Excel 2007 Likeability

Today I realized that it was about 17 months ago when I saw the first demo of Excel 2007. Like just about everyone else in the room, I was very impressed with what I saw — even though it was little more than a rough draft at the time. Fact is, Excel 2007 demos very well.

Then, when I actually started using it, my initial enthusiasm waned — primarily because I couldn’t find the familiar commands. As I dug deeper, I discovered a few things that just didn’t work like they used to.

During the beta phase, I got very discouraged and really began to hate it. But, I was forced to use it because I was writing books about it. Over time, I actually began to like Excel 2007. By the time the final version was released, I got to the point where I dreaded having to use Excel 2003 rather than 2007. Now that I’m familiar with just about every nook and cranny of Excel 2007, I have a difficult time remembering where the Excel 2003 commands are.

The chart here roughly depicts my past 17 months with Excel 2007 in terms of “likeability.” I don’t know how typical this curve is. I suspect that it will be linear for some; they’ll start out hating it, and gradually learn to love it.

But I do think that anyone who uses this product for any length of time will not want to go back to a previous version. Sure, it has some problems. But its benefits outweigh the problems by a large margin as far as I’m concerned.

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19 thoughts on “Excel 2007 Likeability

  1. I’m in the pre-Beta 2 area of the chart, very frustrated and unhappy. It takes too many clicks to do what it took in XL 2000. I still 2000 as the main version and only switch over to 2007 when I need to take advantage of the additional row capacity or the additional Pivot Table functionality. I still hate not having the simple ability to customize the toolbars.

  2. John, you wrote “…Sure, it has some problems. But its benefits outweigh the problems by a large margin as far as I’m concerned.”

    Could you expand on that some – not a thesis by any means, but I’d welcome your prespective on the pros vs. cons.

  3. The biggest problem, I think, is the convoluted method required to modify the UI. I suspect that tools will become available to address this. The second biggest problem is that the macro recorder ignores far too many commands. Then there are a bunch of minor bugs that will probably be fixed eventually.

    On the flip-side, we have a larger grid, better looking charts, vastly improved conditional formatting, vastly improved pivot tables, more colors, enhanced formula, a few new functions (many more if you include the ATP functions), page layout view, name manager, and other stuff that I’m forgetting right now.

    Once you get past the unfamiliar UI hurdle, it’s all pretty good.

  4. My favorite new feature is the automatically defined range names I get when I define a Table (similar to a List in 2003). I can refer to the first column for my data validation, refer to the whole list sans header and footer for my VLOOKUPs, and for the MATCH function that is third argument of my VLOOKUP I can refer to just the header. All without defining a named range. It’s sweet.

  5. Like John, I was extremely impressed with the demo I saw, about 17 months ago. I got my hands on it, and reality set in. But that was only the Alpha, so I expected problems. With each successive Beta, I slipped further down the slope, and hit rock bottom when I tried the RTM. I recognize that many huge changes have been made, and the whole look and feel are different. But I can’t help being underwhelmed by the experience.

    The issues I’ve found include the macro recorder’s blind spots, the slow performance when doing things that shouldn’t make it so slow, its fragility (I crash it much more than 2003), the funny charting behavior, the productivity robbing user interface (the ribbon and redesigned dialogs impose many more clicks than I ever needed before). Sure the charts might LOOK nicer, but they’re not much more than you could have gotten in 2003, and there’s no new chart types and only one new charting improvement, the ability to specify logarithmic axis limits besides powers of ten. And some charting features are just not working right.

    The larger grid might someday pay off for me, the pivot tables seem more powerful, the tables are even more special than Excel 2003’s lists. That whole Excel-on-the-server thing might become a real winning point.

    Today I made a functional custom ribbon tab, so I feel a bit more positive about 2007 than before. But I can’t see using it for my main work or for my personal stuff. I like 2003 too much, because it’s stable, the commands are right where I put them, not where some committee decided they should go. Overall, there’s not enough good new stuff to outweigh the good old stuff and faulty new stuff. For me, anyway.

  6. My appreciation curve roughly follows the same pattern as John’s. I’ve used all the previous versions of Excel, both on Mac and Windows and yes, many commands seem to be in the wrong place.

    I use Word quite often, but I normally do nothing advanced with it. Recently I was reviewing a book and I had to use Word2007 because that had made my old version unusable. I noticed that using features I didn’t know yet was very easy. When I was able to switch back to Word2003 later, I found that not self-explanatory at all.

    So it may be that the new interface is indeed more intuitive, it’s just that if you’re very familiar with the old one, it is a bit more difficult first.

    Now give us UI programmability and a real formula editor and it’s a real fine product.

  7. I am hoping that the multi threaded calculation will improve things but as far as I am concerned if you need 1m rows then you are using the wrong tool.

    I am still deep in the 2007 trough of denial as I cling to my tatty looking celophane wrapped Excel 2003 box. And unlike John I have no urgent need to force myself to learn.

    It might be better in some ways but after their 4 years work over at Microsoft I certainly expected much more. Like why doesn’t some one do something to sort out the zoomed out ¬Ä symbol, or some of the fixed width dialog boxes which are such quick wins. Write in some of the addins that people have made so that the tool is more powerful. Expose more of the internal structure so that VBA is much easier and more powerful. Revamp the VBA to build in the VB interface.

    We shouldn’t be asking is it 1% better or not. We should be asking why didn’t they fix this….

  8. I’m very much alongside Mr Peltier on this. The advantages that are there are things which don’t really affect me, whilst the disadvantages do. I don’t ever use pivot tables (it’s unreasonable I know, but I very much look at them as tools of the devil) I generally replicate the effect of conditional formatting through VBA anyways, I don’t need a bunch more colors and I have always found the current charting facilities more than sufficient for my purposes – I don’t need the hyper-fancy stuff produced by chart-geniuses like Dick.

    On the other hand, the slowdown and instability I have experienced have been horrendous. Finding the functions I need has been more frustrating than trying to actually beat the original “Asteroids” video game. I found myself hitting Save every few minutes in case of a crash – and often I was vindicated in doing so.

    I realise that my use of Excel doesn’t match everyone else’s, so although I may not like it, that don’t make it a “bad” program. But, for the time being I plan to stick with 2003. I don’t have the patience to stick with using something that frustrates me when I don’t need to. I’ll wait until I have to learn it, by which point it’ll hopefully be a little more stable.

    Until then, I’ll just look at the pretty pictures in the Excel 2007 Bible! ;-)

  9. A bit late adding to this but I am suprised by the lack of comments on pure performance.

    I want to use 2007, mainly for the charts, PTs and BI stuff you can pull through from SQL Server. I even ordered John’s Bible to ease the process, but I find that performance is horrible.

    For commercial applications the loss of calculation speed is a nightmare even with simple formulas. Add in charts/PTs and you can be looking at performance degradation in the region of 10 to 20 times that of 2003.

    For me, if MS is serious about this being the BI tool of the future, they would be advised to fix the calculation engine quickly.

  10. I take issue with the “anyone who uses this version will not want to go back to the previous version”. I would (and will) pay money to upgrade from Office 2007 back to Office 2003. I will also upgrade from Vista to XP Pro. Vista’s service packs and patches have broken drivers and disabled systems (for example, the fingerprint reader and the audio drivers – apparently permanently unless I choose to do a clean install). And Office 2007 broke mission critical macros that have worked just fine for years. Microsoft’s latest best effort has cost me days or weeks of effort. I am less efficient using Vista/2007. I can’t even figure out how to do things I need to do in this software. The macro recorder doesn’t record everything and so it is impossible to figure out how to code necessary stuff. It can only by a word starting with “cluster”.

    Perhaps my complaints are due to lack of tech savvy, but I do have some technical competence and experience (4 engineering degrees, including a PhD, former systems manager, former SW product manager). I don’t think my concerns are trivial. For the average user, without extensive expert IT management backup, Vista and Office 2007 are insane propositions. I myself will migrate to Linus/Openoffice within the next year.

    I am stunned that Microsoft could put out something this bad. Anyone on my IT staff proposing to migrate to either Vista or Office 2007 would be summarily fired – and they would deserve it.

    The Wizard of Boz

  11. Interesting reading by some familiar and respected names in Excel. I’m relieved to learn I’m not the “idiot” I thought I was. Now I understand why my favourite pieces of code that I copy and paste from my XL2003 library to new 2007 macros are crashing Excel. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was some indication of why and where the problem was. It’s been around for well over twelve months now, so I’m surprised MS hasn’t taken note of the reaction and issued one of their classic massive service packs. I’d be happy(for a while)with the not so intuitive ribbons and the redundant extra clicks gone.

  12. Thank the lord I no longer have to use Excel in the workplace. The 2007 interface is appalling, and I now have to read the whole screen to find the elusive functions I used to use quickly and easily. I had no idea of the bugs that other users are highlighting. Excel has been integrated into so many parts of small and medium businesses that this is going to cause nightmares for some.

    My main gripe with XL2007 is that Microsoft designed Windows with universal look and feel, to give users quick entry to new products. There were accepted design rules that, you know, you’d put the File menu first, the Help menu last, and try to make your application interface similar to ‘standard’ MS interfaces. Microsoft used to actively enforce this via certification and their exam systems.

    It works really well, I have come across many new third party products and been up and using them in no time. One golden rule for software is that users like what they are used to.

    Now, MS have abandoned this (bad) and not provided a route back to the previous style interface (awful). If it was open source, someone would at least be able to hack up and ‘preferred version’ for existing users…

    I’m praying for the day that the strangle-hold of MS is released and we can get a bit of evolution going.

  13. I can’t believe how terrible the performance of Excel 2007 is. I work supporting applications in a company that does a lot of financial work with spreadsheets. Many departments in the company have highly complex workbooks/sheets developed in Excel. We previously used Office XP with Excel 2002, and while there were some issues, 2007 takes the cake with the problems incurred.

    I’ve seen numerous issues with the Macros. Even worse is the speed or lack thereof users experience when working in Excel 2007. Whether in compatibility mode or after converting workbooks to xlsx this is absolutely the WORST performing upgrade I’ve ever dealt with. A true headache maker!

    Autosave locking up peoples workbooks for 10 minutes while the app saves recent changes is a disaster. Yes it can be turned off, but that’s stupid. Changing the value of one cell and moving to a different cell in a worksheet we’ve seen it take 1 minute for excel to unlock itself and get out of the frrozen screen that happens just after the change is made. Excel 2007 doesn’t crash so much as it just sucks. The results are repeatable everytime, and everytime it’s problematic. Then we look at the same workbook/sheets in Excel 2002 and it works as it should. To bad nearly all users don’t have access to Excel 2002 any longer.

    It really is shocking how little quality assurance went into the development of this supposed upgrade. All the PC’s in the company I work for run XP SP2 with atleast 2 gig RAM, and processing power is definitely not issue. The problem is Microsofts lack of due diligence in the design of this application.

    Sure it may look pretty, but its performance is a nightmare.

    Seriously Microsoft, you’re better then that, get it together and patch this thing up so it will atleast perform as good as 2002.

    Excel 2007 “all show, no go”

  14. Anton – have a look at this thread from the JW Blog:

    It’s worth trying uninstalling Google Office COM add-ins (if you use them) and possibly AV software.

    I now use XL2007 99% of the time, and whilst there are some performance issues with VBA I do not get anything like the troubles you describe since doing away with Google Desktop. I uninstalled the whole thing, but according to Charles Williams it’s only the Google Office COM addins you need to uninstall (see his comment in the post linked above).

    Regarding stability, I have actually found XL2007 to be substantially better than the earlier versions with very big files. One thing I did find is that with some VBA applications using an API written in C, some incorrectly dimensioned arrays caused an instant crash, whereas in previous versions they worked most of the time, but crashed occaisionally without warning (and always at the most inconvenient moment of course). Possibly some of your problems with VBA applications are caused by something similar.


  15. Jon Peltier:

    what is the address for the Microsoft Excel Blog. I want to go to the right place to rant.

  16. Excel 2007, It is just horrible, I can’t think of a single thing I like. I wish i could go back to 2003. Visual Basic – horrible, Charts everything that was easy like changing the data the chart looks at is now harder, Pivot tables AAARRRGH!!! You can’t even customise the toolbars so no quick buttons to insert a column or a row.

    hate it, hate it, hate it.

    How can MS release such a completly useless application for developers and business people?

    Please, please change it back. Is there any real alternative spreadsheet that will read and write Ecel format files?

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