Home > Articles > Home & Office Computing > Microsoft Windows Desktop

Pane Relief: Excel Utilities

  • Print
  • + Share This
If you use Excel for more than just simple P&L spreadsheets, you've probably done some experimenting with its built-in functionality. But what if Excel doesn't do everything you need? Rick Cook discusses the pluses and minuses of using third-party resources to power up your spreadsheets.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

Third-Party Excel Utilities

Excel has a powerful set of built-in commands and functions, including graphing, forecasting, and the ability to produce PowerPoint slides as output. But Excel can’t include everything. That’s where third-party resources come in.

Resources is a generic term for the various Excel-based tools ranging from utilities through forms to complete applications written to run in Excel. There’s an enormous variety to choose from, available from an equally wide variety of sources. Although some Excel resources can cost hundreds of dollars, most of them cost less than $100, and a lot of them are free.

The Uses of Excel Resources

Non-native Excel resources (that is, things not built into Excel) are used for a bewildering range of jobs, from the highly specialized and downright bizarre to everyday applications. In fact, Excel is one of the most popular platforms for writing calculation-oriented projects, ranging from tutorials on machine design to highly specialized financial calculators.

Excel resources are also becoming the Windows equivalent of business forms. Everyone from organizations like the Future Farmers of America (FFA) to government agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are using Excel resources as electronic forms that can be filled in on a computer and submitted much more easily and accurately than paper forms. For example, Find A Grave distributes an Excel template for recording gravesites, so that amateur genealogists and other users can help Find A Grave to build their database of burial sites.

Excel also provides convenient methods of presenting or manipulating data imported from other applications. For example, Consumerism Commentary, a blog by Flexo, has an income and expense report template that takes data from Quicken and outputs it in a standardized format in an Excel spreadsheet.

A more complex use of the same feature is found in Microsoft’s Excel 2002/2003 add-in for SQL Server Analysis Services SP1. This add-in lets users examine data from SQL Server Analysis Services cubes on their desktops in Excel format. (Cubes are essentially multidimensional views of data contained in a SQL Server database, usually a data warehouse.) This makes it easy to use Excel to create customized reports, as well as using Excel’s functions to create what-if scenarios.

Why Not Do It Yourself?

Of course, if you need an Excel resource, you can write it yourself—and many of us do, at least some of the time. After all, Excel is designed to make it easy to create these sorts of things. However, there are also some very good reasons to use third-party resources. The main reasons are time and skill. You can save time—sometimes a lot of time—by using a third-party resource instead. Skill is also particularly important because, as discussed next, there are several different kinds of resources. Some of them, such as custom functions and add-ins, allow you to do things you can’t do in regular worksheets or templates. Unless you’re an Excel expert, you’re probably not going to be equally comfortable working in all areas, and it quite likely doesn’t make sense to spend the time to really learn them all.

Types of Resources

Although the range of available tools is enormous, underneath the covers almost all of these resources consist of one or more basic Excel objects:

  • Add-ins. An Excel add-in is a generalized custom function that can be used with any worksheet. An add-in is saved as its own worksheet, usually with an .xla extension, and can be used with any worksheet or workbook, just like a built-in Excel function.
  • Custom functions. In addition to a variety of built-in functions, Excel provides an easy way to create your own functions. One limit on custom functions is that they’re attached to a particular worksheet. If you want to use a custom function with another worksheet, you either have to import the custom function or reference it via the worksheet where it resides. Custom functions can be written in Excel native commands, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), C#, or C.
  • Templates. In essence, a template is a more general version of a prewritten spreadsheet. It includes formatting and perhaps some (but not all) of the formulas and such you need to complete the job. Templates are usually saved with the extension .xlt.
  • Worksheets. Prewritten worksheets can include labels, formulas, and the rest of the data and programming you need already in place.

Any of these objects, or any combination of them, can be used to write utilities and applications for Excel.

Tools for Excel Programming

Plenty of third-party tools are written in Excel already, and available to help you create your own Excel resources. This section discusses a few categories of such tools. These aren’t necessarily the "main" types of resources, but they’re certainly useful, and they give an indication of the range of jobs that Excel resources can do.

Worksheet Auditors

One of the most useful programming applications is an auditor to check your worksheets for errors.

Most worksheet auditors will check for consistency, circular references, and other common problems. Many of these tools go beyond the basics, though. CheckXL from Critical Path Technology Services includes a range of comparison features to let you check worksheets against other worksheets, compare ranges on different worksheets, and perform similar tasks.

The Spreadsheet Detective performs inter-worksheet data flow to help analyze complex models and highlight inaccurate sensitivity ranges.

Add-In Decompilers

The Excel add-in decompiler converts Excel add-ins back into regular Excel workbooks. This tool is valuable if you’re customizing Excel add-ins.

Other Examples

Navigator Utilities is a package of tools designed to let you get around worksheets and workbooks—finding references, locating links, named ranges, tracking down objects such as graphs, and following cell dependencies.

Datapig Technologies’ Excel Explosion splits worksheets to organize the data by one or more column categories, such as address or date. It’s freeware, and the site features an excellent Flash tutorial demonstrating the product.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020