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Some ideas for new features for Microsoft Excel 20xx
Part one of a two-part series of blogs

Excel is a great product, but there is always room for improvement. Here Andy Brown considers 12 possible new features for Excel 2020.

  1. New Version of MS Excel - Suggestions (Part 1) (this blog)
  2. New Version of MS Excel - Suggestions (Part 2)

Posted by Andy Brown on 24 September 2012

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New Version of MS Excel - Suggestions (Part 1)

Having watched delegates on training courses over the years struggle with certain features of Excel, we reckon we've got a pretty good idea of where it could be improved.  So as a public service I hereby offer 12 new features for Excel 2020.

None of what follows should be misconstrued as a complaint.  I think Excel is a great product, which is why it's so frustrating to see obvious areas for improvement not addressed.  I look forward to my phone call from the Microsoft Excel development team!

1 - Deleting Range Names

Range names are so easy to create, it seems a shame that they're so hard to get rid of:

The Name Manager

To delete a range name, you first have to go to this button on the Formula tab.


There should be a delete button next to each range - something like this:

Delete range tick boxes

A Wise Owl mock-up of how deleting ranges could work.  We'll leave the fine details to Microsoft!


2 - Autocompletion of Range Names

While we're on the subject of range names, why can't they autocomplete? 

Partially typed range name

You've typed in enough of this range name to identify it. If you type a + sign, surely Excel should include the CashCosts range name in your formula?  Instead, you have to type the TAB key to insert the selected range name into your formula.


The above feature is particularly annoying because VBA has been doing this for many years.

3 - The Missing PRINT Tab

The ribbon (first introduced in Excel 2007) is a great idea, but it's missing a tab:

The Page Layout tab

You can use this tab to set margins and orientation, but why not the whole kaboodle?

I'd humbly suggest calling this the PRINT tab, and putting the various print views on it:

The page break preview icon selected

This tab definitely belongs in the printing area of Excel.


Also on the same tab could be all of the settings on the Print menu:

The Print menu in Excel

This menu is so awkward to use, I end up going into the old Page Setup dialog box.

4 - Data Validation

Almost everything about this feature needs a revamp.  It's a great idea - you can use it to control what a user types into a cell, and display messages like this one:

Data validation error message

You can get messages to appear when you enter data which violates a rule (in this case, that the percentage rate entered must be non-negative).


However it has a few foibles.  Firstly, it's in the wrong place:

Data validation tool

Surely this tool belongs on the Review tab, next to the protection icons?

Secondly, it should be incorporated within cell formatting:

The Cell format dialog box

There should be a tab at the end called Validation, I assert.


For those who know and love Excel styles, these should also incorporate validation settings too.  Thirdly, the Input Message tab should be moved altogether:

The Data Validation dialog box

This tab has got nothing to do with validating the cell entry.

I'd recommend merging cell comments and input messages together somehow, since they both do more or less identical things:

Cell comment and input message

Spot the difference!  There are subtle differences, but not enough to justify two different features in Excel.


5 - Conditional Formatting

Conditional formatting allows you to colour cells according to their contents, and is powerful to a fault:

Conditional formatting icons

One of many ways to show conditional formats.


However, conditional formatting is (as its name would suggest) to do with formatting cells, and so surely belongs - like data validation settings - on the cell format dialog box:

The cell format dialog box - 2

It's getting a bit crowded, but this dialog box should show cell formatting too.


Styles should also encompass conditional formatting.  This change brings me on to the next one.

6 - An Information Window

In much earlier versions of Excel, there was an INFO window which displayed lots of information about the selected cell (I just had to Google it to check I didn't dream about it).

Bring it back!  When you click on a cell, you could see:

  • the range name(s) it belonged to;
  • any formatting applied;
  • any conditional formatting applied; and
  • any data validation settings.

The window would be like the Properties window which is so prevalent in other MS applications, but cuddlier, and with the facility to change any property by clicking on a build button next to it.


Time for a break - I'll put the other suggestions in a second part of this blog.

  1. New Version of MS Excel - Suggestions (Part 1) (this blog)
  2. New Version of MS Excel - Suggestions (Part 2)
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