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Specialized Profession-LiveIamA (Gene Mosher, creator of the first graphical touch screen point of sale software and computer, which I unveiled to the public at Comdex, Las Vegas, 30 years ago this week.) AMA!

Nov 19th 2016 by 43P04T34 • 31 Questions • 1360 Points

Hello from the Microsoft Excel team! We are the team that designs, implements, and tests Excel across each of our platforms; e.g. Windows desktop, Windows mobile, Mac, iOS, Android, and the Web. We have a great group of people from the Excel team with deep product experience ready to answer your questions. We did this a year ago and we are excited to be back. We'll focus on answering questions that pertain to Excel usage, its various platforms, and the Excel team. There may be questions that come up around bugs, feature requests, what’s new, training & resources. Here are some quick links that may be useful to you.

Home page for all Excel resources and feature requests: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Excel/ct-p/Excel_Cat

Excel Support for Bugs: https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/msoffice/forum/msoffice_excel?auth=1Excel Support

We'll start answering questions at 9:00 AM PDT and continue until 11:00 AM PDT.

This post can be verified here: https://twitter.com/msexcel/status/797450130853134336

After this AMA, you may have other help related questions that come up. You can still ask these normal Excel questions in the https://www.reddit.com/r/excel subreddit.

10:45 AM - The questions so far have been great. Please keep them coming. Our session ends in an about 15 minutes.

11:00 AM - We are wrapping up the Excel AMA. We'll stick around for a few more minutes to finish some answers. Thanks for all of the great questions.

Q:

Hi Gene,

I own a small doughnut shop in Montreal. My impression from interacting with m my peers (small businesses) is that small business owners don't optimize their business operations using POS data. They either have real difficulty accessing the data (because of my antiquated POS I only get printable data, which I have to enter manually into Excel!) or they simply don't have the time or ability to convert the sales data into actionable changes in operations.

My question is: do you foresee POS driven data aquisition/analytics entering the small business operations world? And do you know of any particular services that you feel are doing this well? I am especially interested in trying to use the data for helping the different parts of running a business (staffing, marketing, maintaining appropriate stock and identifying waste).

A:

What is your favourite feature which the average Excel user wouldn't necessarily know about?


Q:

I have a client, two of them, on the St. Lawrence River near the Ogdensburg bridge, not all that far from you!

Now, to your comment. First I'll note an irony which your comment reveals. Over the years I have often been told that my fully integrated, self contained reports are not what people want, but what they want instead is for me to export the data to Excel. And that, of course, if I did that, would turn my report solution into their report problem. So I never did that. It's as if they just can't get their head around the fact that they are asking me to be able to ride their bicycle backwards.

In general, the PoS companies like to break Pos & hospitality management functions into components, then sell the components separately to make more money. That will make them more money but it will also break the vision I have of Pos & restaurant operations automation, so I never did that.

I am not really that well up to speed on what everybody is doing. The number of companies in the game is too many to count. What you're describing is a rather complete array of hospitality management components and I suspect that nobody is both offering them all and doing so at an affordable cost to the hospitality market. What I have done is at least make it economically and pragmatically possible, by placing my software under the GPL. Let me know if you don't know what that means.

You didn't ask this question but what I think you would benefit from next is if your customers could order their donuts & coffee from their own devices, and that this ordering process would include payment for these items as well. What you would get from this is information about how to maximize profit on your most popular menu items and how you could further engineer your menu to offer more items like the ones your customers prefer. Is there such a thing as donuts fried on demand?

Maybe you should email me about being a client. A Raspberry Pi and an android Tablet and you've arrived. I can't promise that I have everything you're in search of but I can promise that at least nobody is going to tell you that what you're in search of is simply not going to happen. I will be able to tell you how many of each type of donut you've sold on any day, week, month, quarter or year, but I won't be able to tell you how many to prepare tomorrow. That could be done, at least, if it's not already being done, because there is no reason that it can't be done.

A:

Ctrl-` switches to formula view and back. Love it! :-)

-- Alex [MSFT]


Q:

I understand the UX reasons against this, but export of the data to a common, easily parseable format (like .csv) would assist with the training of machine learning systems/predictive models.

Simple day-of-week correlations should be possible without much effort, but correlating the sales of item x with baseball games in the area might be a little more involved...

A:

I work in data analysis and use pivot tables every day. They are great, but for ONE feature; "Summarize Values By" cannot be applied to all values. So you have to right click, find the menu, and select "SUM" or "GROUP" or whatever for each column in Values.

There should be an option to set everything in "Values" to the same summarization. If there is already an option to do this then please, I will give you my money for it.


Q:

First of all, there are things worth knowing and there are things not worth knowing. If we can at least put what is worth knowing on the table and get the rest of it off the table then we can begin. I have always resisted telling my developers and associates how they should do what they do. As a software development manager I focus on the result, not on the method of arriving at the result. I also like to deal in specifics, not in generalities. For example, if a PoS program simply told you what your ten most popular items are, and what your ten most profitable items are, and then helped you make decisions about how to perfectly align those, it would be worth its weight in gold. It's an old concept and if those are aligned, then you're going to make money. It doesn't matter if your PoS is pretty or not. It matters if your PoS helps you learn to manage like this.

A:

Hi Noytal,

Thanks for the feedback. You can do this with Power Pivot ("Summarize By" in Advanced). For non-data model based pivot tables, do add an item to https://excel.uservoice.com, we look forward to having the community vote on this!

thanks, ash [MSFT]


Q:

How do you determine what data is worth knowing? Also, do you do it per-client, per-industry, or...?

A:

Power BI, my friend.


Q:

In hospitality it is as, I would imagine, similar to any business that has items or services you which you sell in a recurring fashion. In particular, you need to know which of these are responsible for the larger part of your transactions, and which do not contribute much, if at all. You need to understand what brings people to your business, and more importantly, what brings them back again and again. These are the items or services that you turn your attention to, and which you fine tune for profitability, always seeking to maximize profitability. Stop offering items or services that people don't use, don't respond to. Replace items or services you're removing with new ones which have the same characteristics as the ones which have historically brought customers to you.

If my clients want me to I go over their reports with them to help them understand the specific usefulness which the reports offer. What cannot be denied is that the reports contain truths which the management and ownership of the restaurant or bar is almost always unaware of. It's necessary to keep all the data forever, of course.

A:

Flash Fill for me - https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Turn-Flash-Fill-on-3f9bcf1e-db93-4890-94a0-1578341f73f7

My most favorite trick on it is that it can actually be activated by Ctrl+E, many people don't know that. ;)

-Jeff Zhang (MSFT)


Q:

As a data analyst, I think having BOTH would be useful. I constantly have to create new slave databases from our as/400 DB to restructure dirty machine data, or rebuild a report that was designed by someone with the wrong frame of reference.

Your said your code is on Github, does that mean I can program my own reports into one of your POS's? Or even dump the data into FME or COGNOS or SPLUNK or any other business intelligence framework?

A:

Power User / VBA Developer here. I'm going to be a little direct, because while I love Excel, I've definitely seen it's warts.

Four questions:

  1. Can you/someone fix the Ctrl-Break bug in Excel? I don't run into it often, but when I do, I am surprised that this isn't a priority. It's the second most WTF thing in Excel. http://stackoverflow.com/a/5823507/2886869

  2. The most WTF thing in Excel is the Data Model. I've had Pivot Tables quit on me, saying that the Data Model is corrupt, with no additional tooling, or help, and I've had to rebuild entire spreadsheets. I really like the idea of ListObjects and Tables, but if they randomly break, I can't really put them in my spreadsheets until the tooling around fixing them is better.

  3. Can we update the VB Editor to, like, 2005? It hasn't changed since Office 97 and there are things that I really would like IE code folding, regex search inside the VBE, Eclipse's automatic reformatting of code, VIM bindings, etc, etc. Can we take SOME of the Visual Studio Code stuff and port it?

  4. If we are getting Javascript in Office, that's great, then can you pretty please heavily promote D3 as the visualization library of choice, complete with some training to integrate both?


Q:

It means you can do any damn thing you want to. You've got my email, my phone. Get in touch and I'll put you in touch with the other guys and who knows? In 4,5,6 months you just might find yourself no longer stuck where you are. It would be nice to be able to do exactly what you think should be done, wouldn't it? There you go.

A:

Great post and series of questions. We want to take the time to answer it well and will do so over the next couple of days (running out of time in the room and we have to go back to our days jobs now). Thanks for the terrific questions!

-Charlie [MSFT Excel Team]


Q:

Maybe we can collaborate, I am interested finding ways to make efficient ways for small businesses (like my own) to analyse sales data. If you're interested, feel free to PM me.

A:

I'm late, but is there any plan to make it so a highlighted range would stay highlighted when switching between screen? For example, I highlight a column and then go to a screen where I need to enter data. My highlight no longer shows. It would be pretty nice for data entry and auditing.


Q:

Well, of course. I can respond affirmatively here - no need to pm because all I could do is to tell you my contact info which is on my web site anyway. There are already people in the ViewTouch community working this, by the way.

A:

Interesting idea. By highlight, do you mean the cells that you selected with your keyboard/mouse? Feel free to add your request to our uservoice site: https://excel.uservoice.com/ -Joe [MSFT]


Q:

Do you ever plan on fixing that website of yours?

A:

The "Large Address Awareness" is great..... ...but what's the holdup on just getting rid of 32bit?


Q:

No. I'm not in the business of web sites. My thing is PoS. If you have any PoS questions, let 'em fly.

A:

On the technical side, marshalling between 32 and 64 bits to support the existing add-ins would introduce a significant performance cost. Which means we'll have to support 32 bits for the customers who need their add-ins to be as fast as in older versions. So, back to square one.

-- Alex [MSFT]


Q:

What is it that makes technology (both hardware and software) in large but non-technical fields lag a few steps behind in terms of usability, stability, standards-adoption, and overall modernization? Aren't there enough incentives to improve?

For example, the software used in hospitals is notoriously bad (i.e. Epic EHR) despite decades of federal and private investment and millions of users worldwide. Same goes for automotive, real estate, hotel management, retail/POS systems, warehousing and logistics, etc.

It seems like every time I have to become familiar with another one it's riddled with basic UI/UX flaws and bizarre shortcomings. Last week my friend, a hotel manager, showed me how they manage reservations. I had asked why the front desk staff always take so long to do anything and he demonstrated the long, tedious process. It was this widely-used system. I was horrified.

A:

Let's be real here:

Does the Microsoft Excel team prefer waffles or pancakes? [serious]


Q:

My wife, a nurse, uses Epic. Her hospital has committed $350 million to implementing it over a 3 year period. $25,000 per employee. I could write a book about my attitude toward this particular boondoggle and so many others like it. Everybody thinks that the browser interface is the only interface that apps can or should have. The app interface universe, including Apple and Google interfaces, is a colossal, idiotic blunder. Throughout my life I have seen almost nothing but the crap you describe. And nobody in the press, tech or otherwise, even writes about it - the way things are isn't even brought into question. The prevailing view is that 'if this is the way it is then this must be the best it can be'. It's the biggest con job of the computer era, in my opinion, but I can't even get an interview, or an article written, so we're screwed, as you note. I have hopes that someday this will change, but Apple, Google, Oracle and Microsoft have blown it and as long as people accept what is, instead of what could be, we will remain screwed.

A:

Waffles are superior in every way: crisper, lots of wells to hold the syrup, and they look like a spreadsheet. -Stacy [MSFT]


Q:

Would the issue be stemming from a lack of quality or accountability among software developers' work in that field or just supply-and-demand business tactics?

A:

and they look like a spreadsheet.

I will never look at spreadsheets the same way again.


Q:

It's complicated, obviously. I am accustomed to looking at it this way: the management of software development is often overlooked except in the video game industry. There needs to be some real vision in the heads of the people who have the authority in the process of software development. There need to be people as dedicated to the issue of user interfaces who are dedicated to making money, to selling hardware, to keeping their jobs at all costs. This is a battle which, except in the video game industry, needs to be fought. If app developers had 1% of the vision and creativity that the video game teams have then apps would be a helluva lot more intuitive and easier to use than they are.

A:

Why choose? -Jen [MSFT]


Q:

To be fair, we haven't even had apps as we know them for a decade, and computers were built to game from the beginning.

A:

I think I speak on behalf of all accountants everywhere when I say, thank you for Excel.

Where do you see Excel going from here? Are there any "game-changing" new features on the horizon, or is the focus going to instead be to continue to polish the existing product?


Q:

I generally agree, except that ViewTouch is 30 years old, and the non touch screen precursor of it is nearly 40 years old.

A:

What "game changing" new feature would you like to see?


Q:

How is it that these things should look? I personally am one of those people that cant imagine how it could be better. Apps on apple devices, i mean.

A:

If I switch my computers region from "English (US)" to "German (Germany)" (where I'm located), it takes 5,3x the time for calculating. Even worse when choosing Hindi: It needs app. 33x the time for calculating (here is the full report: http://professor-excel.com/performance-excel-study/) What is the reason? Are you going to solve this?


Q:

I don't use Apple products but let me just suggest a handful of things I know from Android, since it is very similar. Tiny little buttons that could be much bigger. Tiny little text that could be much bigger. Buttons where app designers put them instead of being where you want them to be. Buttons that say what app designers want them to say instead of what you want them to say.

A:

A better way of looking at this performance difference is that lookups in English are faster :-) The reason is that we can short-circuit English to byte comparison. More complex scripts require involving more heavy Unicode machinery.

-- Alex [MSFT]


Q:

The simplest explanation for this is that in all those examples, the people who commission and pay for the software aren't the ones who actually use it.

So unless the design and development process is explicitly tailored to real user needs, it's more likely to be directed by costs and 'requirements' lists produced by committees of managers rather than staff.

Managers whose bonuses are, for example, tied to cost savings and budgetary factors (highly measurable) rather than the usability of the software they staff use (much harder to measure).

This is an example of what economists call the principle-agent problem: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal–agent_problem

A:

Why do you love VBA? The best programmer in the world could make the the neatest and tidiest VBA code in the world with perfect comments and it would still look like spaghetti after the second procedure.

The thing is, although efficient at tiny macro tasks, a mess. Let it stay as legacy, the last thing we want is more tools being made with it.


Q:

Yes, this is the way it often works. Thanks for pointing this out.

A:

You should explore the JavaScript and other samples on http://dev.office.com !


Q:

I work for Wyndham and we just scrapped using Opera for a custom browser based solution from Sabre that we're in the middle of deploying. It's soooo much better. It has taken us about five years from conception to implementation though. It's a massive project, we have 8000 hotels and ops centres around the world.

We had end user focus groups and I can tell you that their considerations were taken very seriously. It was nice to see.

A:

How does Excel decide to change things based on the cell values? For example, I regularly handle surveys and one field uses text ranges (i.e. 0-2, 3-4) but it automatically converts it to a date, then when I change it to a text field, makes it a 5 digit number instead of the original data?


Q:

So your apps are all browser based? And you just switched browsers?

A:

When a user first types a formula or value into a cell, Excel attempts to parse the string using a large set of number formats including dates, scientific notation, currency and more. Because a string like 3-4 matches a date format (such as March 4th or 3rd of April) we commit the value as a date. When you convert the formatting back into text, we show the date value as a string. (Times and Dates are stored in Excel as a floating point number of days since an epoch)

-Nathan [MSFT]


Q:

The video linked above shows the Opera (ORS) interface, which is a java based front end for a property management and reservations system made by MICROS/Oracle we used for about 15 years. It was dog shit, had little customization, was often slow and unreliable. It was serviceable only because we were used to it. It was all run on our own private servers. We've migrated/are migrating to a browser and cloud based solution from Sabre called SynXis for our hotels, central reservations, and property management. Customized UI, more scalable, faster. It's going to take just shy of two years (hopefully) to on-board all of our hotels though.

A:

"1-2" should be prioritized to a string of "1-2" and not "JAN-02"


Q:

I'll try to find some time in the next few days to look at it. Most of what I know about Micros is from what people tell me, and what I hear is pretty much in line with what you're describing. I will die never having understood why Larry Ellison paid all that money for it. It looks from here like you have job security for quite a while.

A:

Not a solution, but a workaround: prepend ' to force Excel treat "1-2" as text.

-- Alex [MSFT]


Q:

Whats the next improvement to come to retail systems in your opinion?

A:

Any plans to extend Microsoft excel or other office products to Linux operating systems? I know it is a longshot but having access to these would be nice.


Q:

One of them will be that PoS and retail interfaces will move to our personal devices. Until very recently the identity of anyone buying something was unknown but of course now that we buy so much online, our identity and much about us is known to the vendor. What is happening is that when we visit stores and restaurants our identity is now being made known to vendors, too, not only at the time of a sale, but even from the time that we enter these locations. This fact, combined with the fact that we have such incredible personal devices, will be exploited to move the entire pre-sale and sale process to the interfaces of our devices.

A:

Hey there,

No plans currently in the works. We never say never, but for the foreseeable future, if you want to use Excel on Linux operating systems, it will have to be through a browser.

-Charlie [MSFT Excel Team]


Q:

Was the reception to your product something you had expected?

Have you created anything in more recent years?

A:

Why did office become a subscription based program?

Did any of you meet Bill Gates?

Did Bill give any orders on what to add, make, etc?


Q:

It is fair to say that I had a pretty good idea at the time that it would be a game changer because the response of the people first viewing it was very enthusiastic. I was totally unprepared financially, however, in being able to deal with the response. That was actually very frustrating. I was completely on my own and there was nothing I could do except talk to people and answer their questions. It was a situation where any individual or company was free to copy what they thought they were looking at, what they thought they understood. That is exactly what happened, and this continues all these years later, too.

I have continued to innovate. I offered wifi tablets for tableside ordering in 2003 with the exact same interface that I used in the fixed position graphical terminals. ViewTouch is no longer a company; it is a Trademark and the software is freely available at github, so all projects I'm involved in are just that - projects. What I have most recently created is a Raspberry Pi based PoS solution for restaurants which rivals and in many ways surpasses any other PoS system. The Raspberry Pi, of course, is a $35 computer and I offer licenses & 24/7 support for as little as $35 a month. Restaurant operators who pay thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars for their closed, proprietary PoS systems ought to be shocked that I have an equally good or better solution for them which costs virtually nothing, and gives them access to the sourcecode.

There are other projects underway, too, which provide similar solutions to other workgroups, including one in the cinema/theater, agricultural and educational sectors.

A:

Subscription: we wanted to offer a new model of buying Office that wasn't about buying new software when you bought a new computer so that we could deliver functionality outside of the old "box software" model, get new features out to folks quicker than traditional/slow upgrade cycles, and help users with service-based offerings such as Office365 and even things like the new Designer feature in PowerPoint (that helps you make beautiful looking slides using cloud services).

Meeting Bill Gates: Yup! I've met Bill a couple of times. The first, and most memorable, was at his house when I was an intern. They stopped doing that years ago, but he was a very gracious and patient guy with all the ridiculous questions that us interns were throwing at him.

Bill's "orders": Oh yeah, over the years Bill has weighed in on what we should and shouldn't do for every single version. I still remember contributing to my first BillG review. Me and Dan (one of the other folks commenting here) built this crazy prototype and Bill (rightly) ripped it apart. Good times.

-Charlie [MSFT Excel Team]


Q:

Why did you choose to make the software free? And why do you choose to charge such a low cost, given that you can see the market can, in some cases, be willing to pay a huge amount more?

A:

What is the coolest spreadsheet you have ever seen designed?


Q:

The decision to change to the GPL3 license had to do with ensuring the survival and the continued development of the software and the ideas in it. I can tell you that I have some very happy clients. More importantly, I have my personal freedom, because I have needed it to keep my family as my highest priority.

A:

A workbook that made creative use of circular references to solve the shortest route out of an arbitrary maze. Not particular useful but fun to build :)

-- JoeMcD [MSFT]


Q:

I recently spent 2 years at a tablet POS company that is working its way to replacing POS in the sports industry. As someone who saw first hand what POS software can do for a business, I have to tip my hat to you for all of your hard work.

As for you, where do you see viewtouch in the next few years? Any active projects you can share?

A:

Hi Team,

I spend the vast majority of my waking life working in Excel and I love it. I’ve always had one lingering question though. Working in finance, I have to geometrically link numbers (returns) quite often. The formula is relatively straight forward, something like: =PRODUCT(1+(A2:A4))-1. I understand that the product function is not expecting an array to be passed, so using this formula, #VALUE! Is returned. However, stepping into the cell and executing with ctrl+shift+enter (rather than just enter) ‘forces’ the formula to execute (becoming: {=PRODUCT(1+(A2:A4))-1}) and returns the expected result. My question: why make this a necessary extra step? What is the danger of just having this formula execute with a simple ‘enter’ command? You have no idea how many people I’ve had to explain this to over the years…

Thanks so much!


Q:

In my opinion the only suitable design for PoS in the future is one in which our personal devices enable us to handle ordering the food & beverages we wish to purchase. The interfaces are where my interest is. PoS interfaces of the future will require us to allow our food & beverage histories to be created and accessed. Same for our food & beverage preferences. This is the data out of which our individual interfaces can, and must, be built. Heaven help us if the app designers never figure out that every interface must be completely unique, else this one-size-fits-all curse will enslave us to our devices instead of freeing us from them. Think of the horror of the automated phone answering systems which have enslaved us. Shoot me now if we don't find a way to condemn those systems to the dustbin of history.

I will return to your question later when I can because right now I have to step out for a bit, but I will be back and will answer questions the rest of the day, including a broader response to your question, so thanks for understanding this.

A:

The reason =PRODUCT(1+(A2:A4))-1 behaves like this is because Excel performs "implicit intersection" on the range A2:A4. It does this because PRODUCT expects a single value as its first argument - so Excel attempts to narrow the range you provided to a single cell.

How does this work? Excel chooses the cell in the same row as your formula. So if you input your formula in Row 2 through 4 the formula returns a result, while in all other rows it will error with #VALUE. CTRL-SHIFT-ENTER suppresses this narrowing behavior and you get your desired result.

MrExcel has a video on the implicit intersection: https://learnmrexcel.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/learn-excel-2010-named-range-and-implicit-intersection-podcast-1579/

  • Joe McD [MSFT]

Q:

Was this the progenitor of the Micros touchscreen?

Did you make money off it?

A:

Will you be designing an add-in to build Excel Dashboards? I want to be able to use animation (JS) and hover text. I'm currently building my own interface and wanted to know if you were ever going to make it easier for dashboard designers to make their own.


Q:

It was the progenitor of that one, and of all of them, actually. It is for this reason that all PoS systems seem to look and work the same, but as you examine them individually up close then you begin to see that different people have taken them in their own direction.

Yes, I earn a living from providing and supporting this software to restaurants all around the world, but only on those PoS systems which carry the ViewTouch trademark.

A:

If you're looking into a custom dashboard interface you should look into Power BI and Power BI embedded. Power BI has a framework for creating D3/JS based custom visuals and supports a variety of embedding scenarios:

https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/developers/ https://app.powerbi.com/visuals/ https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/power-bi-embedded/

Thanks, Patrick [Power BI]


Q:

Do you have royalties on your design?

What is your net worth?

A:

Why can't we still not open two workbooks with the same name at the same time?


Q:

No, but I do have copyrights and my trademark. I don't know that, but I do know that I have something that has the potential to be worth a lot of money to a lot of people in every village, city and country in the world.

A:

Allowing two workbooks with the same name would make entering formulas that reference them quite confusing:

=[Book]Sheet!$A$1 

Which one did the user mean?

-- Alex [MSFT]


Q:

How difficult is it to make touch screens that aren't shatter-prone? If I had to guess it's borderline impossible because of the number of cracked phones I see everywhere.

A:

Why did you name it Excel? Or did you guys name it at all? I mean, it is a spreadsheet program...


Q:

It isn't the touchscreens; it's the glass! Maybe glass will never be satisfactory. Maybe it will be plastic or some other material that finally passes muster in this regard. Then again, why can't these devices themselves be 'softer'? There are a lot of things in this world which don't break when you drop or crush them. Our devices need to be built in such a fashion.

A:

Obviously for the endless supply of "I excel at this" jokes. :) -Joe [MSFT]


Q:

Both Google and Apple have been working on Bluetooth beacons.

The beacons send a one way message that can contain a number of things. In particular, it can communicate a URL. In the case of a restaurant like McDonalds, a customer would walk in and get an alert of the Beacon. That URL will lead to a web app localized for that particular location. The person places their order, and pays via Apple Pay, Google Pay, or some other alternative.

A:

Why did you name it Excel? Or did you guys name it at all? I mean, it is a spreadsheet program...


Q:

Yes, and we are also working on this. The thing is, though, that you can't spy on people through their devices. There are lines you can't cross. You can do what you want, but you have to be very careful about how you do it, and you have to stay legal.

A:

Here we use "XL", which is handy, since it's easier to fit on a license plate than "WORD" or "PPT" :-D

-- Alex [MSFT]

P.S.: Mine is "XLRULEZ", naturally.


Q:

Quick question: we already have Touch-systems around the whole earth... And whats the next step? (technologically talking)

A:

Is there anything that you thought would be a cool feature to add then it turns out to be the most used and important one?


Q:

I won't bother to mention all the things the news is reporting and the things that people are familiar with - that would be pompous and boring. What I think lies ahead what is not being talked about and is important is that we need to fight a war with these hugely rich, powerful companies over the interfaces which they are providing for us. I don't like them. I don't like not being able to customize them, to shape them into what I want them to be. I'm talking about interfaces we can see and can manipulate with our fingers. I don't like these companies presuming that it's their job to put things on our displays in ways that suit them, with no regard for how we would shape what's on our displays to our own liking. These companies think that the only freedom we need is the freedom to set up our desktop launchers. That's stuff for 5-year-0lds. The freedom we need is nothing less than absolute control over what we see on screens and how we make use of what we put on our screens, not just app launchers, but inside of the apps themselves.

There is a bit of this freedom in the way that PoS software is not usable until each user completes the interface to their own satisfaction. There are some truly godawful PoS interfaces out there, and that's because the people behind them just don't grasp the deep importance of how interfaces must be done, and how users must be given the freedom to fix these interfaces, as screwed up as they are. Even though I may have changed things a lot in the influence I have had, I would like to continue to be able to make things better. If I live to 98 I'll have 30 more years to work on this. That's my plan.

A:

Not sure if you used the iPhone version of Excel at all, we added a full screen view feature there, which takes you to full screen on the phone to view only the current sheet content. It's very helpful for users to navigate the content on a small screen. I'm not sure if the most used, but it's absolutely a popular one on the phone version.

  • Jeff Zhang (MSFT)

Q:

With your surname being Mosher, is there ever any expectation on you to behave in any particular way when attending concerts?

A:

When I am using Excel formulas such as vlookup or index match (often combined with offset and/or Indirect), there will commonly be more than one instance of a result that I am looking for. Sometimes, I want to pick up the first instance, but other times I would like to pick up the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, nth instance. For example, let's say I am using a look-up function on a table with cities down the left, and sports team from those cities on the right. In this example, I want to know all sports teams associated with Chicago, not just the first or last one. I know there is a way to do this using an Array formula, which I have used. However, Array formulas are brutal to work with, especially when applying them to a big data set. Is there another workaround that allows you to specify the instance (2nd, 3rd, nth) it occurs without using an array?


Q:

My son, who is 24, can tell you all about that. Maybe he can have an IAmA about it.

Mosher, by the way, is not a Jewish name. It began back in the 1400's in England as Moger but when the Mosher from whom I am descended came here the spelling was changed to Mosher.

A:

Since you're already making it work with array formulas, I assume you are already aware of SMALL and LARGE to get the Nth smallest or largest item from an array. When I'm filtering a range using INDEX, I often find an extra disambiguation column (ROW()/2000000) to help for sorting and extracting multiple entries.

I don't know of any easier way to do this right now, but feel free to vote at uservoice. https://excel.uservoice.com/forums/304921-excel-for-windows-desktop-application/suggestions/10633782-vlookup-for-2nd-3rd-etc-occurrance

-Nathan [MSFT]


Q:

Solid answer to a stupid question. Thank you!

A:

Hey Excel team!! As a Business major and stats minor, I use Excel daily and have a few questions.

1) What would you say is the most underutilized tool/data pack? (specifically that could be useful in business or stats)

2) How many functions can you "string" together in a single cell before excel crashes, I've written some pretty long strings but excel has spit out the answer every time

3) How come when Im working with the same data pack and functions/spreadsheets as my professors I can never get my sheets to work nearly as well as them?


Q:

Well, you're not the first person to make such a comment, and it's a standing joke here in the family, of course.

A:
  1. Some of my favorite tools within Excel are Tables, PivotTables, and Named Ranges. If you are familiar with these, you can do some pretty incredible things. Check out the Excel Sudoku Solver blog post To see some pretty great uses of named ranges.

  2. There's no direct limit on the number of functions, but the maximum number of characters in a cell is 32k and the maximum nesting level of functions is 64. Check out Excel limits and specifications for more information.

  3. I'm curious what kinds of differences you're seeing here. If you're seeing calculation or performance issues, definitely post them to https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/msoffice/forum/msoffice_excel?auth=1Excel.

Jim [MSFT]


Q:

God I love you

A:

Do you know of any free Excel training programs? I use it everyday at work - pivot tables/vlookup are my favorite features but I still feel like a total noob using it.


Q:

Since we're officially off topic I will tell you (and everyone else here, obviously) that I don't think anything is as important as family, laughing, staying young, having fun, helping each other. You can't imagine, or maybe you can, how good life can be if the people around you understand this. As important as ViewTouch is to me, it's not as important as my family is. Back on topic, then. ViewTouch would not exist if it weren't for my attitude.

A:

Great question! Please go to the Excel Tech Community and in the top pinned post or in the resources section, you will see link to all Free training programs for Basic, Intermediate & Advanced Users. https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Excel/ct-p/Excel_Cat -Sangeeta [MSFT]


Q:

Do you have any patents from your original touch screen POS invention?

If so, please tell me that the NCR's and PAR's of the world are paying you big bucks in royalties!

A:

Who did the flight simulator?


Q:

Glad you asked. No, I didn't go that route. It takes lots of money to go that route and I was just me. I have a degree in Anthropology and I have no experience, no qualifications except the fact that I had built and operated half a dozen sub shops, but I knew quite clearly what I wanted, so I built it.

No, I get nothing. No, you can't even get a copyright on your graphical user interface. But you can change the world for the better. That's what I did. and that's what I got.

A:

Me


Q:

Thanks for your detailed replies! This is one of the most unexpectedly interesting AMAs I can recall.

A:

Who did the flight simulator?


Q:

I have a lifetime of stories you would find hard to believe. And I like to talk with people. If I don't know you it's just the same as if I have always known you.

A:

Nobody here did - there was a source repository mix-up and Flight Sim folks checked it in by accident


Q:

Have you seen Halt and Catch Fire? Seems like you have lived a storyline out of that show!

A:

Any plans to build some of the features that ThinkCell offers?

BTW, I love O365 and Office 2016.


Q:

I will look into this. It looks interesting!

A:

ThinkCell is a great add-on for Office. There is a Uservoice for additions to the Waterfall chart here: https://excel.uservoice.com/forums/304921-excel-for-windows-desktop-application/suggestions/11120742-include-thinkcell-add-on-waterfall-chart-capabilit If there are other items you would like to see, please add them to user voice. MSFT-Leif


Q:

Did you ever once think years ago after you had created ViewTouch that it would be running on something as small as a tablet or Raspberry Pi?

Also what is your favorite TV show?

A:

Could you suggest the best programming that helps to automate tasks/ report for the online version of Excel ?


Q:

Well, if you look at that picture from 1986, you can probably easily see that even then I wished display and the computer driving it would someday be something not much thicker/deeper than a sheet of paper, and that it would cost about the same as dinner itself. It only took 30 years, but here we are! I could not see the future, of course, and I still cannot see the future, except for my own demise someday, and I hope that is another 30 years off!

A:

Check out the REST APIs that we expose as part of the Microsoft Graph: http://dev.office.com/excel/rest

-Brian [MSFT]


Q:

What's your favorite technological device to come out in your lifetime?

A:

First of all: as a finance major, I love you guys and your product. You're wizards.

As far as I can tell, Excel has seemingly endless depth despite being easy to use. Where do you go from here? How are you working to improve it?


Q:

Besides the touchscreen? Well, as devices go, it would have to be that device in my pocket that connects me to the Internet and provides all those apps. As technological advancements go, of course the Internet. My specific gripe with the apps on my device, however, is that the interfaces to those apps is completely beyond my control. It is I, the user, who should have control over ALL of the interfaces which do the things I want them to, and on which I depend. None of us should have our interfaces designed by and controlled by other people. The great challenge of our lifetime is to win control of our individual interfaces with all this technology. If such a device existed, that would be my favorite device.

A:

Thank you! We do have a lot of wizards around here (I'm level 34, personally). ;-)

As far as where we go next, we're always working on adding new functionality to Excel and always thinking about new directions for the product. We're listening a lot to the user feedback we get from the Excel Community and always trying to make the producteasier to use.

For specifics, we're planning to ██████████████ and then we're going to make a huge splash with ███████████████████ and ████████████████. I think you'll really like ██████████████████ as well. Hope that helps! ;-P

Jim [MSFT]


Q:

What ROM do you run? Some are incredibly customizable.

A:

I clicked so hard on spoilers that weren't there :(


Q:

I'm neither a programmer nor a hardware guy. I know that ROM is Read Only Memory but I don't understand your question.

A:

Great to hear that you love the product. We continue to improve the product in terms of reliability and performance. We have millions and millions users worldwide and it is important to keep Excel as a reliable experience for all of them. See this blog post on some of the themes around Intelligent Cloud Services and Collaboration which we will working towards.. https://blogs.office.com/2016/09/26/office-365-news-in-september-at-ignite-intelligence-security-collaboration-and-more/ -Sangeeta [MSFT}


Q:

Do you like basketball? Are you good at it?

A:

I learned to play back when you got one less step and when you couldn't carry the ball. It was a different game then. I'm almost 68 so no matter how I try, I'm no good at it.


Q:

Hey Gene,

I'm in the cellphone industry. It's they're an opensource POS that you know might work for me? If I wanted to go about building one, but didn't have a huge budget, how would you recommend I start that process?

A:

I'm going to do something here which I had no intention of doing until I got your comment. It's an email I received exactly a month ago from someone who is now undertaking a substantial refactoring of parts of ViewTouch with the plan that he will then be reselling ViewTouch in his part of the world. I want you to know what others have found in ViewTouch so that you don't have to rely solely on what I might say. What follows is what he wrote to me:

irstly, may I introduce myself? I'm redacted, owner of an extremely new, small but friendly (i.e. basically me and some contractors) business computing consultancy based in the South East of England, in redacted. Unlike other IT businesses in our sector, we're partly in it for the love of it as much as for anything else. Personally, I have a cast-iron, non-negotiable desire to do the right thing for my clients, and protect them from the greed and cruelty that I often see levelled at small to medium businesses in my industry sector - which is sometimes merely an inadvertent consequence of business models, but is often a cynical and deliberate attempt in the worst case.

I studied Computing and Artificial Intelligence for my degree, and am an experienced Java, PHP and C++ developer across a range of different platforms, Linux being my OS of choice. I am also a Health Science student, part time. Amongst various services that we provide, in doing a complete survey of a client's business requirements and aiming to solve all of them together, we do EPOS sales, setup, training and support. I've implemented and supported a wide range of EPOS software and hardware, both as iOS/Android and cloud solutions (such as Vend) and as traditional desktop implementations (everything from Micros, to AccuPOS, to even the humble but actually surprisingly good, old-school DHPOS).

Good or bad computing in business can be, to a major extent, the difference between happiness or extreme stress for everyone. I often, therefore, style myself as a "technology therapist", as I integrate psychology and counselling techniques into my professional practice. I cater specifically for those clients, in many cases, with limited budgets or who have received a raw deal in the past from other providers. I'll even do stuff for free for clients who can't afford to pay but are doing something important for society. This is partly driven by my own experiences of being on the raw end of life, in the past. In many ways I probably lose money, but I take home a better prize - that of knowing that I've used my skills for good. It gives me a huge sense of satisfaction to do what others won't, and to do what is right versus what is profitable (though they are often not exclusive). We do work for NGOs and other non-profits for free, aside from direct costs, on this basis.

About six months ago I was trying to plan an EPOS project around being hosted on refurbished legacy PCs or Raspberry Pi units, not realising that anything like this already existed. Somehow I didn't find you on Google then, and thought this was a completely novel idea. The thing is, the cloud based POS applications like Vend don't cut it for many smaller clients. There are many people who love it, but an equal number who hate the "one size fits all" approach. The cost is also extreme for what is essentially quite a basic and inflexible app. So I set about writing a Linux EPOS solution in Python about three months ago... and appear to have started to develop an inferior version of ViewTouch without ever having seen it. A perfect example of reinventing the wheel, so to speak, but blindly.

ViewTouch does absolutely everything that I want - in fact it is almost precisely what I'd specified in the design for my own solution - and it's even targeted at the development platform, reasonable implementation cost and FOSS ethical/customisation underpinnings that I was looking at. RPi terminals were precisely what I had my eye on, running an ARM-optimised distro based on xubuntu.

ViewTouch must surely be one of the most underrecognised but most effective graphical EPOS solutions I've seen for hospitality - it is genuinely and objectively really good and well designed. The quality of the C++ itself is very high. What was most impressive about ViewTouch was how quickly I was able to work out how to configure it and try it out. Somehow, the code "looks" simpler than I'd imagine for the functionality that it provides, it's surprising how you've kept the size of the C++ source down. The source quality is far better than other competing FOSS EPOS solutions and I would certainly have a much better time writing customisations for it than for Floreant, which is horrendous behind the scenes.

I would, therefore, very much like you to consider allowing us to become a ViewTouch reseller. I had previously got in contact with OroPos, the people who maintain Floreant, with the intent to customise their product, and they were absolutely horrible in response - wanting to maintain strict and sole control over any customisations even though Floreant itself is open source. Exactly how they can do that I am not sure, but somehow they evade the terms of their own Mozilla Public License by making a lot of the functionality dynamically-linked.

They replied, in somewhat angry and terse terms, that not only would they not supply the source for their inventory and order management modules "under any circumstances" - even though we'd offered to pay - but that they insisted that only they could make modifications and that my clients had to pay a $90 per-terminal binary license for them AND we had to pay for the development costs. This was just ridiculous, especially given the low quality of the product. So, I've now found you, instead. Will you help us?


Q:

How's Elly doing?

A:

She's slowing down these days! Did you know that I got her a sister - Sophie? Stop in. You guys are always welcome, I hope you never forget!