back to article Excel @ mentions approach general availability on the desktop

Microsoft's Excel is to continue its march to be the coolest software kid on the block as @ mentions move closer to general availability for the desktop version. It has been a while coming (the ability to create, assign and track tasks in a workbook was added to the Microsoft 365 roadmap in January 2021) but by October, the …

  1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Gerrof my lawn!

    None of this make sense.

    1. John69

      Re: Gerrof my lawn!

      Quite. What does "assigning of tasks using the @ mention" actually mean? Are people using excel as a task tracking system? Is this a task tracking system for people who's tasks involve excel? Is this an IM client?

      I generally thing that if you are using excel for anything that matters you are using the wrong tool, but I am quite sure that using it as a task tracker is wrong.

      1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

        Re: Gerrof my lawn!

        @John69 Think about it for a bit.

        1. karlkarl Silver badge

          Re: Gerrof my lawn!

          Now imagine typing "@John69 Think about it for a bit." into excel and observe how pointless it all is.

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: Gerrof my lawn!

        "Are people using excel as a $thing?"

        Yes. They are. Anything you can think of, no matter how inappropriate, people are using Excel for it.

        1. Why Not?

          Re: Gerrof my lawn!

          Excel

          The most used BI tool.

          The most used Migration tool.

          The most used front end tool.

          ........

        2. david 12 Silver badge

          Re: Gerrof my lawn!

          Excel is a programming language with persistent storage and a rich UI. Exactly what FORTRAN and COBOL were, back in the day. c represented a historic split: a programming language of only 32 keywords, with no storage or UI (those provided through OS library). It was an active area of discussion at the time, but, like /* block comments :*/, the biggest advantage of the c approach was that it was different, //and suitable for situations where FORTRAN and COBOL were not.

          Even 35 years ago, programming languages had not kept up with advances in storage and UI. The current equivalent of FORTRAN or COBOL is javascript + database server + web server + browser. Which is suitable for the vast majority of programming tasks, but still leaves cases where a modern programming environment of "language (including persistent storage and rich UI)" is most suitable.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Gerrof my lawn!

            > c represented a historic split: a programming language of only 32 keywords

            Well, that's only 32 more reserved keywords than Lisp, the second oldest computer programming language after Fortran, and the first functional one, and the first to propose a metacircular evaluator.

            While C was significant in terms of being able to write portably across architectures, the language itself is hardly revolutionary (nor was it designed to be)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Gerrof my lawn!

              > and the first functional one, and the first to propose a metacircular evaluator.

              And the first with automatic garbage collection (1959).

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Gerrof my lawn!

            > Even 35 years ago, programming languages had not kept up with advances in storage and UI

            That's rubbish too. All that you are saying is "I haven't heard of Genera, or Smalltalk”.

        3. The curmudgeonly one

          Re: Gerrof my lawn!

          Indeed.

          I once (foolishly) agreed to provide on-call network support for an accounting firm.

          I asked if there was a map of the large open-plan office, so I might know where "jenny's desk" was when told she couldn't log on.

          I was given an Excel file. It had a crude plan "drawn" using ascii characters.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Gerrof my lawn!

            I know a guy who builds sheds, pump houses, small cabins and the like for a living. He is quite good at it, and is the go-to guy for those of us in the know around these here parts. He does all his drawing in Excel ... I've tried to sell him on a CAD program (any CAD program!), but he wants nothing to do with it. Claims CAD just makes life difficult.

          2. Denarius Silver badge

            Re: Gerrof my lawn!

            exactly,

            Excel has grown from competent spreadsheet to can do anything if tortured enough software. After V5 I think it became a desktop publishing tool more than a spreadsheet.. Even Office Libre is following (slowly) this trend. I migrated to Kingsoft to get work done

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Gerrof my lawn!

              To this day I use R or Scheme for what most people do with spreadsheets. I find that it gives me more freedom and allows me to document things better.

              I keep forgetting to give Junyper a go though.

          3. Alumoi Silver badge

            Re: Gerrof my lawn!

            accounting firm... Excel file

            Were you expecting something else?

      3. Sudosu Bronze badge

        Re: Gerrof my lawn!

        @ mentions are a great way of slagging off tasks on your coworkers in an off the cuff manner without asking them first.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Phising applications incoming!!!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    STASI in Redmond, WA....why am I not surprised???

    Quote: "...although you need to be signed into Outlook for it to work..."

    Yup.....the Redmond STASI hard at work here: you need:

    - Windows (likely v7 or above)

    - Excel (latest version, of course)

    - A Teams contract

    - Outlook

    .....and the STASI are all set to know EXACTLY what you and your buddies are up to!!

    You, dear reader, will not be surprised that the AC author of this comment has NONE of the required software or licences!

    1. SloppyJesse

      Re: STASI in Redmond, WA....why am I not surprised???

      IT security will block key parts of the communication so it won't work even if you have all the prerequisites.

      1. logicalextreme
        Pint

        Re: STASI in Redmond, WA....why am I not surprised???

        Thanks, IT Security! Have a beer.

    2. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: STASI in Redmond, WA....why am I not surprised???

      "the AC author of this comment has NONE of the required software or licences!"

      Yes @bombasticbob, we are aware.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: STASI in Redmond, WA....why am I not surprised???

      Not understanding the downvotes.

      The way MS has decided to link EVERYTHING together, with multiple REQUIRED log ons, and create failure if any given link in the chain is broken, is beyond insanity.

  4. veti Silver badge

    Excel is possibly the best single work of software in the world. It is perfect for its job, which is to present information to people.

    Unfortunately it's so good that people can't resist using it to analyse, store, exchange and track information, as well. Big mistake. This development is a sad sign of Microsoft actively encouraging this regrettable trend.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Counterpoint: Excel is bloated, non-intuitive bollocks and users have Stockholm Syndrome.

      1. tonique

        My favourite small example of bloat in Excel and the surrounding Windows systems is that scrolling through the spreadsheet is not smooth but janky. It was smooth in 2006 and the Excel and Windows of that day.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Not just scrolling ... Consider that I (and you!) can create documents and spreadsheets and databases to run a business using Wordstar and Lotus and dBase on DOS 3.3 easier and quite a bit faster than with more modern Office 355 on Win11, or whatever it is that Redmond is pushing these days.

          1. sabroni Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Consider that I (and you!) are better with software we've got decades of experience using.

            Wow, what a shock, jake, to learn that you're not very good with modern Windows apps.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Try it, sabtoni. Really. It's easy enough to check out for yourself.

              Bring a few friends of various ages/abilities into the party. Report back.

              I'm as up to date as anybody with modern windows shovelware ... I have to be, in order to sell corporate types on the benefits of FOSS solutions. Can't argue against something unless you know the subject well. To be perfectly honest, you CAN (as can be seen in these pages daily), but not with any degree of sincerity.

              1. jake Silver badge
                Pint

                I know your handle is sabroni ... typo, no disrespect intended. Apologies.

    2. Christopher Reeve's Horse

      I see the disdain for Excel here so often. So, I ask again, what are the alternatives? (Genuinely, I'd like to know)

      There's a lot of IT experts commenting here, and I'm sure many of you could take a big Excel model and develop it into a proper structured database, with a nice shiny front-end and all the bells and whistles etc. But what then?

      The point is that this is your jobs, and your skills. The typical Excel user is not usually an IT expert, but has other skills in other disciplines, and is merely using Excel as the easiest tool to get done what they need to do. It takes a big step in needs and complexity before any kind of budget is ever made for taking something out of Excel and moving it into 'IT world', where people with specialist IT skills take over development.

      Unless I'm blatantly unaware of something obvious, there's simply nothing else that's anything like as ubiquitous available in this gap. Is there a database and frontend development software package that has a nice GUI, is accessible to non IT folk, and at the same time meets the approval of the IT specialists? Until there is, every business is going to have 1000's of mission critical excel workbooks kicking around.

      PS. I know Power BI covers some of this, but it's really just a fancy dashboard, and doesn't overlap with most of what Excel can do with data.

      1. jake Silver badge

        You don't need to have a handy alternative to know that a tool is being used in the wrong roll.

        Excel is fine as a spreadsheet. Nobody is arguing otherwise. The issue is that it has had so much non-spreadheet crap grafted onto it that it is in danger of becoming so huge, bloated and unwieldy that it is even unfit for the Corporate World's silly-ass games. Some would say it has already reached that point.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It's not the tool.....it's the users!

          @Jake

          Quote: "Excel is fine as a spreadsheet"

          True. But the problem is the way it is being used:

          (1) Everyone builds their own separate spreadsheet

          (2) Almost no one knows anything about "data design" -- you know, third normal form, and all that

          (3) Everyone wants to share

          (4) Usually the sharer and the sharee have DIFFERENT views of the data, and different requirements

          (5) ......so more spreadsheets (and less clarity). Rinse and repeat at item #1!!

          When I worked in a very large corporate HQ, I did a lot of process improvement projects. Lots of spreadsheets going from one department to other departments. Very common comments during process interviews with the recipients of spreadsheets:

          (6) Yes....we get the spreadsheet every week, and then spend a day restructuring it (see item #2)

          (7) Yes...we get the spreadsheet every week. It's useless....we throw it away (see item #4)

          So....the problem IS NOT Excel itself. The problem is the complete LACK of communication about process...plus all the other points noted above.

          P.S.......And all that before we start discussing VBA!!! Thanks for reading this far!!!

        2. Citizen of Nowhere

          >You don't need to have a handy alternative to know that a tool is being used in the wrong roll.

          Becel is a handy alternative in rolls ;-)

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > You don't need to have a handy alternative to know that a tool is being used in the wrong roll.

          You really need to be careful if you don't. Telling users their system isn't as good as an unknown alternative you aren't going to provide doesn't make you any friends

      2. Kane
        Joke

        "Is there a database and frontend development software package that has a nice GUI, is accessible to non IT folk, and at the same time meets the approval of the IT specialists?"

        Microsoft Access?

        1. Korev Silver badge

          You joke, but a power user can create something useful that is much easier to port to a "grown up" database later.

          The only problem comes when the DB dies and it then becomes IT's problem to be fixed.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > what are the alternatives?

        I just posted above, but I'll repeat, keeping in mind that what works for me may or may not work for you.

        What most people seem to use excel for¹ I tend to do in either R or Scheme. That way I can structure and document things better. Note that I tend to use the /input /scripts /output pipeline model, where the input data is usually immutable (because traceability).

        Juniper books also looks interesting but I haven't had a chance to try it yet.

        ¹ aside from pasting the scan of the word document they just printed before email the lot to you as an attachment, that is.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > The typical Excel user is not usually an IT expert, but has other skills in other disciplines

          The best idea I've had in many years was when I decided to have *all* of my hires, regardless of position (engineering, software development, administration) or assumed ability, take a computer literacy test (in French, whether you can speak the language or not) very early on in their selection process.

          We also do continuous training to develop everyone's IT skills. For instance after a few months, everyone is at least able to read scripts, search for information online and offline and be able to identify generic skills, such as using Markdown across different systems and commit stuff to git (for instance, quality records).

          Don't know if it's sad or amusing, or just a reflection of the market, but developers tend to fare *the worst* on those literacy tests.

          PS: pix.fr

  5. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

    Forecast is 100% chance of @storm

    To: @world+dog

    From: do-not-reply

    Subject: Let us count the ways

    * @copy/paste

    * @drag/fill

    * MS bug interprets arcane key combination as auto-convert range to @formula()

    * @macro?

    Any one of these is perfect for home defense! Er, ... taking down a messaging system!

    Followed by the usual questions: How many settings need to be changed to actually turn this off? Why did the latest update turn it back on? Etc...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Forecast is 100% chance of @storm

      Roll-up ladies, gentlemen and hipsters. Get you bets in on Excel security lottery.

      Evens: You will be able to get a copy of anyone else's spreadsheet by @ and request-reply

      2:1 You will be able to run arbitrary macros on the recipient's Excel

      4:1 You will be able to send arbitrary binary payloads AND run arbitrary macros on the recipient's Excel

      10:1 If you are using Edge it will be able to get your browsing history, If you use Firefox it will kill your dog.

      1. Inkey
        Joke

        Re: Forecast is 100% chance of @storm

        what if the pet is a cat .... and use libreoffice/python...

        would that be OK..? even if ff is used or shoud brave be the only browser

        Asking for a friend

        Theres also a gold fish ...he' really old so could go of natural causes

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