The Impact of Excel

This was sent in Issue #60 of Squirrel Notes on June 12, 2021.

I’m weirdly seeing a lot of content about Excel these days, and how it revolutionized how we organized information.

I remember Joel Spolsky writing about his time as one of the architects of Excel when he was at Microsoft. He said work on the product changed when they finally just accepted that most people wanted to use it to organize information, not actually do calculations.

Here’s about 10,000 words of history which makes the bold claim that “Excel may be the most influential software ever built.”

Excel Never Dies

The author discusses how people build things on top of Excel, enabled by simple organization and design of data. In this sense, Excel was the first content modeling tool – it enabled (emboldened?) us to think about things in terms of fields and records. We could finally model all the things! (Check out this article on modeling best practices in Excel from The American Statistician.)

Almost 20 years ago, I opined about the implications for CMS:

Microsoft Excel as a Simple Content Storage Mechanism

I would argue that Airtable seems to be the heir apparent for that idea, though many pure headless CMS companies are becoming “spreadsheets in the cloud.”

(Something to note: a cell in Excel can now be a complex object, not just a primitive value. The mind races at the possibilities.)

This is item #299 in a sequence of 305 items.

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