Smart and fast, but it doesn’t play well across platforms
Like the rest of the Office apps, Excel has had a gentle refresh for 2016. It’s colourful, and access to OneDrive and SharePoint files is simpler, as befits the cloudfocussed update overall. It has a range of new keyboard shortcuts to speed up working and an autocomplete function that can automatically draw in data from neighbouring cells. There’s a smart Pivot Table Slicer too, which lets you add buttons to an active sheet which, with a single click, filter the data in a table to leave only the cells that you need to reference.
There are six new chart types in Excel for Windows, but not on the Mac, which is a problem because their absence from the OS X edition breaks the whole idea of platform independence. If one of your colleagues uses any of the new chart types on a PC and sends you the workbook, you’ll see a blank white box in its place containing a warning message.
There’s an ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) driver built in, so you can now connect to external data sources more easily, and it can work with records in FileMaker, as well as text and HTML. Once again, though, Mac users have been short-changed when working alongside their Windows counterparts, who have access to data stored on Facebook, Microsoft Exchange, Active Directory, Salesforce Reports and more. To test how this affected cross-platform integration, we created a document in Excel for Windows that drew down data from Facebook Graph, shared it through OneDrive and opened it on the Mac. It rendered a static view of the data, and threw up an alert when we tried to refresh it.
Also missing is the Windows edition’s Ink-based equation editor that lets you draw on touchscreen-enabled PCs (and Surface devices) to sketch out the formula and have Excel convert it to properly formatted text for you. This isn’t entirely Microsoft’s fault, as there’s no such thing as a touchscreen Mac yet (and may never be) but a mouse or trackpad equivalent would have been a welcome addition.
You can share workbooks easily by uploading them to OneDrive or a SharePoint server and emailing a link straight out of Excel itself. Recipients can then open the file in the browser-based version or their own copy of Excel, but it’s not quite as clever as Word’s synchronised editing. If you want to collaborate in Excel, the originator needs to close the copy in their offline app so that everyone works through the browser. We hope this is something that a future edition will address so it’s possible to collaborate both online and in the primary application itself. Nik Rawlinson
Once again, Mac users have been short-changed when working alongside Windows counterparts
Mac users might feel short-changed if they’re looking over Windows-using colleagues’ shoulders
Excel 2016’s interface has been refreshed to keep it in line with the Windows edition.
The smart Pivot Table Slicer lets you quickly isolate data in a pivot table for easy analysis.