Spreadsheet Applications

Programming, as it relates to spreadsheet use, is essentially the process of building applications that use a spreadsheet rather than a traditional programming language such as C, Pascal, or BASIC. In both cases, however, these applications will be used by other people — not the developer of the application.

For purposes of this book, a spreadsheet application is a spreadsheet file (or group of related files) that is designed so that someone other than the developer can perform useful work without extensive training. According to this definition, most of the spreadsheet files that you've developed probably wouldn't qualify as spreadsheet applications. You may have dozens or hundreds of spreadsheet files on your hard drive, but it's a safe bet that most of them aren't really designed for others to use.

A good spreadsheet application has the following characteristics:

It enables the end user to perform a task that he or she probably would not be able to do otherwise.

It provides the appropriate solution to the problem. (A spreadsheet environment isn't always the optimal approach.)

It accomplishes what it is supposed to do. This may be an obvious prerequisite, but it's not at all uncommon for applications to fail this test.

It produces accurate results and is free of bugs.

It uses appropriate and efficient methods and algorithms to accomplish its job.

It traps errors before the user is forced to deal with them. Note that errors and bugs are not the same. Attempting to divide by zero is an error, whereas failure to identify that error before it occurs is a bug.

It does not allow the user to delete or modify important components accidentally (or intentionally).

Its user interface is clear and consistent so that the user always knows how to proceed.

Its formulas, macros, and user interface elements are well documented, allowing for subsequent changes, if necessary.

It is designed so that it can be modified in simple ways without making major changes. A basic fact of life is that a user's needs change over time.

It has an easily accessible help system that provides useful information on at least the major procedures.

It is designed so that it is portable and runs on any system that has the proper software (in this case, a copy of the appropriate version of Excel).

It should come as no surprise that it is possible to create spreadsheet applications for many different usage levels, ranging from simple fill-in-the-blank templates to extremely complex applications that use custom menus and dialog boxes and that may not even look like spreadsheets.

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