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Blog Archive

Common Mistakes when Programming Excel with C#

Working on my latest Excel add-in, I've spent a lot of time on researching bits and pieces of the Excel object model and viewing code samples on sites like MSDN, StackOverflow, et al. I have noticed a handful of mistakes repeated across the web. While not trying to claim a high level of expertise, I do hope the following list of common mistakes is helpful to the next lucky soul who has to program against Excel with C#.

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The Future of Microsoft Office Add-In Development

BreezeTree sells one Excel add-in and another is targeted for release later this year. Despite that, I don't know that I would recommend getting into this market. Many developers may point to the dwindling influence of Microsoft in the software world, competing online office suites, and the rise of mobile and tablets. Don't kid yourself. The Microsoft desktop market is still huge, and Microsoft Office still has hundreds of millions of users.

Since the release of Office 2013 and Office 365, I've been asked if FlowBreeze supports Office 365. Talking to customers, many of them are left confused by what difference is between the two. (In short, Office 2013 is the desktop installation, and Office 365 augments your desktop version with cloud-based storage and web-based editing.) It is clear that Microsoft would like to move to a subscription-based, recurring revenue model, but I'm not convinced the user base will follow. So I'm taking a step back to consider whether there is a viable future in Office add-in development.

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Excel RefEdit Control in C#

During the development of FlowBreeze 3.0, I wasted a lot of time mucking around with different approaches to emulating the RefEdit control from C#. If you're not familiar with it, the RefEdit control looks something like this on a typical Excel form:
RefEdit Form Control
(btw, this is actually the after image. the range address would not be present until after the step in the next image.)

Clicking it, you can then select the range with your mouse, as such:
RefEdit - Select Range

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Creating Non-Tracked Social Media Buttons

From time to time, a "Why I'm Quitting X" type of article pops up where X = social media buttons. Then it gets yakked about on Hacker News, reddit, etc. The discussions usually boil down to two things - do social buttons work, and why should I let Facebook et al. track my users?

Do Social Buttons Work?

They do for me. When I added them, referrals from social media sites went up. When I removed them, referrals went down. When I added them back, the numbers went up again. Other site owners have numbers that indicate the opposite, so the only logical answer is: test them yourself.

N.B.: I removed the buttons temporarily because I wasn't thrilled with the idea of my visitors being tracked by social media sites. Plus, I had originally used the AddThis buttons, and they were causing page load times to increase - sometimes dramatically. I added social buttons back after creating the non-tracked versions below.

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Flywheel Marketing for Software Companies

I just watched Rob Walling's talk from MicroConf 2012. Most of the talks were interesting, but the one by Rob was my personal favorite. It's a great talk, and I highly recommend watching it. One of the things that Rob touched upon was "Flywheel Marketing". Like its namesake, the concept is that you put the effort in up front, and like a flywheel, it keeps on going from its own momentum.

I've never had great success running AdWords campaigns. The Cost-Per-Click (CPC) is just too high for terms related to business diagramming. And, like many other articles have touched on, the CPC can be frustratingly high even for phrases that have no competition (a la CDC, perhaps CPC stands for Center for Profit Control). And lets face it, a flowchart add-in for Excel isn't the kind of software that TechCrunch is going to cover, or people will buzz about on social media sites. So for FlowBreeze, that leaves article writing as a straightforward marketing channel.

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Spreadspeed: Our Productivity and Auditing Tools Add-In for Excel

We are happy to announce the release of Spreadspeed. Spreadspeed is a set of productivity utilities and auditing tools for Microsoft Excel. Spreadspeed comes in a standard edition as well as an Auditor edition. As the name implies, the Spreadspeed Auditor features advanced spreadsheet auditing tools. The complete product details are available on the Spreadspeed product page, but a quick list of features is as follows:

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FlowBreeze Adds Value Stream Mapping

FlowBreeze now includes Value Stream Mapping tools. FlowBreeze has two tools that simplify creating Value Stream Maps - the VSM Template Generator and the VSM Symbols task pane. The VSM tools augment the existing text-to-flowchart capabilities of FlowBreeze, and are an added feature for no extra cost - an extremely good value. Plus, FlowBreeze is a Microsoft Excel add-in, so the resulting diagrams can be viewed by and shared with anyone who uses Excel.

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Excel Version Survey - 2011

Time for a periodic update to the BreezeTree Excel version survey. The numbers are below and speak for themselves. The survey data was collected over the last six months, and the target audience was business users. Standard disclaimer: This is not a scientific poll - but without Microsoft publishing these numbers, it's probably as good as any other estimate.

2011 Excel Version Survey

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Excel Version Survey - 2009

For the past few years I've been running surveys to see what version of Microsoft Excel people are running (and by extension, which version of Office). Before getting to the latest data, the standard disclaimer applies: this polling data is not scientific. The sample sizes are decent but the user base is skewed. The data is collected from FlowBreeze trial users, which tend to be business-oriented users, and of those, only a small percentage are polled. Also, FlowBreeze runs on Excel 2000 through 2007 on Windows only. So Mac users and Office 97 hold-outs are not represented, nor are users of Open Office and online spreadsheets.

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