[Kc] Book Review: Excel 2003 Programming: A Developer's Notebook

Garrett Goebel garrett at scriptpro.com
Mon Dec 13 13:52:46 CST 2004

Reviewer: Joel Walk
Title: Excel 2003 Programming:  A Developer`s Notebook 
Author: Jeff Webb
Publisher: O'Reilly
Published: August 2004 (First Edition)
ISBN: 0596007671
Pages: 312
Price: $29.95 US
Rating: 2 out of 5 highlighters

> There is a lot to be said for ambition and humor in presenting resource
> and reference material that is of a technical nature.  Excel 2003 is a
> continuation of the progressive improvements in power and flexibility of
> this de facto numerical analysis package with features that make multiple
> user access available.  We have all had our share of academic instruction
> where either the book was the resource used, or the presentation condensed
> notes of the presentor.  Getting inside the "mind" of either (material or
> lecturer) was the focus of our efforts in understanding the material.  
> It has been this reviewer`s experience to work with developing predictive
> "what if" tools using spreadsheets since the SuperCalc days of the 1980`s,
> programming in macros and VBA as the calculative power grew.  The
> presentation of the material in Excel 2003 Programming is described in the
> preface as trying to glean the best tools and methods to implement
> solutions to common applications, as if one were able to observe and query
> an uber-coder as they engineered and developed a solution to a typical
> requirement.  There is a bold statement (paraphrased) "this series (of
> which the book under review was grouped with) says that the assumption
> (the inability to capture a coder`s mind on a piece of paper) is patently
> wrong" in the preface that is misleading given the examples that are used
> and the coverage of material.
> At first glance amongst topics of Excel books on a shelf, the title jumps
> out as a general resouce for expanding the power of this tool.  Natural
> progression in the selection process would then involve skimming the table
> of contents, preface, and index, where one would be drawn to purchase the
> book expecting the abilty to acquire general algorithms in cookbook form
> from a wide range of topics.  The material instead quickly focuses in on
> the use of XML and other web-type server level topics such as Sharepoint,
> Infopath and .NET that require administrator access to a network in order
> to complete.  Some points are reached where the author even admits that
> add-ins are necessary including VSTO (Visual Studio Tools for Office) and
> that if access is not available, just follow along for sake of
> understanding the concept.
> Like a majority of developers, it is our nature to try to achieve the
> results that are alluded to in the text we are presented with.  There were
> examples early as page 7 dealing with setup and access to pre-existing
> solutions where not all of the steps are clear.  This approach has
> potential problems when massive amounts of data are involved and the
> configuration settings of Excel can come into the implementation.  There
> are simulated views present in the book that are illustrative of the end
> results the author achieved, but let the reader beware that to try getting
> the same will quickly result in frustration.  
> There are some facts that are covered that help understanding the scope of
> the power that Excel 2003 offers, but given the preface description that
> this book is meant to demonstrate that it is possible to capture a coder`s
> mind on paper, one might get the idea that the mind is a disarray of
> information.  A great deal of historical and sidebar information is
> present that is entertaining and informative, but in regards to providing
> a tool that allows for Excel programming, the subject matter quickly
> centers on the specifics of network level solutions, which for most Excel
> users is beyond the scope of their need.  If the book title were more
> reflective of this fact, and the preface centered on admitting the
> specialist market (e.g. data sharing) it was addressing, plus there was
> mention that additional resources (in the form of add-in toolsets and
> network access privileges) necessary, then the target audience could
> quickly decide if the book was for them.
> The book is targeted toward the market segment that has corporate body
> needs to manage versus the majority of Excel programmers who have
> individual tasks to implement covering a much narrower scheme of data.  It
> would be more advantageous in the reviewers experience, however, for the
> former group (network shared level) to instead undertake such a task in a
> real relational database environment rather than Excel.
> On a scale of highlighters (as used for making annotations of sections and
> material that is useful), five being the highest, the Excel 2003
> Programming developers notebook would rate about a 2 for the average
> layreader, and possibly a 4 for those who have departmental resources and
> network administrator access to install the requisite support tools and
> licensing needed to develop an Excel based multi user pseudo data
> warehouse.
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