The ribbon is the most obvious innovation in Office 2007, but Excel has some major changes under the hood as well. For a decade, users have been stuck with 65,536 rows and 256 columns. Excel 2007 blows these limits, offering 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns. Plus, Excel 2007 accommodates lengthier text values in cells, allows formulae with more layers and divides calculations among multiple processors in dual-core CPUs to perform complex calculations even faster. But while these improvements will keep number crunchers happy, they won't make much difference to a typical home user.

Click here to read our review of Office 2007.

Better-looking charts

Previous versions of Excel had considerable charting muscle, but you'd never have known it looking at the dated graphics. As part of Microsoft's efforts to give Office a new drawing engine, Excel's charts have taken a dramatic jump into the future. If you're not graphically inclined, pick from preset styles to get harmonious colour combinations and effects such as shadows and 3D shapes.

Sadly, Excel 2007 doesn't add chart types. Number crunchers have been requesting the inclusion of box charts, bullet charts, dot plots and trellis displays for years. Presented with another opportunity to broaden the range of options, Excel 2007 merely embellishes the existing chart types.

Conditional formatting

Easily the most improved Excel feature is conditional formatting, which allows formatting to be added to values which meet criteria. Create a conditional formatting rule - such as 'display all the prices over £100 in red' - and Excel automatically applies it to all cells specified. In Excel 2007 the feature is easier to use; in many instances you can choose a preset option from the ribbon. And you can now mix-and-match as many formatting rules as you wish.

But the real gems are Excel’s data bars and icon sets. Data bars permit you to add a shaded bar behind every cell identified - the bigger the bar, the bigger the number. Icon sets place icons next to various numbers. If you're creating a spreadsheet of exam grades, tell Excel to give failing marks a red cross and passing marks a green tick - distinguishable at a glance. You're limited to Excel's icon sets, but they're quite good.

Minor Excel refinements include better Formula AutoComplete, which works with its number-processing tools. Formula AutoComplete has always been able to tell you what data you need to supply for a function, but now it can predict function names and named ranges as you type in a few letters. Such a tiny improvement will save day-to-day users a lot of time.

Microsoft Excel 2007: Specs

  • 500MHz processor
  • 256MB RAM
  • Windows XP with Service Pack 2, or Vista
  • 2GB hard disk space
  • 1,024x768 resolution monitor
  • 500MHz processor
  • 256MB RAM
  • Windows XP with Service Pack 2, or Vista
  • 2GB hard disk space
  • 1,024x768 resolution monitor

OUR VERDICT

Excel 2007 remains king of spreadsheets, but it's not cheap at the top. Excel costs around £180 inc VAT as a standalone application. However, if you regularly create worksheets, you should consider this improved version.

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