing called *p-r-o-g-r-e-s-s*.

When I leant to drive wagons we had to double de-clutch because the gearboxes had no sychro, do I double de-clutch my scooby or my trumpet? no, do I think all those poor schmucks who never learnt to double de-clutch are inferior? nope. Is a bit of knowledge of the internals useful? not really, for many day to day drivers, but probably yes for those wanting to progress to competitive or professional driving.

I also agree with his premise that start ups don’t use .net. I am thinking more of small software dev companies selling a product. I know MS lost a ton of this market when they binned VB6, and gifted Delphi a lot of disgruntled one man bands. But .net is an enterprise tool, not a small software vendor tool, Microsoft no longer target that market. Web service/cloud stuff I’m not so sure about, no reason not to use .net, but I know from Business of Software events, that at least a couple of years ago, .net was a minor player in shrinkwrap. Losing the ability to create compilers cost Microsoft a lot of this market, whether they are bovvered I don’t know, but I assume not-really.

The real problem is how high and how wide is the wall between the Microsoft ecosystem and the rest of the world. There are so few people with solid experience of .net and php/java/etc its hard to have a reasoned debate of the relative strengths.

And the other real problem, and the killer for me, is he is moaning about technical skills and experience, where in my view a bit of business experience is more of a critical factor in a successful developer. If you have no empathy with your target audience, how can you target them? not intuitively thats for sure, maybe via a few multi thousand page specification docs. (yay! waterfall how I love thee…)

I read a few of the comments (can’t sleep with the clock change!) what made me PMSL was the number of commentards saying ‘if thats your attitude shove your job’. What about ‘if thats your business plan – *expense reporting* – shove your job, yawn’? If it was curing cancer, or creating world peace, or a new way to discover or consume useful info then maybe they would have a shot at some of the sharpest minds…

Or am I being too cruel, and you think expense reporting is that sexy?

(I started grown up life as a management accountant, which is pure expense reporting (and maniplulation – otherwise anyone could do it and it wouldn’t be a profession (which programming isn’t of course)).

What do you think of the article?

(key point, he is saying .net devs aren’t right for his start-up, its not a complete hatchet job, although many commentards have ignored that fact.)



Who nicked my data?

Friday, 25th March, 2011

1467 records went in

1453 came out



I had great fun recently tracking this down.

The system creates an Access database on the fly, adds a bunch of tables and queries, populates it all then pulls the final answer of the stack of queries back into Excel. I could have done it in one SQL statement, but it would have been the size of a book.

Anyway when running it from Access everything was fine, when triggered from Excel someone nicked (a few of) my records!

Back to Access, everything fine, Excel wrong, Access still ok…

Eventually, after much digging, I remembered a previous painful ADO encounter. One of my queries was using the ‘*’ wild card which is fine in Access, but of course in ADO it is ‘%’!

One of my colleague then suggested a neater solution than the brute force approach I was about to commit:

SELECT blah blah from blah where (x Like “*fut*”) OR (x like “%fut%”)

This will work with either driver without the need for separate queries (the route I was considering).

Have you been burnt by this different wild card issue?



Can anyone guess?

Thursday, 24th March, 2011

Whilst perusing my favourite job site I came across this which made me smirk:

“The project will involved the development of 3 Android Applications for a huge sporting event that is coming to England in 2012”

Now what on earth could that event be?

I didnt notice a matching iPhone ad, so perhaps we have reached a tipping point? (Or more likely they already have iPhone devs on board I guess)

On a separate but loosely related (keyword: job) issue, I noticed on the Microsoft job site they are looking for a user experience engineer for Excel v next. I thought I might apply as my UX views seem so consistent with their current direction ;-). What do you think? (I guess the job could be to clear up after the ribbon circus) ( can’t be hard… cut and paste the commandbars code from the 2003 branch into the vnext branch, job done.

Will you be going to watch any of the international tiddlywinks events next year in lndn?



Well done Microsoft

Wednesday, 23rd March, 2011

I just wanted to congratulate MS (& partners) on their efforts to bring down the Rustock spam machine.

I must check my on line spam bin to see if it has reduced by 30% in the last few days. Either way, botnet take downs can’t be a bad thing.

Have you noticed a drop in spam recently?





Excel Developers conference 2011

Tuesday, 22nd March, 2011

Who would like to attend or speak at another Excel Developers conference this spring/summer?

I am thinking of arranging an event around the end of May, and I am trying to gauge interest. Probably in London, probably similar price to last time (100-200 gbp), probably 1 day, definitely some time for socialising, probably on a Friday.

Similar kind of schedule, between 5 and 8 speakers 0.5 – 1 hour each, covering whatever you ask for, but probably Excel & .net, Excel & relational data, Excel & OLAP data, Excel & Web (soz can’t bear to call it the ‘cloud’), power VBA techniques, UDFs, Ribbon, commands etc etc.

Also would you be interested in hearing some (relevant) vendor presentations (We would make sure they informative not sales dross)?

Our friends at Microsoft have generously donated a pile of Office 2010 goodies to give away as prizes:

So if you would be interested in attending or speaking, please either comment below or fire me an email (see contact info page for… contact info!)

Please feel free to leave a comment on the kind of thing you would like to hear about, and what kind of level. I think there may well be a beginner/intermediate level event at some point in the year, so I would like to target this one a little higher.

Date wise do you think the end of May is a good time or would you rather it matched up with Eusprig in July again? (I would like to get to 2 sessions per year, hence the rush for May)



Excel Careers

Monday, 21st March, 2011

I saw some stuff about careers in Excel over at JWalks blog a while ago. (so long ago I can’t now find it!)

My honest advice? avoid it like the plague!


Well firstly let me say I think Excel VBA is a brilliant enabling technology and has massive value in supporting business/technical users (well non IT professionals) to express and then process their ideas. I think it is still as good, in absolute terms and relative to alternative technologies as when I moved over from Lotus 123 in the 90’s. And I know plenty of other people with similar views.

But… and it is a big (and bold) but, the love for Excel VBA from Microsoft has gone, interference by IT departments has increased, fear of spreadsheets has increased. Corporate governance advising against spreadsheets has increased. The tech hasn’t changed but attitudes have.

For me, for 2011 the golden triangle is Excel, VBA and business knowledge. But its in decline, significant decline.

The trouble is, there isn’t a drop in replacement, C# isn’t going to take over from VBA, VBA is a business user/developer language, C# is a software developer language. Most biz users won’t get access to Visual Studio any time soon, so unless a future version of Excel has an embedded C# dev environment (VSTA?) C# isn’t coming to the biz. If Office 15 has a VS-like IDE then or C#, (or Python/Ruby) might replace mainstream VBA around 2015-2017.

I’m not clear what the new world will be as I don’t see IT departments staffing up to replace all these mission critical spreadsheets they don’t like. I think there will be some seepage to other techs, hopefully better structured than your average spreadsheet jungle. But I just don’t see IT departments being able to keep up with the rate users create spreadsheets. Never mind get ahead.

There was some interesting discussion on the predictions post about how some of the newer techs from MS are more specialist, and that’s true. And it reinforces something people have said about Excel for a long time – its the second best tool for everything. Are we moving away from the general purpose, contort to fit approach, to a bunch of super short-term specialist, in and out roles?

I haven’t seen any roles for Excel Services specialists, or Power Pivot pros yet. And I think eventually in many orgs some random IT person will end up picking up a basic level in a few of them. This lack of specialisation will just create a bunch of suboptimal solutions in none Excel techs, and not really improve anything imo. I guess it might improve vendor lock-in. But it will be a maintenance hell, because no one definable skill set will be applicable. I don’t expect to see big consulting or contracting opportunities in these techs, ever, unless take up suddenly rockets, which I don’t expect either.

So what after 2011?

I reckon there will be two routes

  1. Business, with Excel/Business/VBA/Business specific tech (JDE/Essbase/SAP/OLAP etc, etc). These roles will decline for a while
  2. IT, with a bit of Excel/VBA and the usual .net/SQL/project management etc, business skills not so important in these roles which will increase for a while I think
  3. I think these might converge again in 5 yrs or so, probably around a different tech mix, dunno what, Google Apps?

I think much better career bets right now would be in Oracle, Web development, mobile, or any other server tech, Sharepoint might be a good option. The Excel bridge from biz to IT I think is disappearing, which is a shame, as both sides will lose out unless an alternative can be found to share knowledge.

If you exclude the City from your Jobserve results, there isnt much to go at. Yes it looks like the investment banks/trading companies are keeping the faith with Excel/Access/VBA. But many of them are also looking for C# and SQL skills with a view to migrating away.

I don’t know what the Office development world will look like in 2+ years, but I do expect it to be more barren (and more niche) than now. what do you think? what would you advise a 20 something wanting to get out of a business role?



Finally the EU do something right

Friday, 18th March, 2011

Delighted to see Cumberland sausage got the nod recently.

As it happens we had had fake Cumberland sausage for tea last night.

It seems to have taken just less than 3 years, which is probably a speed record for the EU to do something. I wonder how much the process cost?

Once the Americans have taken all the words out of the language (‘gaga’, ‘app’ ‘face’ etc etc) and the EU has taken all the geography out, how will we communicate?

Rainy county style sausage?

on-line store that sells software applications and programs (TM)?

front of yer heed? fizzog?

I’m all for not misleading people and differentiation etc but this land grab is going too far. I remember one of the mountain bike companies trying this a few years back, the whole of the rest of the industry including all the press gave them such a slap they never tried it again. It took them years to recover their credibility.

Don’t get me started on software patents…

What is your most annoying (bleedin obvious perhaps) patent or tm or word grab?