Business-like, isn't he?



Excel 5: back as leader of the pack

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, April 15, 1994

Some people would suggest that even though word processors are
higher profile (and larger sales), spreadsheets make or break a
personal computer.

Certainly, the Apple II was a toy until the pioneering VisiCalc
speadsheet appeared... and you couldn't get your mainframe to run a
spreadsheet-- you needed to buy an Apple.

And when Lotus 1-2-3 on the then-new IBM PC blew away VisiCalc with
its speed, and its charting and database functions, the success of
that hardware platform was assured.

Pretty much shut out of the DOS spreadsheet market, Microsoft
made Excel into the standard Macintosh spreadsheet, insuring
that machine's credibility as a business computer (and along the
way, getting to sneer at the failure of rival Lotus's Jazz for the

And Microsoft was quick to port Excel over to Windows, giving that
platform a power spreadsheet before there was even a usable word
processor for that platform.

Still, for a while, it seemed that the spreadsheet market was
stagnating... new versions, new features, but were there any new

Well, over on the fringe, Lotus developed an innovative
spreadsheet for Steve Jobs' NeXT computer... Improv. This product
featured multi-dimensionality, and the ability to switch views of
data simply by dragging labels. After it was ported to Windows,
the spreadsheet wars heated up with, in rapid succession, new
versions of the Windows big-threestarting with Lotus 1-2-3 release 4 (
see Computer Player, June 18, 1993).

Next, Borland's Quattro Pro brought out it's second Windows
generation (but labelled ver. 5.0), at a low-ball price of $49 (US)
list, 1/10th the price of its competitors.

Finally, last out of the stalls in Excel, version 5.0 from Microsoft.

It features virtually identical Windows and Mac versions... they
even use a common manual. And by waiting, Microsoft has been able
to wait and see its competitors' feature sets, and steal all the
best ideas.

Lotus originated 3-dimensional spreadsheets back with version 3.0
for DOS in 1989. Finally, Excel adds this feature.

Quattro Pro added easy to use tabs, to simplify moving between
sheets. First 1-2-3 and now Excel share this feature. In common
with Microsoft Word, Excel extends the idea of tabbed pages to
many of its dialogue boxes.

1-2-3 release 4 lets users edit right in cells, as well as on the
more traditional formula bar. Now, so does Excel. In fact, users
can now mix fonts and sizes within a single cell.

And in a more limited way, Excel's Pivot Tables add some of
Improv's flexible data views.

There's nothing wrong with stealing from the best... it has a long
and glorious tradition in software design, (despite some recent
court rulings).

In addition, Excel version 5 adds both of Microsoft's current
cross-application innovations. With OLE 2 support, as both a client and
server, graphics and other objects can
be inserted right into your spreadsheets and charts, and if
editing is necessary, Excel will take on the menus and tools of
the creating application. Similarly, if a table or chart from
Excel is inserted into another OLE 2-aware application, they too
can be edited in place.

Visual Basic for Applications is Microsoft's new attempt at a
standard macro language, based on Visual Basic, that will be (
slowly) implimented in all the company's products. Excel continues
to support the older XLM macro language, but VBA will have more of
a future, as well as a wider applicability.

Like other recent Microsoft products, there are cue cards, helpful
labels that pop up near toolbar icons, (which are easily user
configurable), and Wizards. Not as cute as MS-Publisher's Paper
Airplane and Origami Wizards, but a nice Text Import Wizard, and
an especially helpful Function Wizard, for getting around the
syntax of the ever-growing list of spreadsheet functions.

A common dictionary with Word, and a new database front end,
Microsoft Query, replacing the Q+E add-in of older versions.
Support for 1-2-3 macros (up through version 2, anyway).

The result is yet another huge application... 9 floppy disks,
resulting in 25 megs for a full installation. I'm getting by with
half of that, after careful pruning, and installing Excel's SetUp
program on your harddisk makes it easy to add or remove features
at any time (a highly useful idea, that more and more Windows
programs is implimenting).

Excel's long heritage as a Mac/Windows application shows. It feels
smooth and comfortable, as well as powerful. Microsoft has clearly
had practise optimizing its software for the Windows
environment... it even feels, well, peppy.

At least until the next round of upgrades, this is as good as it

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1994, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from  fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan