r3lody (Raymond Lodato) writes "Over the years, I've read a number of books on Excel programming. Each one seemed much like the previous one, generally talking about writing macros and creating data-entry forms. Professional Excel Development takes the concept quite a bit farther. Rather than giving you the same old tired lessons, this book goes into detail on exactly how to build professional level applications. It even explains how to make your Excel-based application look as though Excel had nothing to do with it. Suffice it to say, this ain't your daddy's Excel book." Read on for the rest of Lodato's review.
The authors, Stephen Bullen, Rob Bovey, and John Green, show a level of sophistication well beyond the norm. They'd rather teach you the proper way to program instead of teaching you how to use Excel. In fact, the first thing they do is distinguish five different levels of usage: Excel users, Excel power users, VBA developers, Excel developers, and professional Excel developers. The book is written for the highest level, so expect a lot of depth.
Rather than simply show how to record a macro and reuse it, they start by talking about coding practices, naming conventions and application structure. That's followed by an entire chapter on worksheet design, including names, styles, validation, formatting and controls. After a chapter on add-ins, they launch into the topic of dictator applications, that is, applications that completely take over the Excel interface and look like a regular, non-Excel program.
The following chapters go into much more detail about wringing every ounce of functionality from Excel, and then turning to the operating system and Visual Basic for more help. After discussing data manipulation with databases, they talk about using XLLs and the C API, VB.NET, and writing Help files to complete the application. The entire structure of the book builds around a time-entry application that is developed from a simple spreadsheet to a full-blown, production quality program. A CD-ROM is also included with all of the source code and multiple examples that are scattered throughout the book.
Reading Professional Excel Development is not something to be taken lightly. The authors have done a fine job putting together a cohesive methodology for using Excel as an application development platform. I know of no other book that covers this platform in such depth. At times I found myself lost in the details, but I suspect a "professional Excel developer" (which I am not) would be delighted in the depth of description and copious examples provided.
I tried to relate a lot of what Stephen, Rob, and John discussed to OpenOffice Calc, to see if it could be ported to an open source environment. I was surprised by how much actually came across. Granted, items in OpenOffice are sometimes in different places, or named differently, than their counterparts in Excel, but most of the same functionality is there. Unfortunately, most of the examples are written in VBA, which doesn't translate cleanly into OpenOffice. Still, with perseverance, you would probably be able to develop most of what is described in the book.
Professional Excel Development is an extremely well-written book that covers the use of Excel to a depth few authors have dared to tread. The text gives you the tools to build applications that are much more than automated spreadsheets. Almost any program your imagination can devise can be created using the techniques given, which is a testimony to the power of Excel. Bash Microsoft if you want, but they do sometimes come up with a winner, and Professional Excel Development allows you to take full advantage of its capabilities.
You can purchase Professional Excel Development: The Definitive Guide to Developing Applications Using Microsoft Excel and VBA from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.