Buying Add-ins

I’ve been thinking lately about Excel and Office related add-ins. I tend to shun add-ins for one reason: They won’t be available to me if I’m using another machine. If I get used to selecting a certain menu item to, for instance, select cells by format and that menu item isn’t available because I’m using my wife’s machine, I will be frustrated. I don’t like being frustrated. A normal person would be happy that the convenience was available to him 99% of the time, but normality was never one of my vices.

I’m a bit of hypocrite, though, because I do use some add-ins. Right now I have MZ-Tools and VBA Code Cleaner installed. I guess because those are development related add-ins and I only develop on two machines, I can justify it. That is, I’m not likely to be creating any substantial code on any computers except my own. In reality I don’t use Excel, development or not, on any machines except my own. Which means that my logic is flawed and I really have no justification.

For that reason, I’m going to install some add-ins and see if I like them. I’m going to start with Power Utility Pak. I’m already beta testing the Excel 2007 version, so I might as well check out the Excel 2003 version too. What else should I try? Which add-ins are indispensable to you? Which are just nice? Which do you avoid?

Oh, and one more question. I’ve bought enough Walkenbach books that I’m sure I have a coupon for a free PUP, but what if I didn’t? How much are willing to pay for an add-in? That’s a pretty broad question, I know, so here’s something more specific. How much would you pay for the add-ins you have installed now?

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67 thoughts on “Buying Add-ins

  1. I have installed:
    – Appspro XY Chart Labeler
    – A waterfall chart creator (PTS Charts)

    I used to always install Tushar Mehta’s SkipNAs, but I guess XL2003 broke it and it could not be repaired.

    I used to install asapUtilities, and there were 1 or 2 menu items I used in there infrequently. I’ve had my newest PC since September and I never installed it, and haven’t missed it.

    Of those I use, I use them seldom. But the XY Chart Labeler is valuable enugh that I’d pay $10-20 for it–or I’d try to duplicate its functionality with some homegrown coding.

    Usually I don’t miss the add-ins on machines I am borrowing–what I miss are my personal macros and custom toolbars. I have a load of them that I’ve written over the years to take care of standard formats I like to create and such, and I miss them a lot.

  2. For a VBA beginner like me, John’s PUP with code access, $60, would be a steal at twice the price. The only other add-in I have is my own and is just a bunch of custom keyboard shortcuts. Because it’s tailored to my habbits, it is worth a bunch. To another, it’s probably worth the paper it’s written on.

    Brett

  3. I’m not a developer, just a user (just ask my psychiatrist). I’ve tried several add-ins, and the two that I end up installing each time I get a new machine are: PUP, and Name Manager. I can’t claim to have tried them all, though, and I’m sure there are several other excellent ones out there.

    As for the price I’d be willing to pay, US$20-40 seems reasonable. I’d pay extra for the code, too, obviously.

  4. Even though I consider myself a non-VBA power user, without PUP and Name Manager, I echo Dick’s frustration using PC’s without them. Not seeing the PUP menu or knowing nothing will happen after a C+S+N keystroke means wasted time.

    I originally bought PUP for Excel97 with the source code [if only to change the placement of the OK and Cancel buttons – what was John thinking %^) ] and consider it a bargain. Although I can ‘formula’ myself out of most situations, the auditing tools are a must!! While developing an expense template to be used by ~1,400 employees at a previous job, it and the Name Manager saved my butt.

    As for pricing, I think the cost is very reasonable (even in Canuck bucks), but I am jaded since my last retail software purchase [Improv 2.0] was at the $99 level (remember the days of the $495 s/s?). Every job I have worked at — after academic version eligibility — has both the current Windows o/s and Office available for home use for either $19.95 & $29.95, respectively).

    Where are the OK and Cancel buttons in the PUP beta?

  5. I have Analysis Toolpak installed because not *all* of the functions can easily be replaced by formulas (yes, I do know the discussion in here).
    Further: Ron de Bruin’s Google Search and TranslateIT from KeepITcool, both very handy if you’re answering questions in the newsgroup, Morefunc from Laurent Longré, Jan Karel Pieterse’s Name Manager and sometimes Multi precision calculation (several brands) or Extended date functions (from JW).
    Plus of course my own set of functions that I developed over the years, mostly to avoid having to remember difficult array formulas.
    I did pay for an add-in a few times, but never for one that I could not try out free for some time first. And never more than twenty dollars, I think.

    Niek Otten

  6. KeithC: Unfortunately the only thing I know about the PUP beta is that it doesn’t work with Beta TR2. I also know that Beta TR2 doesn’t uninstall quickly, that while VPC is convenient I don’t want to start from scratch, that I never know where my Windows XP disks are when I need them, and that O007 RTM from MSDN takes a flippin’ long time to download. But I’m working on it.

  7. Interesting topic…

    I have only one macro in my personal.xls, hooked up to the keystroke CTRL+SHFT+A, which displays the add-in manager. I’m a huge consumer of add-ins, and use it to quickly load/unload them.

    I’m fortunate enough that I can write my own now, and I tend to do this a great deal. I’ve written one to make using templates easier, (we use a TON of templates at work,) and also a Favourites add-in, both of which are published at my site. Those are installed on any computer that I work on, as well as almost every PC in the company now.

    I’ve also written a couple of add-ins for other things at work, like a Flash Food Reporting system, and Cashout Tools which manages all the balancing of our cash transactions at work. It’s fairly safe to say that Add-ins are my tool of choice for distributing code. Generally, if I want a few features in Excel, I’ll build my own add-in to do it. I get to learn more, and I only have the features that I want/need/use.

    As for those which I haven’t written, you’ll find MZ Tools and Smart Indenter on my development PC’s. I also have Andrew’s (JMT) Utilites, ASAP Utilties, Name Manager and a few others that get turned on from time to time. Most of the time, though, I run with only my Favourites and Templates add-ins installed.

    I’ve only ever purchased one add-in in my career, and that was one called F9. It was an XLL that allowed you to connect to an Accpac (DOS) database and pull information via Excel formulas. It was expensive, but worth it at the time. Now all of our databases can be accessed by ADO or ODBC though, so it’s no longer necessary to buy other products for that. :)

  8. Back in the old days, when I was an Excel user, I used PUP, the Chart Labeler, ASAP, Solver. Now I’m a developer, so while I still have these installed, the Labeler is the only one of them I use a lot of. In some cases I’ve taken functions from the others and built my own that do it more the way I like it. I’ve also added Andy Pope’s Button Editor and JKP’s Name Manager. My add-ins list is pretty long, cluttered with current and old client projects and also some utilities I’m tryig to develop in my spare time.

    In the VB Editor I have the Code Cleaner, MZ Tools, Smart Indenter, and VBE Tools.

  9. Interesting topic Dick. I am also beta testing PUPv7, and finally downloaded a 60 day trial version of Excel to get the utility to install. I have used PUP for a long time, and consider it handy (and sometimes indispensible). So many people have talked about Name Manager that I just installed it too. Code Cleaner and a few others get minimal use, but I have tried a large number from various vendors and disciplines.

    Almost always, if I can buy an add-in with source code, I will do so. John is one of the few people to do that; almost everyone else either is an academic who gives away their code (rare, but out there) or simply locks the add-in. I understand locking things up, but sometimes I want a single feature that I can embed in an application, and knowing how it’s done helps me get my work done – I never copy work, but try to understand it then write my own utility. A lot of times add-in authors have a hard time realizing that selling the code would make the sale; locking it up makes me look for another solution.

    Given the price of software, nice utilities are always eyeballed if I can pick them up for $20-40; more than that and I really need to justify the value for me and/or my clients.

  10. Ron de Bruin’s Google Search is a must for starting out in the area and I still have it installed but use it very infrequently now. The other add-in I use is the professional version of Solver and its a must for the work I do and there is no way I could develop something as complex as that without spending more time that it was worth. The cost of the professional solver was more than comparable with the other options in the market and as I can program it to do what I want it was worth the cost of $1,500.

    I play around in developing stuff at work and have developed a bit of stuff for clients. When I am programming stuff for clinets I always make sure that I never use or refer to add-ins as the frustaraion is considerable when they don’t have them or can’t install them on their machines. It’s one lesson that I never want to repeat. So I generally stay away from add-ins as much as possible and just code what I want instead. I might not do it as well but I learn a hell of a lot more that way.

    So unless its something really special and/or something I can’t do thats vital to work I would not be forking out money.

  11. I forgot to say: Having many add-ins installed slows down loading my Excel considerably, probably mostly for virus checking. Anyone found a way around that?

    Niek Otten

  12. I have numerous that are in the Add-Ins folder but just five that I have found to be indispensible and ‘turned on’ most of the time; and is true for my home computer, my laptop, and my office machine.

    ASAP Utilities
    Analysis ToolPak
    Htmlmaker2.42
    VBE HTML Maker

    And one of my own:
    Assessment Tools

    This is out of the thirty I have in the list that are available; some purchased some open-source. I would say this adds about thirty seconds or less to my startup time, to have these five active always.

  13. Niek,

    You can use my Addin Loader to avoid opening all the addins every time Excel opens. Or just open the XLA whenever you want it.

    Addins I use all the time:
    – FastExcel (name manager + workbook cleaner + calculation tools + function library)
    – Indenter
    – code cleaner
    – MZ Tools

    Addins I use as required:
    – Rob Boveys Utilities
    – EZForecaster & DLL
    – Bill Manvilles Findlinks
    – BtnFaces or faceId
    – Addin Loader
    – FlexFind

    Plus I will usually have 2 or 3 application extension addins that are current/recent customer projects.

    Paying for addins: £20-£30 for useful utilities, £30-£100 for special-purpose addins.

  14. I actually have a huge issue with those who sell simple Excel add-ins. My beef is with those who would sell an add-in that does one thing and one thing only.

    For example, The “Excel Absolute Relative Reference Change” add-in from SobolSoft.com is $20! The “Convert Excel to XML” add-in is another $20.

    Oz-Grid is big offender in my book. The “Text Manager” add-in is $30. “Convert Excel to CSV” add-in is $120. Absolutely despicable.

    It makes me want to build those add-ins and give them out for free. Why don’t I? Because I’m busy half the day and lazy the other half.

    Listen, I know that there are people out there that don’t know how to build these tools and get benefit from these add-ins. But I guess my philosophy is that of sharing knowledge freely. Some of the best Excel developers don’t charge for their add-ins (and they actually created their code from scratch). For example, Stephen Bullen’s VBE Tools, Rob Bovey’s XY Chart Labeler, or JK Pieterse’s Name Manager.

    So here’s a message to Sobolsoft, Ozgrid, and all you other Ham-and-Egg operations out there. Just because you spent a few hours copying and pasting code into a user form, doesn’t mean you can charge desperate Excel users $20 bucks a pop.

    My exception: Utilities that that have a wide array of functionality in a nicely packaged add-in is my exception (i.e. PUP, ASAP utilities, Andrew’s Excel Utilities). At least the buyer is getting something substantial for his money.

  15. Mike –

    I agree about some of these sites, marketing an add-in for an excessive price, and I could hack together the utility in an hour, customized to how I work. I have a number of small and simple add-ins posted on my site. I’m planning to assemble some of them into a larger package to provide a range of charting and related utilities that will same people time and frustration, and this will be a commercial venture. If people like the small and simple ones, they can use them, or buy the higher powered version with added capabilities.

    I left out Bill Manville’s FindLinks utility, which comes in handy when I first get files from a new client. I also have a couple commercial add-ins that clients have licensed for me to use while developing solutions that interact with them. One is @Risk, a very powerful modeling package that’s mostly well-written, but it interferes with some application event code I tried to implement. Another is DataAlchemy, a powerful but less robustly built data processing utility.

  16. I use PUP for a few things on a regular basis. Name Manager and MZ-tools I use a lot. A couple times a year I run CodeCleaner, but that’s usually a sign of desperation meaning I’ve written something buggy and haven’t figured it out yet. I also use my own utility addin. And I have one that I wrote and use on my machines and on several other users’ – it manages loading and updating other workbook specific addins that I’ve written.

  17. Jon,
    I’m looking forward to seeing your full product. What you’ve produced so far has been very useful for me and a few others here!

    @Risk is a great product. We use Crystal Ball made by a company called Emagenit. These are well-written applications that happen to be Excel-based. I don’t mind forking over money fo these programs.

  18. Mike-

    While I agree that many of the add-ins I see in the market offer limited functionality for an excessive price, that’s how it works. It’s up to the consumer to educate themselves when evaluating products and determing the cost/value benefit. And the people who are selling these add-ins…they’re just trying to earn a living and feed the family. I’ve contemplated the development of simple add-ins and selling them on-line in order to support the new arrival to our family.

  19. Jason-
    Congratulations on your new arrival!
    Making supplemental income using your knowledge is not at all what I’m against. Heck, I sell stuff on my website. The difference is that I keep the end user in mind. Hate to make this sound cheesy, but they’ve got families too. The average user visiting these Excel sites is just looking for help getting out of a tight spot. I simply think that selling him an add-in that does nothing but “Manage Text” (change case, remove spaces, find and replace) is wrong; especially if it costs $30.

    I can’t tell you what you should and should not do, but I can tell you the prerequisites I would place on my add-in before selling it.

    1. It would have to do something that can’t be done easily with the user interface or formulas.

    2. It would have to be somewhat original, solving a problem that can’t be solved by finding code from a Google search. Most Add-ins are PUP copy-cats that have been split into separate
    Add-ins. It’s obvious and embarrassing.

    3. It would have to be a suite of tools that can be used more than one time, giving the user a substantial product that can actually add value to their daily processes. Not just get them out of a jam one time.

    4. It would have to be able to be priced at a reasonable price. This is admittedly subjective. However, if I have to charge $120 to pay for the time I’ve put into the add-in, I just wouldn’t build it.

  20. I have a slightly different view of add-ins for sale than Mike, and I think it’s worth sharing. I used to have a client who bought a couple of add-ins from OzGrid and she raved about them. I could have written that code for her in about 10 minutes and she paid something like $30 for it. Thirty bucks is a bargain, though. For her to be able to write it in 10 minutes like me, she would have had to spend countless hours in front of a TRS-80, then Lotus 1-2-3, then Excel. When I think about the hours I spent learning Excel, I should be getting $120 for every 10 minutes.

    I understand Mike’s points and I’m not saying their invalid. There’s just another perspective on it.

  21. As a seller of add-ins, I’ll toss in my $0.02.

    My PUP add-in first saw the light of day in 1994. I created it because I wanted a good reason to learn the new VBA programming language in Excel 5. I was inspired by the “Baarns Utilities” for Excel 4. Well not inspired. I stole the idea of a collection of add-ins thrown together in a nice package. Never in my wildest dreams did I think my PUP would still be around in 2007.

    By the way, I have no idea how I came up with the name “Power Utility Pak.” In retrospect, I’m sure I didn’t spend more than 5 minutes thinking about it. And I’m 100% certain that I didn’t even consider that the acronym is PUP.

    PUP 1.0 (in 1994) was strictly an amateur endeavor, and I’m almost embarrassed to call it my own. But I sold 277 copies, and that was enough to keep me going. Over the years, I learned a lot and the product improved to the point where I now get only a few tech support emails per week. Hopefully, that number won’t increase much with PUP v7. But then, I wonder how many people will actually be using Excel 2007.

    At US $39.95, I think PUP is reasonably priced. I haven’t received a single complaint that it’s too expensive. But the best business decision I ever made was to sell the PUP VBA source code for a mere $20 extra. About 60% of the PUP customers also buy the source code. At about 1/2 the cost of a typical book, I think it’s a pretty good price for a learning tool. Sure, it’s still cracked and pirated like mad, but that’s the cost of doing business.

    PUP has about 60 distinct features. I figure about 30 of them are significant enough to be sold as a stand-alone add-in. At $20 each, that would be a $600 price tag for PUP. If someone only uses 3-4 PUP features on a regular basis, they get their money’s worth.

    I could probably make a LOT more money by using the Ozgrid pricing model, but that’s just not me. I’m really not out to screw my customers and trick them into buying stuff they don’t need by using a lot of fancy marking crapolla. I’m happy to make a fair profit for my efforts.

    But every now and then I think about the potential. Right now, my PUP “marketing plan” is non-existent. PUP sales are completely passive. All of the sales come from people who land on my site via a search engine, or people who buy my books. Yet, the monthly income is not at all insignificant. I’ve considered becoming a short-term spammer and buying a list of Microsoft customers (I assume such a list is buyable). I think a one-time spam email could generate enough income to pay my mortgage for one or two years. It’s tempting, but I’m not ready to do it. Yet.

    In any event, I’m getting semi-excited about PUP again. PUP v7 is the best version ever, but I have no idea how the sales will go. I’m thinking PUP v7 sales will be nothing to write home about. I just don’t see Excel 2007 catching on any time soon. I may be wrong.

  22. 10 years ago I did all my office work with Excel – to be more precise I mimic some nowadays SAP functionality in area of reinsurance. Via Excel I made reinsurance accounting and reporting for my company with turnaround nearby 50 mio. €.
    I needed some automatisation, therefore I started studiing Excel more seriously. Thanks John Walkenbach and others MVP Excel gurus I was able running this Excel solution until 2000, when I had to bow to necessity implement SAP.
    Then I leave my job a started another career. But since I offered my tools of macros freely at my web – its mixture of about 100 items offen very analogous to PUP or ASAP. But – it speaks to users in my mother language – Czech. At present about 4000 downloads.
    I offer it completely free, because code is not sound debugged and I am not able to support its users or write comprehensive guide or help.
    Whats interesting? Some companies are willing to pay interesting fees (100€ or so for 1 license)for SIMPLIFICATION or REDUCTION the addin. Most offen they ask for functionality that enable users setting theirs own list of favourite commands or rearanging menus. I was very suprised first by asking me to simplify, not to extend.

    Addins I swear to:

    PUP
    ASAP
    Morefunc
    QueryEditor
    NameManager
    XLAnalyst
    NameManager
    Explode
    FlexFind

    Sorry to others brave Excel wizzards – but my preferences supports directly my present job as auditor.

    Jirí Cíhar
    http://www.dataspectrum.cz

  23. When we (JKP and me) developed Name Manager the intention was to have a free version and a ‘professional’ chargeable version embedded in FastExcel and possibly also sold separately.
    Well we got a bit carried away with the free version (11.5 KLOC so far and we refuse to count the man-months!!) so that the difference between the free and professional versions is not as large as I had planned. And because it was free we got help from Stephen Bullen and Bill Manville and …

    Anyway, as a matter of interest, if Name Manager was not free how much would you be prepared to pay for it? $20-$30?

  24. Hi all,

    First of all: thanks for the nice critiques on our Name Manager!
    As Charles says, we (luckily) never counted the man hours.

    But the giveaway makes for good advertising. So hey, if anyone needs Excel assistance, you know where you can find us! Just click the about button on the NM window :-) (sorry, just couldn’t resist!).

    Tip to those using addins which come with a toolbar:

    create your own custom toolbar and control-alt-drag the isons from the addins you use infrequently to that custom toolbar. Then uncheck the addins in your tools, addins list.

    Now you simply click the button on your own custom toolbar and the addins get loaded when you need them.

  25. Another question here.

    I’ve written a “Reference” tool: one that enables you to see all precedents and dependents of a cell down/up to a level you can select (say, 5 levels deep) in a treeview controls.

    I think this is an excellent tool for doing auditing work.

    How much would you be willing to pay for such a tool?

    Regards,

    Jan Karel Pieterse
    http://www.jkp-ads.com

  26. This is a great discussion.

    I see your point DK, but I just can’t get there with you. In my mind, selling an Add-in that does something very basic at an inflated price is like someone charging me $120 to change a bulb in my car’s headlight. Sure they know how to do something I don’t, and sure they have the right to charge whatever they feel if fair. But it somehow feels wrong.

  27. Hi,

    In answer to you question Jan Karel, and with out wishing to cause offense, i wouldn’t pay for it, because I could and have written code to do a similar thing. But that does,not mean to say others would not. I think, judging form this thread 20 USD is about what people are prepared to pay.

    I am a very heavy addin user. On my PC there are 4 addin I have written running all time, plus about 5 or 6 from others. Then there are a few i will call up from time to time. In the VBE i run MZ, Smart indent and VBE tools all the time and code cleaner.

    Like Charles and Ken I have an addin that I used to manage my other addins.
    (Charles I could not locate you manger addin, do you have a URL i would be interested in seeing it.) Mine mimics the VBA IDE addin manager more closely.

    Cool
    Ross

  28. Mike –

    Thanks for the comments about my preliminary set of utilities. I’m still working out details of the marketing and sales plans and how I’ll package them all together. If you (or anyone reading this) have any comments about the versions you’ve used, let me know. I’ve received a lot of suggestions and requests, and relatively few issues (mostly, no offense, pebcak). I’ve incorporated some of the feedback, both in features and in making it even more user-friendly to install and use. The latter has been quite an educational experience.

    John –

    In my opinion, PUP is vastly underpriced. You could probably charge $79.95 or $99.95 without hurting and probably enhancing your revenues. I’ve had requests to include my source code for an added fee, and I’m still reluctant to do so. But, as I said, the whole business plan is under development (and it’s not as fun as Excel development). I was going to sell a basic package of a few modules and features, and sell additional features as (a) the user wanted them and (b) as I developed them. Since I only have implemented half a dozen chart types and about the same chart enhancing features in my “suite” and there are dozens more, this piecemeal approach makes some sense, but it also involves some logistical complexity, especially if an option allows the individual modules to be grouped together for a discount.

    I am often stunned to see what is offered at various add-in sites. A waterfall charting program similar to mine for $70, and a related histogram creator like I have in development for $30. A chart labeler similar to Rob’s for $20. Obviously I have to give my approach some serious thought.

  29. The mainstream ‘shareware’ world seems to float around the following (dollar) price points:
    15, 25, and 40. people seem less keen to pay much more for a product from a relatively unknown organisation.
    I’d have thought many of the well known members of the community could charge a premium based on their personal reputation, however:
    There are some great free Excel add-ins around, and I believe that sets the markets price expectation very low, probably too low.

    If your customers are standard users then you probably have fair flexibility on pricing based on the pain you save them. If your target is Excel developers, I think you are probably better going for credibility and giving the product away.
    In VBA I have MZ tools open always, and a few others I load in and out. PED comes with a good performance monitoring COM add-in thats worth a look.
    In Excel I have PUP and Fast Excel, and loads of auditing, testing and metrics tools (like xlanalyst, a dependency mapper and some rougher pre -release stuff). I also have a review toolbar killer, to which I need to add web toolbar management.)
    I used to have a VPC for testing all this sort of stuff then Excel12 B2TR killed a shared drive, and I havent had chance to create a new one.
    cheers
    Simon

  30. I’ve tried pretty much all of the add-ins discussed here.
    I have PUP6. Downloaded it. Cracked it (just to see if it was possible) and then sent John the money for the program and the source code. Problem is that I rarely use it. Has a lot of nice “features” but none that I use on a regular basis (or haven’t created something on my own to duplicate). It’s a great program John and I learned a lot from it, but I just don’t use it.
    I download a lot of stuff (Excel and otherwise). If I like something and I’m going to use it, I usually send the money well before the trial expiration date.
    I tinker with a lot of stuff. I love to play with “protection schemes”. Got my start cracking “IFR” for the Commodore 64 way back when. Again, whether I crack it or not, if I’m going to use it, I send the money (I did learn a lot from John’s source code, which is why I sent him the money).
    What I do use……..
    Rob’s “VBA Code Cleaner”…..I can’t tell you how much this program has helped me. Had a lot of times where something got screwed up, used this program and cured my problems. Now that I know what it can do and how well it works….it would be well worth $100….but if you charged that much up front, most people would probably never try it in the first place.
    “Find in Files” is another one I use extensively. I know it’s based on Rob’s Code Cleaner but it’s a great time saver. Worth?? Okay, maybe $20. It’s mostly Rob’s code and there are other ways to do what it does.
    Lastly….Smart Indenter
    Very nicely done (I think I use this one the most). Worth?? Hard to say. For someone that does a lot of coding, I’d pay $100 (or more). For someone that doesn’t….free is a good price (they’d probably rarely use it).

    I guess a lot depends on the expertise of the person buying it.
    For someone that’s learning and doesn’t know a lot about Excel, John’s PUP would definitely float their boat.

    The most important one, to me, is the “Code Cleaner”. I use it rarely but when have to use it, it’s priceless (not that what it does can’t be done manually, but it saves countless hours of work).

    Amd my thanks to all for sharing your expertise on the add-ins, contributions to this blog and the Excel newsgroups. All the courses that I’ve taken, tinkering that I’ve done does not compare to what I’ve been able to learn on-line thanks to your (collectively) sharing of knowledge.

    Thank you,
    John

  31. Spreadsheet Assistant (add-ins.com) and Spreadsheet Detective are the two Add-ins I do always install on a new PC. (like I do always install Firefox on the PC even for checking mail from a cyber cafe!)

  32. Great discussion. For the record, I don’t have any addins installed in Excel. I find they just clutter the UI for little benefit (I might use one or two things now and again), or don’t behave quite as I want them to. If I have specific problems, I’ll load the Code Cleaner, Find Links, Name Manager etc, but they never stay open for longer than that session. I also have a personal dislike of xla addins – because they clutter up the VBE Project Window. For the VBE, I have MZTools and my Smart Indenter and VBE Tools – because they’re unobtrusive and quite highly correlate to the things I find myself wanting to do regularly.

    As most of you probably know, all the addins and other samples I’ve written over the years are available from my site for free, and I have no plans to change that. Since I started monitoring in mid-’98, I’ve had a little over 1.2 million downloads and I’ve often wondered what might have been if I’d charged $1 each. The most popular file is Bill’s FindLink, with over 70,000 downloads, followed by my FormFun example with 65,000. The next most popular has had less than half that. Charging $20 a time for those two files alone would have funded a nice retirement for us both… (but I guess would’ve radically reduced those counts!)

    One question I find very difficult is answer is “When is it OK to start charging?”. My Smart Indenter started life in Excel 5 as a very simple text parser, based on Rob’s Code Cleaner; it wasn’t great, didn’t handle all constructs and was written and supported on a “best efforts” basis. It didn’t seem ‘right’ to charge for it at the time. Since then, it’s been improved incrementally until arriving at today’s robust COM Addin. It doesn’t do much more (functionally) than the first version. A few more formatting choices, much more robust, but not significantly different. Would it be OK if I suddenly started charging for it tomorrow?

    And what about the popular “Here’s how” examples? 65,000 people have wanted to know how to manipulate useforms using the Windows API. Is it ever OK to charge for that knowledge?

    Is there any room left these days for pure altruism? When I was starting out in ’92, lots of people gave freely of their time and knowledge to help me improve my skills. That still happens in the newsgroups, this blog and many web sites. What is wrong with giving something back to the community that helped build my career, and helping numerous other people advance their careers in turn? Is it wrong that by giving my stuff away for free, I’m making it less acceptable to pay for other addins?

    Lastly, a little comment about my business model; I never intended to make money by selling things (nor from writing books!). My income used to come from Excel development consultancy and now from full-time employment – where my rates and now salary are directly proportional to my experience, abilities and ‘name recognition’ in the industry. As such, my web site and everything on it is firmy in the “Marketing” rather than the “Sales” budget.

    Regards

    Stephen Bullen

  33. Very good point Steven.
    The clutter of the Excel UI and the IDE project dialog are some of the reasons i uses a manager for my addins.

    “As such, my web site and everything on it is firmly in the “Marketing” rather than the “Sales” budget.”

    That is a fair point, and in a similar way anything I put on my sites if free and thus unsupported (best effort). I guess if you make a commitment to a paid for product then you have to factor in support costs too.

  34. Hi Stephen,

    Good points. I don’t like the UI clutter either.

    “Lastly, a little comment about my business model; I never intended to make money by selling things (nor from writing books!). My income used to come from Excel development consultancy and now from full-time employment – where my rates and now salary are directly proportional to my experience, abilities and ‘name recognition’ in the industry. As such, my web site and everything on it is firmy in the “Marketing” rather than the “Sales” budget.”

    Quite the same for me.

  35. Excellent topic, I use PUP (with code), CodeCleaner and VBE tools, CodeCleaner is used the most with PUP a close second as I find these tools are indespensible, I also have my own add-in for personal and work stuff which is then shared with multiple users, having the pup source code taught me all I needed to know for creating my own add in.

  36. Stephen,

    There are a lot of add-ins out there. Many I would classify as “neat stuff” and whether used or not, you can always learn something from them.
    People always ask me if this or that is possible in Excel. My answer is always the same. “Yes it can! I may not know how to do it but I’m sure it can be done”. Whether through browsing the many sites, files, examples that you and others have freely donated or via the newsgroups, I can usually find out how to do something.

    There is another class of add-ins I would classify as “necessary tools”. Smart indenter is definitely one of them. When you’re working on workbooks with 5,000 plus lines of code, it’s not a convenience. It’s a necessity. Yes, I could do it manually as I’m writing but why bother when there’s such an easy way to do it? I, for one, would gladly pay for it. I’d even go so far to say that if you started charging for it now, I’d buy it (even though I already have it). You should be rewarded for your time and effort and I should be willing to pay for something I’ll use all the time.
    “Code Cleaner” as I said before is another “necessary tool”. I don’t use it often but when I need to, price would be no object.

    Should any of you charge for some of the “tools” that you provide? I would definitely say yes. At the very least you could ask for a donation (I’d probably be one of the first deposits that you’d see). The “neat stuff” you can leave for free.

    Let me use John’s PUP as an example. John used to be very active in the newsgroups (I’ve run across many of his posts while searching for things there). When I first got into Excel, his was the first website that I happened upon. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned there. I bought PUP5 not so much because I was going to use it ( I had tried the demo) but because it was worth it for all the help that I got from him, his site and his books (I have a few of them too). PUP has a lot of “neat stuff” and also a lot of “very useful tools”. For some reason, I just never got into using them. When PUP6 came out, I bought that too (for basically the same reason).

    Who knows? Maybe I’m just crazy. I see no reason that you (collectively) shouldn’t make some money for your efforts especially with the quality and usefulness of some of the “necessary tools” that you provide.

  37. I guess I am an exception. I tend to have 6-8 Add-ins and use them regularly

    Excel:

    FastExcel (which includes name manager, and I use every day)
    Essbase and Cube Analysis (required for work)
    SparkMaker (Bissantz)
    morefunc
    Analysis ToolPak
    XY Chart Labeler
    PUP
    ASAP

    VBA:

    SmartIndenter

    ————–
    The company paid for FastExcel and SparkMaker for me to use; I paid for PUP. All well worth the money and time-saving features.

    Thanks to everyone who puts out add-ins, whether for free or for pay.

    Rich

  38. I left one important one off my list: Jan Karel’s AutoSafe. Unlike the built in AutoSave, it really works, and I use it to maintain an archive of recent files.

  39. Heres my list of indespensible tools
    ASAP
    PUP
    NameManager
    MoreFunc
    MyTools – My own set
    Explode
    MZTools
    VBE Tools

    I dont mind the UI Clutter…. I rather have a clutterebd UI than the uncluterable UI of 007

    I see nothing wrong in charging for any development work….If it is good people will pay…It will also be pirated and hacked…but as John said that the risk of doing businees…

    Sam

  40. Judging by the comments here, I might be forgiven for thinking I use too many add-ins… Then again, what’s the point of add-ins existing if nobody uses them? I think that add-ins fall into three distinct sets.

    The first set are what I call “Standard add-ins”, this includes thing like AutoSave (set to nag me every 30 minutes or so, although I will be chacking out AutoSafe after reading Jon’s comment), the Conditional Sum and Lookup wizards, Solver, MS Query and so on… I use these frequently as a quick way of getting results (or in the case of AutoSave as a way of preventing their loss).

    The second set are third party add-ins and I always use ASAP Utilities and Name Manager. There are also ones I use less frequently like DYNORNGE, Flexfind, AudXL and from time to time I have been know to use a sheet protection remover add-in.

    The third set are the ones that need to be bought. I don’t use any of these at the moment – mostly because I’m tight but also because I haven’t found any that I need to buy yet (although If I was to buy PUP I would buy it with the source code so I could see how it all works). $20 sounds like a fair price, especially with the strength of the £ at the moment, so I might break out my wallet yet!

    Have any of the developers that charge for these thought about making them available free but then adding a donations option to your sites?

    Most of the add-ins (if not all) contain features that really should be built into Excel and do make things easier for me on a day to day basis. One day I might even get round to building my own add-in just containing the tools I do need which would then free up some resources, but until then I suppose it’s a matter of loading and unloading when required. At least this way you can control the amount of bloat I suppose…

  41. I really don’t understand most of the rationales that $50 or even $100 dollars is expensive. If its an add-in that will save you even 3 hours in a month, its definitely a steal. If more time is saved, all the better.

    You’re probably like, you I could build it in an hour. Actually, it would take more time than you expect. Much more. For a medium-level sophisticated add-in probably, 5 hours. Now bill yourself at $50 per hour and you get $250. The add-in at $50 is definitely worth it.

    Ofcourse, the above scenario varies from person-to person.

    Think in terms of value, not money.

  42. To “Think smarter, not harder”, of course you are assuming that everyone has control over buying and software installation…

    It is not always possible to claim back the cost of software like this, it is also not always possible to install it (most of my users need to log a call with the helpdesk to install ASAP utilities for example).

    I use Excel ‘for fun’ and learning at home so will really want to use the same tool set that I use at work. I have no problem with buying and installing on my personal machine, but if I have to buy 2 copies it would start to get expensive.

    As you say, this will vary from person to person and indeed from company to company.

    Looking at your cost model if you sell 5 at $50 you will make back your development costs but that may be all you sell (PUP is the obvious exception to this, but my point still stands).
    If you priced it at $25, you will need to sell 10 but you are more likely to sell more copies (based on peoples comments here). I’m not trying to devalue your work or time, but high volume sales have got to be better than low volume sales to the same value.

    This will help you reach a wider audience, hopefully satisfy more users, receive more feedback, build this into future development work and get better products.

    Just a thought…

  43. I think you are SERIOUSLY underestimating the effort involved in writing a non-trivial commercial add-in.
    For example take FastExcel:

    18 KLOC
    245 pages of documentation
    1.9 MB of help files
    Sample problem & documentation
    Install script
    E-commerce website development

    I have not tracked the time I have spent so far on:
    – Requirements gathering
    – Research
    – Design
    – Development
    – Documentation
    – System Testing
    – Compatibility Testing
    – Beta Testing
    – Support
    – etc.

    but its got to be well over a man-year, and a very expensive man-year if you had to buy it from a software house!

  44. Charles: So, thats about 20,000 copies at $20USD if you were charging normal software shop hourly rates; and then considering you don’t have additional time and upkeep resulting from the sales.

    I have no experience with this but 20,000 copies sounds like a lot…

  45. “I think you are SERIOUSLY underestimating the effort involved in writing a non-trivial commercial add-in”

    Was that directed to me Charles?

    If so, the 5-hour estimate was the *bare* minimum, just so that the naysayers would get some light that using an add-in is usaully a better compromise than to actually build yourself. Dont reinvent the wheel.

  46. One rule of thumb I have seen is that to productionise a software tool takes approximately 9 times the effort of coding the actual core.

    Each of the things Charles lists in the first paragraph probably took a similar amount of effort, yet many people only consider the code. 18 Kloc even at 1 per week is 18 weeks and not many people can deliver 1000 lines of production quality code every week. Times that by 9, GBP44 (USD 90) is a bargain.

    cheers
    simon

  47. Stephen Bullen wrote:
    > One question I find very difficult is answer is “When is it OK to start charging?”.

    The answer is “Now”. While I admit I admire and have benefited from the spirit of openness in the VBA community, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with charging for a tool that saves people time and effort. And if it reduces someone’s drudgery, they’re glad to pay – especially for B2B applications.

    Price is a signal. A lot of people will look at a higher priced item and think that it is of higher quality for no other reason than the price. I raised the price of my add-in from $29.95 to $39.95 and my sales doubled. Go figure.

  48. Simon –

    9x may be an understatement.

    Coding time for the internal core is minimal, if the tool is for my own use. I can go in and tweak it whenever needed if it stops anywhere. Coding for a client is probably around 5 times more involved, because I have to anticipate all the places where it needs a tweak, and I need at least a rudimentary interface. Coding for general use is another 5 times as much work, because I need to spend much more time on the interface and spend way more time anticipating how the code will be misapplied and misused; there are also hairier details about deployment. Each level requires more validation and verification, because each level gives me less control over how something will be used.

  49. KLOC. Thousand lines of code. How do you translate the design of a userform into KLOC? How about designing a worksheet or template, constructing formulas or array formulas or defined names, building charts based on these? Most of my programs have relatively little effort in the VBA code itself, compared to interface design and workbook and worksheet layout.

  50. Jon
    I’m not discounting the other stuff, its just there is a well known body of knowledge covering lines of code. Including plenty arguing that its a useless measure!
    For XLAnalyst I wrote the core testing code in a few days, it then took many months to get that to what I consider a production standard, including help and docs etc. And I would consider that a pretty simple tool.
    oh and FastExcel is actually USD 79, not 90 as I had estimated
    cheers
    Simon

  51. Hi Simon,

    I agree that LOC can be a very misleading metric but there aren’t many other alternatives.
    I’m currently migrating a series of Access databases which have about 40 KLOC. While this doesn’t tell use anything about the quality or complexity of the code it does give a gauge as to the magnitude. We’ve also used a summary of the TableDefs and QueryDefs to provide a picture as to the nature of the beast.

    Back to Topic – I don’t utilise many add-ins. I’ve got PUP with source (thanks John – it’s great value) and MZ Tools. Ironically though I develop a lot of add-ins, all custom projects for the corporate environment.

    Cheers – Marcus

  52. “Coding time for the internal core is minimal,…gives me less control over how something will be
    used.”

    This is the main reason I (and I guess a lot of others) don’t pup up there addins for general download.

    However, the cost of developing an Addin should not just be weighed up in pounds and pence, as the developer will learn and develop a bigger code base while doing so, this should be factored in too?

  53. As well as over charging for simple Add-Ins what do you think about sites like http://www.experts-exchange.com which charge users to see the answers to other user’s questions, rather than the public access ethos of the newsgroups. Will the Daily Dose become pay-per-view? I do hope not.

  54. Ross –

    “…as the developer will learn and develop a bigger code base while doing so…”

    Good point. The utilities I’ve been developing include code I’ve been hacking around with for years, plus some pieces and techniques I’ve developed in various projects, and some pieces and techniques developed specifically for the utilities with an eye toward using them in the future.

    Case in point, a couple of the pieces that I’ve refined for the utilities came in handy this week. I needed the certain formatting in a new project, so I opened up one of the utilities, exported the relevant modules into my code library (which I should have done when I finished with them), then dropped them from there into the new project. Two days work accomplished in fifteen minutes, and the client now believes I’m brilliant and super fast, and will never question my rates.

  55. Stephen Bullen wrote:
    > One question I find very difficult is answer is “When is it OK to start charging?”.

    Agree with a previous poster – “now” – I would also happily pay for Smart Indenter – it’s the first thing I install on any new machine! Also very fond of MZtools – and still waiting to find the time to dissect PUP properly!

  56. Ross:

    “However, the cost of developing an Addin should not just be weighed up in pounds and pence, as the developer will learn and develop a bigger code base while doing so, this should be factored in too? “

    That as very true. At almost every project I do, I find pieces of functionality I can copy from my top three addins I gave away.

    Moreover: creating an addin for the masses is an excellent learning school for creating Excel apps that are robust and that don’t get into trouble in all the states Excel may be in when the user starts using your application.

    It is this kind of things that cause a lot of work. For example: I wrote the core of Autosafe in maybe one day. After all, all it does is a timed SaveCopyAs, so it isn’t at all complex, is it? Think again. Just imagine the states the Excel app may be in when my code fires, which sometimes might prevent things from working. One example is what happens when you open a file by clicking a link: it opens inside Internet explorer on many systems. Under the hood, Excel opens and a workbook window with “Object” in its title bar. But since Excel is open as an object in IE, all sorts of things in VBA do not work as you might expect them to. Another example is when you’re editing an Excel sheet that has ben embedded in Word (or any other program for that matter). Try to do a savecopyAs on that workbook object and you’re in trouble. And there are quite some other examples to think of here.

  57. Martin (post 55),

    As a former contribor to Experts Exchange I would like to point out that vast majority of users hold free accounts – it certainly isn’t pay-per-view. And while the site business model does have its drawbacks with a focus on accumulating answers, the EE points system has provided some very lengthy free solutions which would have been better suited to a true paid site such as rentacoder.

    In terms of addins I’ve bought something like 80 copies of PUP on behalf of key Excel colleagues in my company. Personally I use Name Manager, FlexFind, Findlink & Smart Indenter on a regular basis.

    I do understand the frustration expressed by Mike Alexander re the flood of basic addins that typically are charged at around $30, I partly wrote my own addin as I couldn’t believe that people would actually pay that much money for 20 lines of code with basic functionality.

    But recently I had a colleague gushing over a cost curve addin she’d purchased from Mr Excel, it had saved a crtical deadline for a presenatation to senior executives for the price of a decent lunch. So I no longer begrudge someone turning a few $ as there is a genuine need for this assistance – even if the very best Excel experts are generous enough to provide their skills for free.

    Cheers

    Dave

  58. If you ever email spreadsheets around, you must check out LinkedCells (http://www.LinkedCells.com). LinkedCells lets you share your Excel data with friends and colleagues. If you have ever tried sharing Excel spreadsheets with other people, you have probably spent a lot of time e-mailing spreadsheets back and forth, trying to keep spreadsheets up-to-date. Often, you end up with out-of-date data or you need to spend time reviewing spreadsheets manually and then merging multiple spreadsheets. LinkedCells solves this pain in a very simple manner… give it a spin.

  59. Add-Ins, whats that? …

    Never looked at any, not even PUP

    My most recent project was FTSE 100, £120 billion Financials, .xls, .doc, vba, etc, all synced up.

    Taking a year off work, starting in May, off to Thailand

    Going to start some serious code now…

    Bye :)

  60. Uninstalling 3 Party AddIn

    Does anyone one know of the best way to uninstall a 3 third party add in? I have uninstalled it from add&remove programs and also from the Excel Add In screen, but the icon for the program still sits in my addin tool bar ( excel 2007 ). I have even looked in the registry and found one reference to it and deleted that as well. What else am i missing?

    Victor

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