Excel is Laughing at Me

By Daniel Antion posted 04-24-2012 14:31


Well over a year ago, we discovered an error in thinking that caused us to give ourselves a big pat on the back where none was deserved. We had modified the standard New and Edit forms for a custom list, and we even personalized those forms for the users. When we showed the (two) users of this list the revised form, they both said “I never use the form, I use the Datasheet view”…sigh.

Personally, I hate the Datasheet view; I see the Datasheet view as Excel’s way of mocking my work in SharePoint. It’s as if that old standard is saying “yeah, yeah, you have metadata and workflows, but they really just want a row-column view of the world.” I have dedicated two blog entries to comparing SharePoint to Excel for keeping row-column information. One of those posts, Excel v Custom Lists, has been in the top-10 blogs I’ve written since November 2009! I have extolled the benefits of Lists over Spreadsheets in training, in seminars and in meeting after meeting. When I do convince people to pull their simple list data into a much more powerful environment, I am often disappointed to find that they embrace SharePoint but they cling to the A1..N55 block of data view.

Adding insult to injury, six months after we accepted the fact that our hand-crafted input forms would go unused, we were dealt another setback. We gave those same two users iPads, only to have them immediately complain that “the Datasheet view doesn’t work on my iPad.” Personally, I wanted to take the “Dr. it hurts when I do this…” approach to that problem, but my coworker is nicer; she built a Data View Webpart that looks and works like the Datasheet view on an iPad. Her solution was a sweet bit of code, it looks great and the users love it, but part of me feels defeated by my old nemesis – Excel. As I write this post, I saw a Tweet pointing to this article by Microsoft for Using Datasheet View in 64-bit Office 2010. Their solution: install the 32-bit version of Office! Why don’t they just say “go to the Ribbon in SharePoint and export the list to Excel!” At least if they did that, people could get the value they paid for out of their computer. Microsoft should change Excel to analyze each spreadsheet. If it finds a collection of text and numbers with no use of formulas, it should pop-up a warning that says “this would be better in SharePoint!” Instead, Microsoft increased the number of rows in a spreadsheet from 65,536 to 1,048,576 and the number of columns from 256 to 16,384 in moving from Excel 2003 to 2010.

I know that I am doomed to failure in this battle. The two-dimensional list is the digital equivalent of the ledger book mankind used for centuries. Bob Cratchit would embrace Excel, but would see little value in the relational database that lies at the heart of a SharePoint list. The truly sad thing is that if we can’t convince our users of the value of connecting related bits of one list with another, of searching along vectors in three dimensions instead of lines in two, we will never be able to cope with big data. I’m not talking about Big Data, the zetabytes of stuff out there; I’m talking about the mere terabytes of stuff in our own back yard.

#customlist #SharePoint #datasheetview #Excel #iPad #BigData