What do YOU think Excel is for?

It is sad how often I draw up plans in MS Paint. Works well enough though.

You want floorplans? Floorplans??!? Visio is the hot ticket for those.

Yes, I’m kidding. :wink:

We do civils and cabling job pack for issue to the contractors, and it’s entirely in Excel.
Some people draw floor plans in it (very badly), tip in photos, and annotate them with text, too. (The file size is often huge when you tip screenshot photos in as there doesn’t seem to be any way to reduce the resolution).
It’s what the firm requires. (Don’t get me started on how Visio 2016 sucks).

Here’s a good creative use of Excel (not mine, just something I found):

Well, people can use it for whatever they darn well want to, up to and including keeping track of simple lists. But it’s ideally suited to automating or semi-automating operations/interactions involving text strings and/or numbers. If you’ve got VBA skills (I don’t), I’d guess you can make it do just about anything.

The first thing that a lot of folks might think up is as a checkbook, keeping track of transactions on your account. This is a time-based simulation of your actual bank account, with a resolution on the order of one calendar day, and it uses past transactions and estimates of future transactions to predict what your future account balance will be. If you think a bit further, you realize that you can carry out time-based simulations of pretty much anything. Not just simple checking account transactions, but other financial matters, and also physical phenomenon.

  • I’ve used Excel to do Monte Carlo simulations so I could develop a histogram of what my nest egg might look like on the day I retire, assuming different mixes of stocks and bonds with annual rebalancing; there was enough cell space in the spreadsheet to do 10,000 runs, which gave a decent histogram. This was helpful for developing a more intuitive understanding of the benefits of asset allocation and rebalancing, and sequence-of-returns risk.

  • Years ago I was bored, so I created a spreadsheet to simulate the acceleration of my motorcycle. There was a lookup table for the engine’s torque curve, and it incorporated initial launch RPM, shift delays, decisions to make about what RPM was best to shift at, transmission gear ratios, final drive ratio, estimates of driveline frictional losses, and so on. Interesting toy to play with.

  • I’ve done ballistic calcs before to see how artillery shells behave in flight, how far a potato might travel when launched from a hairspray-powered potato cannon, and what Felix Baumgartner’s freefall was like after he jumped out of his balloon at 120,000 feet.

  • I have a spreadsheet for keeping track of sales in my side business. One of the things it does is use a tracking number I paste into one cell to generate a complete URL in another cell, including a full “http://…” address and the correct text to display, both of which depend on an automated check of the tracking number to figure out whether it’s for UPS, USPS, or FedEx. There’s a lot of slicing/dicing/checking/concatenating of strings, and automating all of that has been a great timesaver. This spreadsheet also makes liberal use of conditional formatting, highlighting cells that are missing data (e.g. I’ve entered an amount paid in this cell, but haven’t yet put in a tracking number in that cell) so I can don’t forget to take care of unfinished business.

In other words, it’s the businessperson’s Swiss Army knife.

And the same for home economists, amateur investors, nerdly hobbyists of almost any stripe, and “computer folks”. Only the latter are supposed to know better; when Excel is being used beyond its sweet spot and other better tools would be better.

I was a spreadsheet user from pretty early on, too.

One of the things at which I most marveled in the early days (and try not to take for granted now) is that changing a single value in a single cell on a single worksheet in a single workbook automatically updates every properly linked instance that’s affected by that number in every other cell, in every other sheet, in every other workbook … like … virtually in the universe.

So you change X and 10 … 100 … 1,000 things linked to X are automatically updated.

That was unimaginably complicated and error prone in the Olden Days.

I call it “a programming language for people who insist they can’t program”. An absurd number of people I’ve encountered with a “business” background throw up their hands at the first sight a “programming language”, but will write ridiculously convoluted spreadsheets just to avoid doing any “programming”.

When people talk about data binding in javascript web frameworks, I explain it as working like connected spreadsheet cells. There’s a lot of power in the language syntax being “this thing must always be equal to (some function of) this other thing” and having the runtime be responsible for figuring out how to do that, instead of the programmer.

Anything that could use columns. I don’t like messing with columns in Word (processors of any brand).

About 20 years ago I was tasked with recording the serial numbers of all of our company’s computers and monitors, so I chose to use Excel instead of Word. Then I added some circles to better approximate the way that the office was laid out (The workspaces were curved). I later added borders and included offices.
This was in a new tech support call center, and it was growing every week. Fast forward a couple years, and it looked like a blueprint and was used for many different things. One day one of the managers came to me because she needed to make Fire Evacuation maps to post around the office, so we added some arrows. My higher-ups were impressed, but my direct supervisor kept telling me that it wasn’t a “real spreadsheet”. It was true that there wasn’t a single calculation in the whole thing, but it was mighty useful.

I know this is 5 months old, but not just people with a business background. Before I retired there were engineers - good engineers - who used spreadsheets for all kinds of processing, and kept winding up with problems when they exceeded the size limit. Most of what they did I could do in a 10 line Perl program. 100 times faster.

Printing graph paper.

Excel is a data scratch pad. The cells are very versatile, being able to contain multiple types of data (numerical, date, time, text) without having to first be defined as such, or formulas instead, as well as labels for the data in adjoining cells, headers for the cells that follow below, or links to external data. And it can sort and do other cute tricks.

I rarely keep a project in Excel once it gets both complex and ongoing/permanent in nature — if it heads that direction I’m switching to FileMaker — but Excel is marvelous for getting started, when you have some data you want to type in and some of it is the sum of or product of some other info, and you want some running or grand totals or something.

I have an Office 365 subscription for $99 per year that allows five people to use it, and each person can install it on five devices. I used to hate subscriptions but that is a lot cheaper than what I used to pay under the old model even if I waited six years between upgrades.

If you have multiple people and devices, yeah, way cheaper. That’s fair.

I use Excel for pretty much everything except actual writing. I make financial spreadsheets with it, I keep lists on it, I make timelines with it, I create fictional characters with it, I keep linguistics data on it and make conlangs with it, I’ve tried to make an RPG with it but I keep dumping it and starting over.

ETA: Oh, and I once made a map of our company’s floorplan, using colors and patterns to (pretty accurately) represent the different areas’ floor tiles.

I’ve embedded Excel charts into PowerPoint.

That always goes over well in meetings. Management loves their charts.

Office 365 is free to educators and students. I registered using my “dot edu dot cn” E-mail address with no problem.

I’ve actually had engineers try to do real data analysis in Excel, including one who tried to do an FFT using cell macros (despite the fact that she had Matlab and the Signals Processing Toolbox available to her). I point out that it isn’t even all the great for data visualization of 2D data, and is absolutely terrible when doing anything but trivial operations because of how difficult it is to debug errors, but for many people it is the only data handling tool that they know and they use it for everything instead of spending some time to learn Matlab or Python. I even sent one engineer to a Matlab training class only to still have him cutting and pasting data and manually making each plot instead of writing a single script that could import, process, plot, and save data for a bunch of channels in one batch.

That is basically the perfect way to use Excel; you can import, inspect, and manually play with the data, then when you are ready to do more complex operations you can import it into Pandas (if you are a Python user) or otherwise build tools and scripts to do complex or involved manipulations. The problem comes when you interact with other people who insist on only using Excel. I’ve spent so much time rebuilding tools that I originally scripted in Python or Matlab to make something comparable in Excel, or trying to summarize data into a compact form suitable for a spreadsheet, and it is all just basically extra overhead to doing real work. At this point, it something requires filtering or manipulations beyond what I can do with a PivotTable or some creative conditional formatting, I kill Excel and move directly to Python/NumPy/SciPy.


Even at that, if they’re formatted in a standardized way, it’s super trivial to just parse out that number data into its own column and deal with it as such.

Excel, and spreadsheets in general ought to be used for some combination of calculation and presentation, and very small scale databasey type stuff.

Problem is, things have a tendency to grow, and stuff that someone developed in Excel with macros and all sorts of jack-legged workarounds is devilishly hard to reverse engineer and translate into anything else. So keep that in mind- if you think that your procedure might end up getting too big for a spreadsheet, don’t do it in a spreadsheet in the first place, regardless of how fast you might need it, or how easy it might be in the moment. It’ll save you trouble in the long haul, believe me.

Dude, you need to get out more. If $70 for 3 people with drinks is “nice”, I’d hate to see “normal”.

Generally speaking, nice starts at about $70 per person with drinks and can go up from there.

Welp, I’ve read about a third of the thread, and I’m ready to answer the title question.

I think Excel is for other people.