Why Excel Is Like My Strat

Some time after typing my comments about Vegemite and Heinz Beans in my last thread I went into my office and saw the ultimate example of what I’m talking about with Excel’s problems in the world – my Fender Stratocaster (the Stevie Ray model of course with the Humbucking pickups) is  sitting in  its stand next to my desk.

This is a 50 year old design that is still the most popular electric guitar on the market.  I saw one of my heroes, Jeff Beck, playing one on TV last night and then saw “The Boss” playing a Fender Stratocaster and being really cool and sounding real good.  Same thing with the young musicians playing last night on all the New Years shows (Strats, Fender Basses, Telecasters and Les Pauls).  Just because these are old technologies doesn’t mean they’re not valuable anymore to musicians everywhere.

In fact you can push this analogy down even further to say that if all the orchestras in the world had violins, which they do, should they stop using them with skill and flair just because the violin makers aren’t making so many anymore?  It’s ridiculous.

Let’s go even further and substitute the word “violin” for the word “Excel”in the following sentence  (or you could even substitute the word “guitar” too for that matter) ….

 “Why don’t we develop a strong “violin” after-market?  That’s because there are forces working against such a development.  Unfortunately someone has decided that because “violins” are played by individuals and because they can sound really bad when played badly, (as we all know), they should all be replaced by prerecorded synthesized tracks.”  

How’s that gonna work for you?  Is this really the right way to go?

So even putting aside the loss that Microsoft would incur if they continue to let Excel and Access die away, if  they hope to continue owning the desktop and selling Windows, spreadsheets and small databases have got to continue on and they have to be allowed to flourish in the interests of everybody, despite the inconvenience it may be to IT managers.


About Biggus Dickus

Dick is a consultant in London, ON Canada who specializes in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Office Development.
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12 Responses to Why Excel Is Like My Strat

  1. Simon says:

    Dick I think MS gave up on the desktop a long long time ago – around the VB6 death sentence, in the late 90’s. They just havent managed to come up with a compelling alternative. But others have and as the technical challenges are solved (bandwidth, miniaturisation etc) MS are getting left behind.
    As to the Excel/violin argument, its interesting (I have a fender bass I can’t play), but equally one could argue that Excel is the xylophone and never should have had a place in an orchestra. Or that the new alternatives are better, not something that can be said about many classic instruments.

  2. Biggus Dickus says:

    “Or that the new alternatives are better, not something that can be said about many classic instruments.”

    New alternatives to Excel or alternatives to spreadsheets?

    I really don’t give a s**t whether it’s Excel or some other spreadsheet (although it’d be easier for all concerned if it stayed Excel) but I think the issue is “spreadsheet or no spreadsheet” not which one.

    As far as giving up on the desktop I know they’ve made that decision…. I just have faith that sometime someone will realize the error, but every year it gets more and more unlikely they will.


  3. Harlan Grove says:

    Excel in a few people’s hands is an electronic organ which provides all sorts of different drum beats and accompanying instruments for the main organ line. At its best it can sound like a 6-member church band playing moderately competently, but a philharmonic symphony orchestra it most definitely ain’t.

    But Excel in most people’s hands is a kazoo, begging the question whether the world would be better off with fewer or no kazoos.

    Actually, Excel has become a Moog Synthesizer. How many people could make anything anyone else would want to listen to using a Moog Synthesizer? Yes, if they had previous training with other instruments they might be able to make something reasonable, but with no training users make very little other than noise, and it’s just that a funny noise or two is sometimes exactly what’s wanted.

  4. greg kramer says:

    So all the stuff that Rob is up to w/ PowerPivot on the client side is not making you happy?

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      How’d you figure that from what I said ?? I’m excited about PowerPivot but there ARE two things I am concerned about:

      1. Is PP really enough to lift Excel up ? I’d love it if it was true but I think it will just have an impact on some companies where one high enough person “gets it”. Its SharePoint story is even more VERY interesting for MS but I’m not toally sure it’s going to help Excel broadly. You should see the latest thread on Simon’s blog for a discussion of the future of BI.

      2. I am disappointed that PP doesn’t natively respect the relationships between fields Cube data. I am a BIG fan of the Dimensional/Fact table feature of OLAP for making sure users don’t stray off the path when working in a Pivot Table and for allowing business logic to change easily and safely. I am surprised and disappointed about that but I hope it’ just a V1 thing. Otherwise PP is very cool and SHOULD be a good thing for users. But will they ever find out about it? Rob’s doing the best he can but his visitors are people like us. This message needs to get to the Business Decison Makers as well somehow – and I don’t see how that is likely to happen.

  5. greg kramer says:

    I see.

    Isn’t the demo where you show 100mm records being quickly sorted a SHOWSTOPPER/door opener?

    Also, can you provide the link to the ‘future of bi’ thread.


    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Could be … hope so. We’ll see I guess.

      But nearly all of that could be done in an Access database and that could be used as the source for a Pivot Table exactly the same way. Sure there are other advantages like “Slicers” exposed immediatly, etc. But that hasn’t been enough to get Corporations really interested in using Excel as the FrontEnd for analysis at that level either.

      Hopefully the idea of a “one-stop-shop” in Excel with the PP Addin will be attractive. But wait til they start emailing around these HUGE Excel files with embedded PP data 🙂 … yeas there are ways to work around that but will the users know that? Those are my concerns.

      To me the challenge with PowerPivot is going to be establishing the “Best Practices” before it ships (which I am going to help with thru Rob). Then getting the RIGHT positioning message out to the RIGHT people through Microsoft’s Sales staff worldwide. They have to bundle PP with their talk about SharePoint and use it as an excuse to rethink the use of Excel generally.

      If that message gets out this’ll be huge. I’ve just been around too long to have a lot of faith in things going the way I think they should 😦 ..



    • Biggus Dickus says:


      It’s not so much a BI Thread but it’s drifted into some BI talk that you might find interesting.


  6. greg kramer says:

    Great insights.

    Appreciate your thoughts!

    Rob is sending out free copies of Ron Paul’s End the Fed with each purchase of Excel 2010…that could do wonders for sales….and save the country as well.

    But certainly hope that PP hits big time, regardless 🙂


  7. Well, I don’t think the desktop is going to die out- I’ve been spending huge effort building a desktop hybrid application- its somewhere in between a spreadsheet, a database and an ETL tool.


    I think there are still lots of people who want to get at the data quickly in a free form sort of way, and a desktop solution can be useful as a sort of data scratchpad.

    And sadly, sometimes the “inconvenience” to IT departments is that the rampant use of Excel, Access and other solutions underlines the fact that they aren’t satisfying user needs with their expensive enterprise business intelligence solutions. 😉

    Reports that everything will be in the cloud in 2010 are slightly optimistic, IMHO.

    • Biggus Dickus says:


      Sorry I didn’t approve your post sooner – travelling…

      Maybe it’s more you “hope” the desktop isn’t going to die soon more than you think 🙂 – just kidding .. Even though what you say is true, the indicators from MS are that they want the desktop to go away as soon as possible so we can all get into the “Cloud” ….. Of course they’ll deny it – but in this business actions don’t only speak louder than words – words are just meaningless. And their actions indicate that they’re bored with the desktop regardless of what a bad idea that may be.

      “And sadly, sometimes the “inconvenience” to IT departments is that the rampant use of Excel, Access and other solutions underlines the fact that they aren’t satisfying user needs with their expensive enterprise business intelligence solutions. ”

      Totally !! And they are NOT going to change that attitude ever IMHO. So we’d better accept the way things are going. In the end when companies are unable to get the value out of the technology they really need (but their staff will be able to spend all day cruising “Social Networks”) we will have the satisfaction of saying “We told ya so!” for what that’s worth 🙂


      • 🙂 We’ll see if that day comes.

        No doubt more and more will be in the “Cloud” but nothing changes overnight.

        As the speed of the cloud (ie the network) increases it will be more and more prevalent.

        For somethings its already past time to move there. For others (like data analysis in my opinion) it is early days.

        Try asking your IT department to let the “Cloud” have query access to your ERP DB and find out how much fun it is to get those holes drilled in the firewalls.

        Or start your session with a gigabyte upload to the cloud before you can do your analysis- the network is faster every year, but its still not the LAN in your data center.

        I saw a great illustration of this- Amazon has a new service where you put a hard drive in a box, and ship it to them and they load your data into the cloud from the inside, so to speak. ‘Cause that’s faster and better than uploading.

        That being said- I have lots of plans for web services and web based stuff- take advantage of what works where it works I say. All my websites and online things are in Rackspace’s cloud and I love it. Don’t think I’ll ever have a physical server again if I can avoid it.

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