The UK government has announced plans to ditch the Microsoft Office suite.
Posted by Mona Chalabi Friday 31st January 2014.
Seven ways Microsoft Excel could change the world. Here are some reasons why they should stop and recalculate.
If you’ve been keeping track of government misadventures, you’ll have noticed that in the past five months alone, the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office and the NHS have all admitted that their ineffective IT systems were wasting millions of pounds. This time, plans to abandon expensive software have been announced before the scandal even happened – and unlike most government IT, this one will be familiar to almost every one of you reading this: Microsoft Office.
The government thinks it will opt for free ‘open source’ software such as OpenOffice and Google Docs, but they seem to have overlooked the gem in the Microsoft Office crown: Excel.
Whether you love it, loathe it or plain old fear it, Excel has its uses (scrolling down for as long as you can before getting bored is not one of them). Here are seven things you probably never dreamt you could do with the green giant.
Forget Paint (do you remember Microsoft Paint?) it is actually possible to create beautifully designed masterpieces in a spreadsheet. A Japanese 73 year-old by the name of Tatsuo Horiuchi proves it.
The piece below, “Cherry Blossoms at Jogo Castle” (2006) was made using software designed for numbers. Mr Horiuchi explains “I never used Excel at work but I saw other people making pretty graphs and thought, ‘I could probably draw with that’”. If you’re still feeling incredulous, you can download the artwork as an Excel file here and see for yourself.
If you have trouble remembering who your friends are, you can follow Bill and Hillary Clinton’s example. According to a new book, they used an Excel spreadsheet to list people who had betrayed them and those to whom they owed favours. If Santa Claus were keeping detailed records of naughty and nice, he would probably do it using Microsoft spreadsheets.
When an online dating site produced another disastrously incorrect match, Amy Webb decided to start recording her own data. Instead of just being frustrated, she used bad dates to collect numbers and develop 72 must-have requirements for a prospective partner.
The data she recorded also helped her to adjust her own profile, come up with algorithms and eventually she claims, find a husband and write a book about it: Data, A Love Story.
‘Sorting a column does not constitute an interactive’ you say. True, but Abbott Katz has redefined the interactive. The author of the blog Spreadsheetjournalism spends his spare time creating all sorts of voodoo witchcraft in Excel.
Type a number in the peach box in the spreadsheet pictured below and cells will be instantly recoloured to represent different London underground lines. Download it to try it.
For those who can’t afford an accountant (and for accountants that can’t afford specialist software) Excel can provide a quick and easy way to tot up inflows and outflows. The largest bank in the US, JPMorgan Chase apparently used it to make tens of billions (let’s shelve the fact that they also lost billions using it). If you don’t become a millionaire, you can at least use the spreadsheet to calculate your odds of becoming one.
As the blogger Excelicious points out, open tools like Google spreadsheets have so far had surprisingly few security breaches. But the fact that they are accessible online does create risks even if those documents are set to private, so the prospect of the British government switching to open tools will probably worry those who don’t think the Internet is always the safest of places.
English might be the first language of 5% of the world’s population but the Hindu–Arabic numeral system has been the global standard since the 9th century. That means numbers have huge potential to speak to new people.
But it’s not all about talking, Excel allows us to listen too. When we write an article on the Datablog, we try as often as we can to let you view the numbers in a Google spreadsheet (ok, ok, huge plus for open source) and, if you like, download it in Microsoft Excel. Sometimes when readers do that, they find incredible things we didn’t and if we’re really lucky, they tell us about it.
That is truly open journalism when we’re making sense of the world together.
As this will be one of my last posts on the Guardian’s Datablog for the forseeeable future, I’ll be self-indulgent and use this as an opportunity to thank our readers. Whether it was suggesting alternative sources or saying that the data visualisation just didn’t work, you made my work infinitely better. I’m hugely grateful for it.