Excel 2007 review

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Many people’s experience of Excel is that it’s stagnated over the past three versions, but the 2007 offering is a huge leap forward both in terms of usability and the look of the documents it produces. With the new file format, it’s a powerful combination. No rival spreadsheet even comes close.

Excel workbooks can now be bigger – much bigger. Each sheet can have over a million rows and more than 16,000 columns. Of course, if you save files in the older 97-2003 file format or need to send files to users of previous versions, you must be aware of the old limits. You shouldn’t be caught short, though, as the compatibility checker will tell you if your workbook is too big and any other formatting won’t survive the conversion.

As with Word, the new Ribbon UI is used well to present choices such as styles, conditional formatting, formulae and page-layout options clearly and attractively. All the major controls are there on the Home tab, including number format and alignment, so you don’t have to keep launching the Format Cells dialog to get basic formatting right. Click in your data and choose Format as Table and you not only get colour-banded rows and distinctive headings, but also easier sorting and filtering. Excel can now filter different data types. For instance, you can filter dates by month or quarter, while you can filter text by what cells contain or start with. Filtering doesn’t disrupt any formatting you’ve applied to the table, so colour banding still works correctly.

If you want to highlight some data, the conditional formatting options have been expanded and are much easier to choose. You can pick icon sets like traffic lights, flags or arrows; colour scales will colour the cells based on their values; and data bars show coloured bars behind the data, where the length of the bar relates to the data in the cell. You can highlight the Top N or Bottom N cells in a range; the top or bottom N% or those above or below average. The live preview will show you how your data will look with the different formatting options as you roll the mouse over them. Click when you like what you see to apply that formatting.

PivotTables are much easier to create and they now look much better. Just tick which fields you want in your PivotTable and Excel will guess whether that field would look better in the columns, rows or data areas. If it doesn’t make the right choice, you can drag it to the right place in the TaskPane. This is easier than dragging fields about in the PivotTable itself, which is what you had to do before. Multiple levels of row labels are now compressed into one column with appropriate indenting. This stops the tables growing too wide to read or print. When you apply formatting to PivotTables, the formatting applies itself logically to headings, row labels and data.

One of the biggest improvements is the new charting module. All the previous versions’ chart types are here, but they all look fresh, bright and better. The Ribbon UI makes it easy to quickly format charts just how you want them. Numerous galleries, including chart types, layouts and colour schemes, make it easy to create a chart with the series data presented in different shades of the same colour – tedious to do in previous versions. For more control over your charts, there are three tabs of Chart Tools, letting you control every aspect of every element. Surprisingly, the new charts even survive quite well when converted to the 97-2003 file format.

It’s now much easier to get data from external data sources too. There are buttons on the Ribbon’s Data tab to grab data from Access, Web Pages, Text files or other sources such as SQL Server. Data can either be returned as an Excel table or PivotTable – you can then sort, filter or analyse it as you want. You can also set the data to be refreshed from the source on demand, whenever the workbook is opened or every few minutes.

Details

Software subcategory Office software

Requirements

Processor requirement 500MHz processor

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? no

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