By Jay Garmon
Microsoft Excel 2010 was subject to perhaps the least radical makeover of any app in Office 2010, but that's not to say that the world's most popular spreadsheet application didn't see some significant tweaks. We break down what's new in Excel 2010.
Before I get into what's been added to Microsoft Excel 2010, let's address what's fixed. The macro recording errors that plagued Excel 2007 have been repaired, to the relief of spreadsheet jockeys everywhere. (In the old version, including shapes or charts in your macro recording would leave the final file with huge function gaps or worse, leave a blank recording altogether.) You can now compose graphics-inclusive macros without fear of random bugs creeping into your supposed timesavers.
As with every other Microsoft Office 2010 application, Excel 2010 sports a revised version of the ribbon interface that debuted in Office 2007. The glowing orb Office Button from Excel 2007 has been replaced by a more traditional File menu in Excel 2010. The ribbon itself is cleaner, leaner and offers more enhanced customization options. You can even pin common functions to a quick menu that sits above the ribbon. Also, unlike Microsoft Word, the Excel ribbon is in a "constant on" state, so there are always some controls visible - just like in previous Excel versions. While there is no one-click process to make Microsoft Excel 2010 look like Excel 2003, the transition from the classic Excel menu system to the modern ribbon interface is much less traumatic in Excel 2010.
The return of the File menu to the ribbon doesn't mean a return of the File menu that you're used to. Clicking File in Excel 2010 will bring up the Backstage view, which completely hides your active worksheet in favor of a full screen set of controls. All the options you associated with the old File menu - saving options, printing and document templates - are present, but with a lot of additional bells and whistles. For example, you can now save your Excel worksheets to Skydrive, Microsoft's free online storage service. (Skydrive does require a Microsoft Live ID, which means Hotmail and MSN Messenger users are already eligible.) This is a great sharing option since you can keep a version of a spreadsheet on an accessible-for-anywhere Web drive.
Backstage also contains the Help menu, a permissions editor and the options menu that lets you customize the ribbon.
Microsoft Excel 2010 supports Shared Workbooks, which allows multiple users to open and edit the same Excel file simultaneously. If your office shares a common sales spreadsheet that many employees need to update, (particularly one on a shared network drive) collaborative editing means not getting locked out of a file because someone else has it open.
Collaborative editing isn't directly supported for documents stored on Skydrive. In those cases, you'll have to use the Excel Web App, which has a somewhat less robust functionality, but can handle basic data entry and calculations.
Microsoft Office macros have been a glaring security problem since dinosaurs roamed the Earth (or so it seems), and Protected View is designed to finally close this vulnerability. Any Excel document or Excel-readable document with suspicious origins is automatically opened in Protected View, which means it's sandboxed with macros and add-ins disabled. You can't edit the document until you disable Protected View, but this extra step will let you read a spreadsheet without giving it free reign on your desktop. Any spreadsheet that's downloaded from the Internet or received as an email attachment is automatically shunted to Protected View upon first opening; if you enable editing once, the document is considered safe from that point forward and opens normally. Now the sales rep with the virus-encrusted laptop can't easily infect your machine by emailing you this month's order spreadsheet.
Sparklines and Slicers
For those of you who create custom reports and pivot tables in Excel, Sparklines and Slicers are two new Excel 2010 toys designed explicitly for you. Sparklines are miniature graphs that fit inside single worksheet cells. Got a long line of weekly data returns that you want summed up briefly? Add a sparkline to the end of the row and demonstrate the ebb and flow quickly and easily. These tiny graphs are a handy way to save screen and print-out real estate.
Pivot tables are the black magic killer feature of Excel, but those precious few data magicians that can code useful pivot tables are often frustrated by the people they're coding them for. Slicers let you build conditional displays into your pivot tables. For example, you may roll up your monthly revenue into a single total and display using a single chart. Slicers could let you break out - or slice - your revenue by source, and display the options on an interactive list of buttons within a report. Click on the Online Sales slicer, for example, and the main chart will shift to display revenue solely from online sales. Click the In-store Sales slicer button, and the chart will shift to display data from In-Store Sales. It's a simple way to make your pivot table reports more interactive and useful, while saving you the trouble of coding multiple charts.
Compared to most other Office apps, Microsoft Excel 2010 has changed the least from its Office 2007 incarnation. The improved ribbon is nice, and the integration with Skydrive is rife with possibilities, but neither is a serious game-changer. Unless you are a devoted number cruncher with a real need for sparklines, slicers or collaborative editing, there's no compelling reason to upgrade from Excel 2007. If you're happy with your current version of Excel, there's no reason to stop using it in favor of Excel 2010.
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