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May 19, 2006

"Programming Excel with VBA & .NET": Transforming Excel into Task-Specific Software

Sebastopol, CA--Sure, Excel has powerful built-in features that often provide just what you need, but there still remain times when spreadsheet logic--as adaptable as it is--just isn't enough. "Excel is amazingly complete," write Jeff Webb and Steve Saunders, authors of Programming Excel with VBA & .NET (O'Reilly, US $54.99). "But programming Excel isn't really about adding new features as much as it is about combining existing features to solve specific problems." Webb and Saunders consider Excel a platform for solving complex calculations and presenting results, but they suggest that programming transforms that general platform into a task-specific piece of software.

"The phrase 'task-specific piece of software' is kind of a mouthful," they agree, "and most people use the word 'solution' instead." No matter what you call it, the reason to program Excel is to make some task easier or more reliable, and in Programming Excel with VBA & .NET, Webb and Saunders show readers how to do just that. With Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and this book, Excel users learn to become Excel Programmers.

"Microsoft Office is the defacto document platform. Think about it--there's no credible alternative," says Webb. "If you do business or go to school, you use Microsoft Office. Excel is a somewhat specialized part of that universe, but it's the part that most benefits from programmability because numbers are more structured than language. Word macros are cut, but entire applications can be written in Excel. It's what I call the fourth tier--an adapter between data-driven software and the humans who try to interpret the results."

"There are plenty of books out there, but none that I know of that deal comprehensively with Excel programming in a way that is practical, useful, non-nonsense, engaging, and maybe a little off-center. That is how I see the book, anyway," says Saunders. "We know this stuff, but we try to have a little fun with it, and we hope that readers feel the same way (and buy lots of copies for their friends)."

Webb and Saunders introduce readers to VBA, guiding them through the Visual Basic Editor and some basic programming techniques. From that point, readers will learn how to create or modify interfaces with VBA, design and distribute reusable objects and libraries, and apply Microsoft's .NET Framework and Visual Studio Tools for Office. Readers will learn to integrate various types of data, from hyperlinks and XML, to scraping data from the Web, and connecting to databases to use their information in calculations. The book also explores methods of analyzing and distributing information, including printing, creating charts and graphics, and other methods.

"This book can really serve as the one and only comprehensive reference that Excel developers will need," observes Saunders. "I've worked with the team at Microsoft that produces the online language reference that ships with Excel. They are great, talented people who do their best. But they are under incredible pressure to crank out massive amounts of documentation. Producing a book of this size was no small effort either, but I think it manages to cover more ground and provide more useful examples that what you'll see with the product documentation, or anything else."

The writing team of Webb and Saunders go back a long way. In the early 1990s, the two of them produced what is likely the most compact and widely distributed language reference in history, Microsoft's online help for QBasic. "QBasic was a component of DOS that provided the first coding experience for many a programmer," says Saunders. "I used to love walking up to any PC in the world and showing people the code example that included a reference to my daughter." Later, the two of them moved on to document the brave new world of COM programming, and in the ensuing years have become source of much original documentation that still lives on. As their latest effort, Programming Excel with VBA & .NET will guide beginning Excel programmers through their first steps to advanced development, and show even experienced Excel programmers some useful subjects they haven't seen before.

Additional Resources:

Programming Excel with VBA & .NET
Jeff Webb and Steve Saunders
ISBN: 0-596-00766-3, 1090 pages, $54.99 US, $71.99 CA
order@oreilly.com
1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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