As with Word 2007, you can now save Excel files in XML Paper Specification (XPS) or Portable Document File (PDF) format right within the program, something that used to require a plugin. But the most important way that Excel 2007 makes it easier to share spreadsheet information is through new integration with Office SharePoint 2007.
Office SharePoint 2007 is Microsoft's content management, collaboration and intranet server product. You'll also need the Enterprise CAL (Client Access License), which bundles licenses for a variety of interrelated Microsoft software products.
The bad news: This set of capabilities is only available with the Office 2007 Professional Plus, Ultimate, and Enterprise packages or the standalone version of Excel 2007, and not with the Standard, Home & Student, or Small Business versions of Office 2007.
The mechanisms within Excel for publishing spreadsheet information are fairly simple. From the big Office button in the top left corner of the screen, you choose the Publish option. But the process cannot be initiated single-handedly by a workbook author. It requires planning to ensure data security and access rules and coordination with a SharePoint administrator — which, of course, could be the same person as the workbook author in a small business.
It's also possible — but, again, only if you have SharePoint and an advanced version of Office and have configured Excel Services within SharePoint — to publish a reporting dashboard with a summary of multiple reports. Dashboards, often a feature of corporate business intelligence programs, can include charts and pivot tables and are designed to show the status of your business, or an area of your business at a glance.
Some of the graphical enhancements already touched on go further than just aesthetics. New conditional formatting, for example, lets you set filters in a spreadsheet that will add special highlighting to a data item if it meets criteria given in the condition. You could set a condition to highlight regional sales figures that fall a certain percentage below national averages in pink, for example. Conditional formatting lets you see trends at a glance and alerts you to exceptions in the data.
It's also now easier to create pivot tables — the summary tables you can build from a worksheet by selecting and combining fields in new ways — and pivot charts. Pivot tables are a powerful analytical tool that some surveys suggest fewer than 50 percent of Excel customers use — possibly because the functionality is not particularly well documented. Excel 2007 makes it easier to create them by letting you reorient data quickly. You can now drag the fields to where you want them to display.
The Bottom Line
Excel 2007 shares the same arguably improved user interface as Word 2007 and the other major Office components. Long-time customers may not see much improvement, though, and will likely be annoyed by having to learn new routines. They'll also be disappointed by the loss of customizability.
The new version offers some useful new improvements, though some of the best are only available when you integrate Excel with other Microsoft products. Before you migrate, consider carefully whether the improvements available to you will actually help your company.
This article was first published on WinPlanet.com.