What engineering and math features is Excel missing?

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi All

Background
I'm nearing the end of development of an Excel add-in (commercial) which adds new engineering and math features to Excel. I'd like to have a discussion with people that use Excel on a daily basis to ensure that the product adds true value and meets their needs and desires by quickly incorporating their feedback and suggestions into the product and essentially giving them the chance to direct the development of the product.

My question is:
Where is the correct place/forum to have this type of discussion as I don't want to break any forum rules? (I'm trying to be absolutely clear about my intentions)

I won't mention the product/website/features until I have been permitted, as I don't want to be accused of spamming or promoting a commercial product.

Thanks for your time and help,
Gareth Hayter.
 

Answers and Replies

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My issue with Excel is troubleshooting calculations. It is very difficult since values are referred to by location on the spreadsheet rather than by meaningful names.
 
How would be the best way to display a formula to you to aid quick troubleshooting?
  1. Treeview style
  2. Rolled-up intermediate values which show the results of the hidden nested formula, which can then be expanded to show the next level of the nested formula.
  3. Math equation of the formula
  4. Instead of displaying cell addresses, display their name (if they have one) of display the text in the cell to the left of the cell in question (ie: variable name etc)
  5. Other ideas?
 
11,108
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Have you compared excel to matlab?

My feeling is that the matlab paradigm of vectors and matrices is better suited to doing analysis than excel.

How would you do a physical simulation using differential equations in excel?
 
Of course products like MATLAB, MathCad etc. will always be better suited to some scenarios.

The intent of of my product is to enable people with only Excel to accomplish some things that have previously required the use of MATLAB etc. Some people can't afford licenses for those products or only require a small subset of their features.

I'm hoping to give new math capabilities to people who only have Excel.
 
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Some people can't afford licenses for those products or only require a small subset of their features.
For those who can't afford matlab (like me), there are Octave, Scilab, and others.
 
Dr. D: Thank-you for pointing those out. It's great that there are alternatives. I hadn't heard of those ones before.
 
jtbell
Mentor
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My issue with Excel is troubleshooting calculations. It is very difficult since values are referred to by location on the spreadsheet rather than by meaningful names.
One can define names for cells or arrays and use them in formulas. In Excel 2011 for Mac, I use

Insert --> Name --> Define...

fairly often.
 
statdad
Homework Helper
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The major issue with Excel is the abysmally bad "suite" of statistical analysis functions. The last time I went through them

- even something as simple as histogram creation wasn't correctly implemented
- it seemed the calculations of p-values for testing had issues
- the random number couldn't be (and still shouldn't be, I believe) trusted: there is no indication of the algorithm used and it was found to have rather serious shortfalls
- graphics were absymal

The ASA had an official policy that stated Excel shouldn't be used for any serious statistical work and preferably not for teaching. If it isn't in place now it should be
 
hunt_mat
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Octave is very similar to Matlab and completely free.
 
osilmag
Gold Member
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Not to beat a dead horse, however, I think it needs a Fourier Transform function.
 
My issue with Excel is troubleshooting calculations. It is very difficult since values are referred to by location on the spreadsheet rather than by meaningful names.
I completely agree, in line display of the equations is not practical, especially if equations got bigger and bigger
 
Henryk
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Not to beat a dead horse, however, I think it needs a Fourier Transform function.
Excel does have a Fourier transform function (or, had it). It is not installed be default and results are complex
The main problem with Excel in math calculation is speed, it is so damn slow that anything worth calculating takes ages.
I loved matlab but before that, I used scilab, free and pretty good.
 
Wrichik Basu
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I didn't use Excel math for ages, especially after I found Matlab. Recently, as a computer science minor, I was given some tasks in Excel. I found that inline display of equations is pure nonsensical. Excel is perhaps good for pie charts and bar graphs, but if you ask me about plotting line graphs, I will prefer Matlab.

In fact, it has been some time since I gave up Word too, and switched to LaTeX. Occasionally I do write official letters in Word, but that's all.
 
DEvens
Education Advisor
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My issue with Excel is troubleshooting calculations. It is very difficult since values are referred to by location on the spreadsheet rather than by meaningful names.
You can give locations a meaningful name. Or, you can use VB and use meaningful variable names.
 
BvU
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Well well, I stumbled on this thread because it appears in the 'hot threads' box (sic ! -- with a last post from a whole week ago !) and
  1. post #1 irked
  2. thread title irked
About 1):
nearing the end of development of an Excel add-in
to me is a disastrously huge contrast with
I'd like to have a discussion with people that use Excel on a daily basis to ensure that the product adds true value and meets their needs and desires by quickly incorporating their feedback and suggestions into the product and essentially giving them the chance to direct the development of the product
It makes me wonder what you did before ?
To make things worse: the 'quickly incorporating' adds insult to injury. As if the rest of the world is stupid and needs ages to incorporate (read: slap on) anything.

About 2):
Excel is the zenith of unstructured 'programming', totally unsuitable for math and engineering, except as a substitute for a pocket calculator, unfortunately with some addictive extras. These extras lure people into abusing the tool to do bigger calculations in a way nobody will ever be able to understand, trace, check, reproduce or re-use. Including themselves once a bit of time has passed. The uncountable number of spreadsheets left over once a project is done or after someone leaves constitute a back hole for knowledge: forever in the dark and never to reappear.


Not being better than anybody else, I do use Excel, I do use all kinds of inaccessible add-ins, I do use VBA (a lot :rolleyes: ) etc. etc.
So also, I am curious what you cooked up and what your (or your company's) thoughts and considerations were, other than
I'm hoping to give new math capabilities to people who only have Excel.
because there you have fierce competition from a huge team that has developed Excel far beyond what it should be and now still can't keep their hands off it.
 
DEvens
Education Advisor
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Excel is the zenith of unstructured 'programming', totally unsuitable for math and engineering, except as a substitute for a pocket calculator, unfortunately with some addictive extras. These extras lure people into abusing the tool to do bigger calculations in a way nobody will ever be able to understand, trace, check, reproduce or re-use. Including themselves once a bit of time has passed. The uncountable number of spreadsheets left over once a project is done or after someone leaves constitute a back hole for knowledge: forever in the dark and never to reappear.
Beg to differ. Excel has structure, it's just that usually people don't learn it. They stick a formula in a cell then go home. Usually people don't learn pivot tables, for example. Or how to hook VB to a location in a sheet. Or how to give a range a name.

Excel is a spreadsheet. It's not intended to be a general programming environment. If you are doing spreadsheet-ish stuff, then it may make sense to do it in Excel. If you are doing something that is not basically spreadsheet-ish, it probably does not make sense to use Excel.

What I'm saying is, you can make a horrible app in just about any development environment. But it is possible to make a nice app in Excel. You must use the features as they were intended.

I wrote an app to do cross border electricity trading for a major utility. It was intended to be the backup if the main trading program was unavailable for some reason. Then the supplier of the main app "pooched" and my app became the main app. I handled user inputs, currency exchange, daylight savings time being different across the border, and polling the on-line market operator information to get the market information by the 5 minute interval. I had passwords, layered programming, a user interface that was well received. And I documented the whole thing so that a maintenance coder could update it. In three years, I got exactly two questions on my app. This when I was 15 meters from the desk of the guy who was the maintainer, and 8 different traders were using the app 24/7/365. And trading electricity in the $100,000 per hour range.

In Excel.

I had a significant advantage at making my app in Excel. The traders were in the habit of recording their work in Excel worksheets. Then they would use the clunky manual interface the market operator provided. So they already had a fairly complete and mature idea of the information they wanted to store, the calculations they wanted to do, and the places the data would be retrieved from and sent to. They wanted certain activities to be automated. And they wanted certain other features added for purposes of formatting, record keeping, and reporting. I had my spec pretty much from day one. That was a rewarding experience.

An orphaned spreadsheet is a problem. But the problem would exist no matter what you used to store the data. It would be a problem in C++, in FORTRAN, in some database app, or on paper. If a thing is not well written, and not well documented, and not properly archived, then it might as well not exist. And that can happen in any development environment.
 
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BvU
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Couldn't agree more. Perhaps it's just my perception that Excel seduces most users to utterly unstructured stovepipe onetime-for-personal-use labyrinths. More so than other environments.
 

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