I just spent a couple of my valuable hours perusing the presentations of the recent Build Seminar in San Fran ….
I am going to try to be as concise as possible on my take-away. I could write pages and pages explaining how I really feel about the direction Microsoft is taking but I will try to be brief ..
1. The Office content consisted of one session
and apparently it was the final session of the event (quite a statement there)
2. The content of this presentation reflects exclusively the ability to append functionality to the Task Pane in Excel or in an Access Web App (as opposed to client) using Apps for Office.
3. This content consists of in-situ add-ins that can be included inside the Window of any Office app (PowerPoint, Outlook, Excel. Word and Access Web Apps)
4. I have been here before several times – starting in the late 80’s the first time a Microsoft rep showed me how I could embed an Excel Worksheet inside a Word Document (a technology that still sucks btw ;-)) – In the late 90’s there was a big push on adding functionality to the Word and Excel Task Bars exactly like this. This went absolutely nowhere. I guess all the people who were involved in that attempt have left the company and the new people have decided to try once again. Isn’t there an old saying about that ?
5. On top of all that, implementing this new technology involves implementing these “solutions” using Apps For Office in Visual Studio. Visual Studio, a haven for Excel lovers if I’ve ever seen one… What is wrong with an in-file automation technology or at least an add-in like capability that can travel with a file or be referenced externally?
6. There is a reference at the last minute to “old VBA” and its limitations and how this new exciting capability opens the World to developers in Office – apparently.
So if VBA is considered an old and obsolete “file-based” technology I would REALLY like to hear what they are planning for true “Automation” of Excel? By that I mean a true macro language that is designed specifically ONLY for automation of the functionality that is inherent to Excel… not a loose binding of a bunch of “cutesy” external apps nobody is asking for that I would refer to as Add-Ins that do good “Demo”, rather than Real Business.
If Microsoft has decided that VBA is dead because they have fired everyone who ever worked on it all those years ago then I call for them to replace it with something comparable asap. I was recently surprised to find that a VBA app I wrote on my PC in Excel 2013 works just fine on my client’s Mac using Office for the Mac … If they’re capable of writing a version of VBA for the Mac (which I assume is not COM-based) then Id like to know what’s stopping them from building a version to run anywhere? My instincts tell me it is not technical as much as it is a conscious decision on the part of Microsoft to downgrade the capability of Excel to something little more than a grid app to produce nice demos with pretty graphs. I have no idea where the PowerPivot and PowerQuery technologies fit in the Automation story of Excel and they just scream out for that in my opinion.
IMHO, while there are many out there who individually manipulate spreadsheets doing ad-hoc reporting and analysis, I believe that there is actually an even bigger need for well-designed models built to be robust and reliable and able to perform repetitive tasks without a need for someone who understands all the complexity of the model to manually edit the file’s design every day or month or year. I also believe that the ability to push one button and have it run a major analysis importing data, manipulating formats, creating reports an publishing them to PDFs or to an Excel Web based file for consumption by many more people who have no desire to do it themselves (or have actual JOBS that don’t mean Excel development) has HUGE value.
All this requires the automation that is currently only available in VBA. Without that (or an equivalent) capability Excel will just fall away to be replaced by more expensive, less capable technologies (that just might not be from Microsoft btw). Alternatively it will all fall back to user-maintained reporting with the attendant non-productivity and problems that can create.
It appears to me that the people making the decisions on Excel (and don’t get me going on Access) have no history nor do they understand or care about all the good and reasonable ways that businesses everywhere use and could use VBA (or XLM or whatever) to Automate their business processes. The fact that they don’t get it makes me shake my head in despair.
p.s. You comments would be greatly appreciated ….