Excel 2007 benefits from the same interface overhaul as Word, with the introduction of its own Ribbon and gallery-based dialogs. The same kind of retraining will be needed, but you’ll soon pick up the benefits of, for instance, being able to format cells with Ribbon buttons, rather than having to delve deep into the ‘Format cells’ dialog.
One area of work that benefits a lot from the introduction of the Ribbon is formulas. The formula tab shows functions under sub-headings like Financial, Logical and Maths and Trig, but there’s also a useful ‘Recently used’ sub-heading, which I suspect will prove very useful.
Being a spreadsheet, you might expect Excel 2007’s statistics to be impressive and for those who like big numbers, the size of an individual worksheet has been increased from 65,536 rows by 256 columns to 1,048,576 by 16,384, some 1,500 per cent bigger. (I’d love to see that worksheet..ed). While there will be few who come close to challenging even the old limits, it’s good to see the 256 column restriction removed. There’s a compatibility checker, too, so you don’t inadvertently send a worksheet to somebody who can’t open it in an earlier version of Excel.
That’s not the only improvement under the hood of Excel 2007. With the rapid move to multi-core processors, one of the biggest changes is the maths engine, which now divides up calculations between different cores and should speed recalculation.
There are a lot of new things on the presentation side in Excel, too, probably more than in the new Word. Of these, the most handy is conditional formatting. Have you ever wanted Excel to use red text in a cell to indicate a negative balance and black for positive. You can now set up a conditional format to do this much more easily, without having to use lookups or write scripts.
More than this, you can add coloured bars as the backgrounds to cells, which automatically show more for higher numbers, or use colour schemes of green, yellow and red to indicate the hottest figures. You can even mark specific cells with icons at their left end, showing ticks and crosses, arrows or miniature bar charts, among other symbols. All this can be done with Live Previewing, to see what they’ll look like and you can combine colour schemes and icons in the same cells. Using this kind of formatting, worksheets can be made much easier to read at a glance, without having to use a chart.
This isn’t to say charts aren’t effective. The charting engine has been rewritten and there are now lots of modern effects, like smooth 3D, complex drop-shadows and transparency. There are no new chart types though, so bullet and box charts for example, are still not on the menu. As with pictures in Word, the Charting tab only shows up in Excel 2007’s Ribbon when you create or edit a new chart.
Overall, Excel 2007 is more powerful, easier to use and better to look at than before – probably the three most useful areas of improvement there could be in a spreadsheet.