Author: Curis Frye
Publisher: Microsoft Press
Aimed at: Upgraders and new users of Excel
Pros: Strong on data handling including PivotTables
Cons: Not the best starting point for a complete beginner
Reviewed by: Janet Swift
I've been an Excel user for almost as long as there has been an Excel but, until now, I've never upgraded from Excel 2003. So at the same time as installing the 2010 version I thought I'd take advantage of Curtis Frye's Step-by-Step book to help overcome some of the obstacles of working with a very different interface.
For upgraders there's a helpful section that introduces Excel 2010's new features. This is included in the books prelims - on pages ix thru xxiii which seems a little strange as many readers, myself included, tend to skip these sections and in fact they make interesting reading.
Learning to use a spreadsheet can be time consuming because you need data to work with so the fact that this book works with downloadable practice fies seemed like an advantage. However having worked my way through the first exercise I wasn't quite as convinced - partly because I had no idea what purpose the Exceptions Summary worksheet was intended to serve other than to make me go through a list of instructions and the devil's advocate in me wanted to ask "Why use a spreadsheet for this list, rather than a word table".
There is a lot that I did like in this book - the fact that from the outset sheets are given meaningful names and that range names are encouraged for example. However I found the treatment of functions very odd. In Chapter 3 we arrive at "Creating Formulas to Calculate Values" and view a screen dump of functions that by default are in the Most Recently Used list. A table singles out five as the most useful -SUM, AVERAGE, COUNT, MAX and MIN with their descriptions. The following sentence reads,
"Two other functions that you might use are the NOW and PMT functions,
and there follows an explanation of these two, entirely different, functions. This again just raised in me the question of "why?" especially as neither of these functions is ever encountered again in the book.
Another function the immensely powerful IF makes a brief appearance later in Chapter 3 and again Chapter 5 but this hardly does justice to its importance as a feature that makes a spreadsheet so much more powerful than just a table.
Working on through the book I came to the conclusion that Curtis Frye and I relate to a spreadsheets rather differently and perhaps it is simply because the things he has struggled to do without the help of a spreadsheet are a different selection. He devotes a lot of attention to sorting and summarizing data and introduces us to pivot tables before charts - something I found a bit odd but when you think about it pivot tables are the feature that users find difficult while charts are pretty automatic - although Excel 2010 doesn't make it as easy as it was in Excel 2003.
In Chapter 10 on charts and graphics, Frye covers one of Excel 2010's innovations - sparklines. These can be thought of as "in-cell charts" that provide an instant summary or show a trend. He then goes on to creating dynamic charts using PivotCharts - and as long as you already understand Pivot Tables - and given his chapter structure you do - these come as a logical step and one that is very powerful.
Chapter 10 also goes into the idea of creating diagrams, such as an organisational structure chart, using Smart Art and creating shapes and inserting mathematical equations using Excel 2010's updated equation editor that will be welcomes by scientists and engineers. Another new graphics feature, the ability to remove the background of a picture, is covered earlier in Chapter 4, Changing Workbook Appearance where the idea of incorporating graphics is discussed.
Printing is a topic not encountered until Chapter 11 but then is subject to a professional approach - adding headers and footers, changing page breaks, printing only part of a spreadsheet. Chapter 12 deals with macros using VBA - there's a blast from the past. Working with other Office programs, specifically PowerPoint is covered in Chapter13 which also deals with adding web page hyperlinks to workbooks. Chapter 14, Collaborating with Colleagues looks at sharing workbooks and the use of comments and tracked changes and finally, and very briefly, gets to the idea of working over the Internet using HTML versions of a workbook.
This book does cover a great deal - what-if analysis, goal seeking, scenarios are all there for example - and while it might seem to tackle things in a strange order it turns out to be a logical one.
At the end of the day what do I think about the downloadable files? On the whole they are useful and enable the user to learn techniques but on occasion they can be confusing and even misleading.