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Office 2010: Should you upgrade?

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11th Jun 2010
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Simon Hurst assesses the case for adopting the new version of Microsoft Office.

Whenever the release of a new version of Microsoft Office is imminent, the question I keep getting asked is: “Should I upgrade?” As befits an IT consultant, in recent years my answer has almost always been: “That depends.”

Not been since the release of Office 97 - however many years ago that was – have the changes to a version of Office have been so significant to warrant an unconditional “Yes, upgrade now!”

From Office 97 to Office 2003, the accumulation of some minor but useful new features over two or three versions were the main reason to upgrade, but more practical was the need maintain compatibility with other users or other software.

Office 2007 changed the game. There were some very worthwhile improvements to functionality, particularly the improvements to Excel’s conditional formatting, tables and formatting styles, as well as some very useful new functions such as SUMIFS() and of course the dramatically increased worksheet size.

Looking at Office 2007 more generally, for anyone who needs to use graphics, then the new SmartArt options make the diagrams in earlier versions look very limited and insipid. But Office 2007 wasn’t just about good new functionality. In fact, it wasn’t at all about functionality. Office 2007 was all about the ribbon and the complete change in the user interface that the ribbon implied.

So, for Office 2007, there were certainly features that would make upgrading worthwhile for many users, but that you needed to consider the implications of a complete change in the user interface. It wasn’t just an upgrade that you could inflict on users without them really noticing. There was pain to balance the gain.

The ribbon interface is still there in Office 2010 and has spread to Outlook and the rest of the portfolio. But my my answer to the upgrade question is as close to an unequivocal “Yes” as I’m likely to get. This positive view is mainly down to Excel, the Office application I use most.

 I’ve looked at issues of presenting financial data graphically before in Excel Zone and mentioned the work of Edward Tufte who suggested that shrinking charts to their simplest possible presentation could help display information in a way that make it much easier for the user to understand important correlations and comparisons between the different items of data.

In Excel terms, this is represented by the ‘in-cell chart’ which is just about possible to achieve in Excel with a lot of manual effort, or a lot more easily if you use one of the several third-party add-ins that generate such charts. Excel 2010 has a built in ‘in-cell chart’ function called Sparklines. This provides a quick and easy way to create a block of simple line, column or win/loss charts and to format them to make them as effective as possible.

If you use Pivot Tables then there’s another important addition in Excel 2010 – Slicers – an oddly named feature but one that certainly brings home the bacon. Rather unpromising at first glance, Slicers just seem to repeat the functionality of the filter field in a PivotTable but closer inspection reveals some really useful aspects of Slicers. You can attach more than one Slicer to a PivotTable and the Slicers will interact: the items available in one Slicer will adapt when a filter is set in another Slicer. As well as several Slicers to one PivotTable, you can also have one Slicer or set of Slicers linked to multiple PivotTables making it possible to use PivotTables to create an interactive dashboard type of presentation without any VBA programming involved.

On the subject of PivotTables and dashboards, Excel 2010 also includes an add-in called PowerPivot the end result of ‘Project Gemini’. This tool allows you to work with tens of millions of transaction records (depending on computer memory: since this amount of data exceeds the number of rows than even Excel 2010 can cope with, the data has to be stored in memory). Not only can you work with very large data sets, but you can also create an almost instant dashboard. PowerPivot includes options to create arrangements of several combinations of charts and tables with a single click.

Taken together, these changes significantly increase what you can do with Excel when it comes to presenting financial information. There is another, general, change to Office 2010 which helps make the case for the upgrade. Although, to many people’s dismay, the ribbon remains, it has been greatly improved. The ability to customise the ribbon means that no longer does it just serve to help people find things they may not even know they need, but it opens up the possibility of creating ribbons tailored to specific tasks that could greatly increase productivity. Hopefully it won’t be long before it takes another important step forward and allows customised ribbons to be attached to particular templates – or has this been done already?

There are other Office 2010 enhancements to the individual application and generally, particularly in facilitating collaboration (no doubt to address the competition from cloud-based office suites). How can you resist?

Further reading

About the author
Simon Hurst is a former chairman of the ICAEW IT Faculty and runs The Knowledge Base, a consultancy dedicated to helping accountants make effective use of technology. He is a regular contributor to AccountingWEB's ExcelZone and the author of '100 Time-saving Tips for Microsoft Office'. For more information, visit The Knowledge Base website.

Replies (14)

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By abelljms
11th Jun 2010 14:31

The answer is NO

Wait until BillG caves in and makes available the office 2003 and earlier interface.

Every time I am forced at clients to use excel 07 I am tearing my hair out with the impossibility of accessing features.

The stupid ribbon twaddle, accessing zoom, filters, file saveas, page setup etc. all stupid to find unlike the old interface. It took me aaages to twig you click on Bills logo to get access to various bits etc…..

It’s a classic example of ‘it ain’t broke let’s 5hag it biiig tyme’ just to make it even harder to achieve sales targets.

If Bill needs something to do why not UNIFY the interfaces for all Office products so they are identical to use?

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By compliant
11th Jun 2010 14:52

Upgrade to Office 2010?

I agree and would further punctuate by saying HELL NO! DONT WASTE YOUR MONEY!

From what I can tell there is no real benefit for the average practice.

If you are on 2007 you should be fine for years to come

Get yourself that new set of golf clubs, theyll probably add more value to your practice.

Office works fine just as it is. I have only just started to use the "Ribbons" with some degree of efficiency and still get stuck from time to time trying to find where the've put some of my more familiar formatting options.

If Microsoft would stop the money presses for a minute and listen to their users they would realise that much of what they are adding doesnt matter and adds little to most users experiences with the product.

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Simon Hurst
By Simon Hurst
11th Jun 2010 15:24

Saving precious time

Glad that neither of you wasted your time by reading the article before commenting on it

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By compliant
11th Jun 2010 18:19

We just don't share your enthusiasm

Hi Simon

I have in fact read your article

I read it again following your comment to see if there was anything I missed

And nope I didnt!

I just cannot say that I share your enthusiasm for what I think is another of Microsoft's unnecessary updates.

I agree that for Excel gurus like yourself there are likely a few new toys to play with but the majority of excel users are at intermediate or low expert levels and for them 2007 and for that matter 2003 works just fine.

That said many thanks for the heads up on the new version.

 

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Simon Hurst
By Simon Hurst
11th Jun 2010 19:04

Thanks and apologies

Thanks for taking the trouble to read it not just once but twice and apologies for the incorrect accusation. I think there are lots of reasons to be dubious about the benefits of any software upgrade and,, as I said in the article, I haven't been wholly convinced by any recent version of Excel until 2010. I think it's the combination of the changes to the ribbon which I think in time will present opportunities to make Office much more productive, together with what I believe to be some genuinely useful new features in Excel that convinces me. There is certainly an argument that the BI type tools will just lure people into using Excel when they should be using a more secure, structured and dedicated program, but I think, for anyone presenting financial information to colleagues and clients using Excel, these new features do provide opportunites to provide a more effective end product.

I'm grateful that you took the trouble to reply (twice) and sorry again for the rather Victor Meldrew tone of my first response.

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By jameshpatmore
12th Jun 2010 08:05

Should you upgrade?

Having used Excel from the very first and even its predecessor (I forget its name) I well remember the way it ousted the then market leader Lotus 123. The practice I worked for needed to be convinced of the efficacy of spreadsheets. I personally paid for Excel (Word etc) and started to produce working papers including Excel spreadsheets. They may have continued not to use spreadsheets for some time afterwards but my prompting changed their minds. With each itteration of the software some of us bemoan the loss of some feature we like. Beancounters are among the most conservative of folks and do not embrace change readily. Ribbons I would suggest are here to stay. Look at the way new tehnology works for Apple. 

Our clients mostly use MS Office and some will upgrade earlier than others. I would have thought that most of us would rather be in a position to advise clients than to have to deal with spreadsheets received from them produced on software in advance of our own.

James

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By paulwakefield1
12th Jun 2010 08:47

I am actually quite excited about Excel 2010

I use Excel 2007, 2003 and, occasionally, Excel 1997 - all of which happily reside on my computer (not so easy with other Office products!). I even still have Lotus 123. It's amazing how many legacy programs my clients have lurking which still work perfectly well and that they can work quite happily on a Windows 7 64 bit OS.

It took me a long time to make the move to Excel from Lotus and I missed some of the Lotus features. Now when I return to Lotus, it is strange - rather old fashioned and limited yet with some nice features long forgotten.

I am experiencing rather the same with Excel. XL2003 has been my preference for a long time and, though I had XL2007, I rather ignored it. Yet increasingly I now find I use XL2007 from choice and find XL2003 nearly a backward step.

Yes - it is true. I prefer XL2007 and (whisper it quietly) I find it quicker and more efficient. I realise that many will think I have fallen for marketing hype and have been sucked into the MS machine but that's not how I see it. It came about through using it, getting to know the new interface and appreciating the additional features that Simon outlined.

So 2010 - I've had a play with the Beta but have not yet really put it through its paces. But the new features, particularly the PowerPivots, if they live up to the hype, look very interesting.

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By nogammonsinanundoubledgame
14th Jun 2010 08:09

Backward compatibility ...

... will for me forever be the biggest disincentive to upgrade.

If I were confident that all of the spreadsheets that I will ever use will only ever be used by me, on my machine, then I would upgrade in a flash.

But the opposite is closer to the mark, with the vast majority of my spreadsheets being used by others, on machines and versions over which I have no control.  My target at present is to write spreadsheets that will work on Excel 1997, because the bulk of spreadsheets that run under 2003 will also run under 1997, and those which don't only require minor tweaking, and I have not yet come across one that works under 1997 that doesn't also work on any version up to 2003 with no tweaking whatever.

I confess that I got a bit miffed with Excel 2007, when I found that spreadsheets that I had written for versions 2003 and earlier simply fell down under 2007 (usually because of issues with conditional formatting), so I had to go to the unusual and unpleasant task of rewriting a whole load of spreadsheets that worked perfectly well under 2003 and earlier versions, just so that they would also work OK on 2007.  I have no experience from version 2010 about which to comment, but I would expect to have the same problems with 2010 as I do with 2007.

With kind regards

Clint Westwood

 

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By nogammonsinanundoubledgame
15th Jun 2010 08:42

Here are a couple of frightening articles about version 2007

But at least version 2010 seems to have fixed them.  Nightmare if you want to write spreadsheets that work under all versions, mind.

http://spreadsheet-toolbox.com/library/excel-functions/sumproduct-and-its-error-message/

and, slightly contradictory

http://spreadsheet-toolbox.com/library/peculiarities/sumproduct-bug-in-excel-2007/

So ... best to use the double unary, comma-separated arguments to SumProduct, er, unless using version 2007, when best to use the multiplier.  Hmm.

With kind regards

Clint Westwood

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David Ross
By davidross
17th Jun 2010 14:02

I am a Mac User and still on Excel 2004

 Excel 2008 puts a toolbar at the top of EVERY window. This uses up valuable screen space and also means that the buttons disappear off the end of small windows. So I keep 2004 so that I can have one consistent toolbar along the top of my 24" iMac screen

So I agree - I will upgrade only when I can control these interface features (which I think are only introduced to look clever and justify selling us the same old product year again)

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By nicklally
17th Jun 2010 17:31

Go Open Source

Maybe it's time to try open source?

I use Open Office instead of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and it is great. It's more compatible with Microsoft than previous versions of Microsoft's own products, and it's free.

While you're at it you should consider switching to Ubuntu instead of Windows. Whilst most accounting packages don't run natively on linux, with the more to cloud computing and online software as a service, there'll be no need to ever pay for your operating system again! 

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By DMGbus
17th Jun 2010 19:46

Open Office / open source problems

Earlier this year I did install open office or another open source "free" alternative to MS Excel and MS word and the first two documents presented problems...

Spreadsheet : MS is capable of "shrink to fit" formatting, the alternative was NOT.   There endeth the use of the alternative.   The software supplier told me that the (to me) essential "shrink to fit" formatting option is on a "wish list".   As for compatability, spreadsheets written in Excel did not carry over the cell formatting.

Letter writer: MS Word automatically does NOT break words with hyphens at line ends / breaks - the alternative software suddenly confronted me with rubbishy-looking letters with lots of words split by hyphens at line ends.  Again, here endedth the use of a freebie alternative.  A default of such trash tells me all I need to know about prospective software.  Apparantly there's some setting I can change to get things "back on track"  to proper neat-looking letters, but I don't see why I should go to the trouble of dealing with illogical / rubbishy default settings in software.

Rough edges such as these two examples mean that I have little confidence for the free alternatives.

 

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David Ross
By davidross
18th Jun 2010 07:36

I do have Open Office and Pages on my Mac

 I use both to open and convert back to .xls, documents that come in .xlsx format, and I use OpenOffice to get rid of phantom links that arise in Excel - but as DMGbus comments, one needs to restore a good deal of formatting when arriving back in Excel 2004 (number formats and alignment are retained, but not fonts)

I just don't see Pages as a serious tool. The irony is that, whilst I am a loyal Macintosh user for 26 years, I have been a loyal Microsoft Excel user for the same time !

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By abelljms
20th Aug 2010 10:54

just for the record....

 

 

I also "read.. the article before commenting on it"

it is generally deeply depressing how little heed software writers pay to users and usability when 'enhancing ' their software.

Regarding the cursed Ribbon, i would have offered it as part of the fantabulous upgrade offer, BUT given users the free choice to carry on with old interface as long as they liked. IF the new Ribbon is soooo great i would eventually migrate when it suited me.

Think of the situation where you have 10 users in a small company - you need to PAY for all 10 to go on a 1 day Excel course. Most of this syllabus would be "dear tutor, wtf is the command to do xyz which is now soooo well hidden?". And then write down all the answers and stick it online for the rest of us.

So the REAL cost of the upgrade is re-training? Should software upgrades generate this kind of overhead? don't think so. rock on xcel2003

 

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