Friday, 18 July 2008
Excel Services – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) has a number of clever features and parts that at first glance look pretty impressive, but these all come with a level of frustration. One of these much hailed features is ‘Excel Services’ and this is what I am writing about this week. Now, over the last two weeks I have compared MOSS to Sky television and SharePoint itself to the film Mamma Mia so I thought I would complete a hat-trick of comparisons this week. So what can I compare the merits of ‘Excel Services’ to? It has to be the former Villa player and current England international Peter Crouch. Appropriate as this week Peter has been on his travels again rejoining Portsmouth from Liverpool. So why is ‘Excel Services’ like Peter Crouch? Well it isn’t because it is a much travelled, tall, lanky and got big feet! The Good Excel Services like a 6’ 7” footballer does seem a neat idea. The ability to have a webpart in SharePoint that can display live Excel style tables and charts is very useful. Excel Services lets you link directly to the latest data from an SQL database and automatically refreshes the chart. Charts are great because they look colourful and make the SharePoint site stand out. A bit like Peter’s height. With Excel Services you can share a working spreadsheet with a whole host of people without having to email lots of copies and you can stay in control of it without having to worry that John from Accounts is going to accidentally delete all the October sales figures. One of the great features of Excel services is that you can include a pivot table with the chart which can allow users to change filters and ranges to see different views of the chart. For example they can select only data from June 2004 (when Peter played in the World Cup). Excel Services also includes the ability to access the ‘real’ Excel Spreadsheet where the data is stored. For displaying RAG (no, not an old piece of cloth, but the now trendy Red, Amber, Green Service Levels) a pie chart via Excel Services on SharePoint is ideal. The data is continually available to anyone who needs to see it. SharePoint can use popular Dashboards to display these Excel services. A feature I personally like about SharePoint Excel Services is the option to include parameters. These parameters restrict the areas in the table, or chart, that a user can change. Perhaps this is similar to the way Rafa Benitiz used to restrict Crouch’s appearances. What is good about Peter Crouch and why do so many teams repeatedly pay so much for him? He is a good finisher with a good strike rate (it seems according to the tabloids both on and off the pitch) and has great close control, oh and he is quite tall. The Bad The more you use Excel Services the more you begin to accept its weaknesses and work around them. Many managers have realised with Peter Crouch that despite his height he really can’t jump and is prone to getting his legs in a tangle. So what is ‘bad’ about Excel Services? Any version of Excel below 2007 cannot view the spreadsheets behind it although there is a free converter you can download from Microsoft. You are also unable to publish .xls documents using Excel Services, they have to be .xlsx (the new Office 2007 version). Now, you would have thought that one advantage of Excel Services in SharePoint would be that you don’t need an Excel client to view them. Well, this is true but you do need Excel (and yes the latest 2007 version) to create the Excel Services to start with. Unlike Google Spread there is no web-based editing tool. This is like having Peter Crouch upfront, but nobody in the team who can cross a ball. That’s where Steve McClaren went wrong! What else is there to moan about with Excel Services? The way that you lose a number of the features that you have in your original Excel can be frustrating. That nice hyperlink you had, the clever way you had frozen the top or that cool flash animated text. Excel Services is like Peter quite basic. He isn’t a tall Michael Owen. The Ugly Peter Crouch may not be in same league as Peter Beardsley, or Ian Dowie for ugliness,( allegedly) but he won’t win many beauty contests. His long matchstick legs make him looked awkward. Although, his lack of Daniel Craig style physique, does not prevent him being a valuable asset as a striker. Excel Services again falls short in appearance because for improved performance Microsoft has restricted the appearance of charts in Excel Services. In super Excel 2007 you may have created a dramatic three dimensional shaded pie chart with a relaxing water-bubble background, but when published in Excel Services all that remains is a bland 2D pie chart with no background. Don’t panic there is always a webpart from Bamboo Solutions for creating pretty SharePoint charts if Excel Services does not meet your needs. Excel Services may not be the ‘all singing and dancing’ answer to reporting in SharePoint, but it is a pretty useful addition and has a big future. Like Excel Services Peter Crouch isn’t pretty and has his knockers, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he had re-signed for the Villa instead of Portsmouth.
at 9:37 am