Microsoft is rolling out a major update for it Spreadsheet software Excel, which extends the supported pool of data types far beyond numbers and text.
In previous updates, the company introduced dynamic arrays and array formulas, as well as Bing-supported stocks and geography data types, which introduced an element of intelligence to cells.
According to a Microsoft blog post, the next Excel upgrade will take this extension a step further, allowing users to create their own custom data types.
These data types can be structured and deployed so that a single cell can contain deep and contextual information about a particular topic (for example, a specific product or location), which is accessible through a scroll-over menu.
Custom data types are also connected to live sources, which means that the information stored in Excel spreadsheets no longer has to be static and the chance of errors is reduced.
Microsoft Excel update
The importance of the forthcoming Excel update is a bit challenging to understand at first, but, as Microsoft explains, it’s about expanding the ways that data can be used by adding a degree of dynamism and intelligence.
“Until now, the Excel grid has been flat: it is two-dimensional. However, not all data is flat, and forcing data into that 2D structure has its limits. With data types, we’ve added a third dimension to what you can build with Excel, ”said Microsoft.
“Data types are rich and go beyond numbers and strings – just one cell value can contain a deep collection of hierarchical data, references to other data types, images and intelligent actions. They are also connected and can point to live services that provide data that can be refreshed at any time. “
The user group that benefits most from the new features appears to be customers of Microsoft Power BI, the data visualization and Company Information maintenance. All business data published to Power BI is automatically connected to Excel, making it the fastest and easiest way to take advantage of the new custom data types.
However, data types can also be created from scratch with Power Query. When importing data into an Excel spreadsheet, users are now prompted to convert the information into a data type, which can pull live data from a range of sources – files, databases, online services, etc.
Microsoft is also working on a selection of more than 100 preconfigured data types powered by the knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha. These data types allow users, for example, to track stock prices, log nutritional information, and collect chemistry data.
Excel data types powered by Power BI are immediately available to Microsoft 365 customers who subscribe to a Power BI Pro subscription, and Power Query data types are currently being rolled out to all customers. Wolfram Alpha data types are currently only available in preview for members of the Insider Program.