NEWER IS BETTER? NOT NECESSARILLY WITH SPREADSHEETS

 

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY

Spreadsheets are in common use everywhere. They are used by everyone dealing with calculations, tables, etc. Basically any professional today has an application for spreadsheets, be it for the work per se or for controlling performance, statistics, expenses, earnings and so on.

As an engineer calculating structures, I have been using spreadsheets in my work for a long time. First the standard spreadsheet program used everywhere was the Lotus 123, on PC's with DOS operating system, no mouse, no color high-definition displays and those big 5 ¼ flexible floppies. After the Lotus 123, the Quattro Pro was my everyday calculating tool. More or less at the middle of the 90's, Microsoft Excel started to dominate the market and the other spreadsheet programs lost ground. With the dominance of the Windows operating system, Microsoft has had the perfect opportunity to make its Office pack (with spreadsheet, text editor, presentation, databank) be the standard everywhere.

It was then, at the middle of the 90's, that I started using Microsoft Excel and Word. Remembering details of one project I was involved those days, I wonder if there was an evolution of this software pack, balanced with the use of computer resources. I believe that it did not happen. Just to have an idea, I have done all pre and post processing for a structural calculation on a mainframe, using Office 95 on a notebook with 500 MB of HD. Hard to believe, no? In this little HD I had the Windows 95, the Office 95, many other programs and data, including reports.

The Windows operating system has had many new editions and also Excel (and the Office Pack). If you ask me what where the improvements of Excel (and Word) that impacted my work, making things better, faster, easier or even new additions, compared with that one I used in 1995, sorry but I will not answer. I have been asking it to myself and I could not remember ONE, not even ONE, improvement or addition that was outstanding to the point I would remember it. But to compensate this, every new release added more useless things. Who needs the advice of a paper clip? Typing the keywords of what you want on a help window is not good enough? Do you need hundreds of fonts?  All this and other “additions” are, in my opinion, not just useless, they use computer resources. Nevertheless, it was possible to disable most of these things and still know where to find the buttons and functions frequently used, up to version 2003. Then they released the Office 2007.

 

THE NEW VERSION

The Office 2007 will be a milestone on Microsoft history (or maybe a tombstone). I have been listening comments of friends that had the misfortune of being forced to use this version (because the companies or educational institutions adopted it) and the opinion is unanimously. All buttons, functions, common commands, changed position, although no one could tell me of any improvement. If it was really good, everyone would be willing to have it and not to avoid it. The previous version is still the preferred one. Even after five years.

Then my time of using Microsoft office 2007 came. The initial impression was that, as long as I could discover where the things are, it would be just a matter of it for a few days ‘to get up to speed’ as per previous versions. The help, if you are on line, allows you to find out the commands on this version. A window with the previous version is presented and you click what you want. A small window tells you where that command is in the new version. Fancy? Of course not. If Microsoft had made it user friendly, the transition would be intuitive (and not requiring you to be on line).

 

THE PERSONAL CONTACT

As I started to work with it I began to discover how “smart” it is. Removing grid lines that was just a matter of going to “Tools”, “Options” and removing the grid lines, in this version is an “Advanced Excel Option” that, without the on line help, would take ages to discover where it is hidden. To crop a picture that was just clicking the button I added to the tool bar (in previous versions), now makes me click the “Picture” tab and then the crop button. Maybe to compensate this annoyance, it is offered to you a few frames for the picture – which no one needs. Other command that takes more clicks (and time) is the “Goal Seek”. From “Data”, “Goal Seek”, now it is “Data”, What if Analysis”, “Goal Seek”. Well, I will stop here, as I am not writing a book, just an article. Let's go to what really does not work.

When you are copying and pasting pictures, after a few “paste's”, the figures are pasted every time more to the right and down, so that you have to find out if it was pasted and where. After finding it you have to drag it to the position it should have been pasted (dragging with the fancy, completely useless, resource-eating feature of having a “ghost” on the original picture position). Ok, then you will save the file. It is not a simple save, you have to choose if you want to save as .xlsx, .xlsm or something else, like previous versions. I want just to save my spreadsheet at the click of the save button.

Another problem, the last I have had, was again with the position of pictures. Usually I have calculations and pictures with sketches alongside. Every time I opened a file, the pictures have drifted to other locations, sometimes over my calculations. Talking about pictures, if you change the zoom setting – go to 150% to read a detail on a picture, for example – and return to the original zoom setting, the pictures are messed up.

 

THE TEMPORARY SOLUTION

The problems with pictures were the last I encountered. I just returned to the previous version. It is reliable, has everything I need, I can customize the tool bar for my needs, it obeys my (paste) commands and it does not do things by itself. Engineering calculations have enough complexity and responsibilities by themselves, I do not need an extra worry with spreadsheets that may behave erratically. After so many years as a user of spreadsheets, if I do not feel comfortable using Microsoft Office 2007, something is wrong. Of course, the problem can be me. For how long it will be possible to continue using the older version I don’t know. Maybe, when I could not avoid migrating to a newer version, Microsoft would have made changes to make it as user friendly as the 2003 version.

For my personal use I am using the OpenOffice pack. The spreadsheet program of the OpenOffice is similar to my favourite version of Excel, the 2003. It is an open-source office software and, very important, free of charge.

 

MORE INFORMATION

There has been a bug on Excel 2007 calculations a few years ago. I have checked and it is already fixed. The question in the air: are there more bugs like this one? Read about this on

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9039058/Excel_2007_flunks_some_math_problems

 

If you have to decide if you should migrate to the 2007 version, there is a very good article comparing the two versions at: 

http://www.add-ins.com/Excel%202003%20versus%202007.htm

 

Going straight to the comparison table, I would stay with the 2003 version for as long as possible. It is better than the 2007 for the use I have for a spreadsheet. I do not really need the new features. One improvement, I found: more lines and columns. The number of lines was good enough but not the number of columns. With large spreadsheets, using the 2003 version, I usually have to break it in parts.

 

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