Why Excel Is Great for Developers

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Excel 2003 is a highly programmable product, and it is easily the best choice for developing spreadsheet-based applications. Excel uses the VBA language, which is now in widespread use.

For developers, Excel's key features include the following:

♦ File structure: The multisheet orientation makes it easy to organize elements of an application and store it in a single file. For example, a single workbook file can hold any number of worksheets and chart sheets. UserForms and VBA modules are stored with a workbook but are invisible to the end user.

♦ Visual Basic for Applications: This macro language lets you create structured programs directly in Excel. Excel isn't the only spreadsheet to include a structured scripting language (1-2-3 offers LotusScript, for example), but it's certainly the best implementation.

♦ Easy access to controls: Excel makes it very easy to add controls such as buttons, list boxes, and option buttons to a worksheet. Implementing these controls often requires little or no macro programming.

♦ Custom dialog boxes: You can easily create professional-looking dialog boxes. Excel's UserForm feature (introduced in Excel 97) is a vast improvement over the old dialog sheets.

♦ Custom worksheet functions: With VBA, you can create custom worksheet functions to simplify formulas and calculations.

♦ Customizable menus: You can change menu elements, add to existing menus, or create entirely new menus. Other products enable you to do this as well, but Excel makes it extremely easy.

♦ Customizable shortcut menus: Excel is the only spreadsheet that lets you customize the right-click, context-sensitive shortcut menus.

♦ Customizable toolbars: It's easy to create new toolbars as another user interface option. Again, other spreadsheets let you do this as well, but Excel outmuscles them all.

♦ Powerful data analysis options: Excel's pivot table feature makes it very easy to summarize large amounts of data with very little effort.

♦ Microsoft Query: You can access important data directly from the spreadsheet environment. Data sources include standard database file formats, text files, and Web pages.

♦ Data Access Objects (DAO) and ActiveX Data Objects (ADO): These features make it easy to work with external databases using VBA.

♦ Extensive protection options: Your applications can be kept confidential and protected from changes. Again, pretty standard fare, but Excel has some advantages.

♦ Ability to create "compiled" add-ins: With a single command, you can create XLA add-in files that install seamlessly.

♦ Support for automation: With VBA, you can control other applications that support automation. For example, you can generate a report in Microsoft Word.

♦ Ability to create Web pages: It's very easy to create a HyperText Markup Language (HTML) document from an Excel workbook.

♦ Ability to import an XML file and map the fields to spreadsheet cells.

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