Don’t believe the naysayers: just glance at the startups out there to show how spreadsheet use is getting easier and more exciting.
If you’re as regular a user of Excel spreadsheets as the rest of the world, getting started probably feels as routine as picking up the phone and dialling a number: you turn on your computer, select the Excel icon from the menu and seamlessly start working with the numbers in columns and rows–it’s all second nature.
Just imagine, however, if those steps were replaced by the following: sit down anywhere or stand even and rather than working off a notebook or desktop, you strap on a set of virtual reality goggles and start looking at Excel in an three dimensions.
This futuristic scenario is not, in fact, very futuristic at all. Fortune magazine recently profiled a startup called Envelop that takes traditional Microsoft Windows applications and puts them in a VR environment. The magazine’s staff got handson with the product and talked about what it was like:
Looking at an Excel spreadsheet in virtual reality was pretty much like looking at Excel on a desktop—except supersized. Displaying spreadsheet data in a graph form, like a bar graph or something more complex, takes advantage of virtual reality’s 3D capabilities and makes staring at a pie chart far more exciting than normal.
Why would anyone do this, you might wonder? Part of the rationale is to help those trying to create more unusual VR apps to get more familiar with the technology by representing software programs they already know well. In another sense, you might think of it as a way of bridging the user experience of a desktop world and a VR world.
Before PCs became an office mainstay, for example, lots of senior executives sat at a surface that was covered only by a blotter and some stationary. It took a while to get used to sitting in front of computers for eight hours. The transition to VR may not be much different.
The good news is that while PCs forced everyone to learn how to type, other technology innovations are trying to make imputing and managing data in applications much easier. Take officeAutomata, another startup that builds upon Microsoft’s virtual assistant, Cortana, to create a sort of digital coach for Excel users. A blogger on American Genius explained why this could be gamechanging.
“I try to avoid the program altogether. Being that I rarely require it for personal use, all is good until my boss says, ‘Hey, you’re good with Excel, right? I need you to do this, that, and the other,’” a writer named Taylor Leddin writes. “At this point, there is a crash course involved with trying to relearn Excel.”
Using the artificial intelligence like a tool, however, means your personal activity will teach the app to create personalized macros, or functions and commands like “Finish this worksheet” or “Can you help me find the data?”
If anyone tries to tell you Excel is on the way out, just take a look at the ecosystem of innovators who are making it more accessible and more likely to become a true enterprise platform than ever before.