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January 18, 2005

"Excel: The Missing Manual": New Book Brings Help for Excel-phobes and Others

Sebastopol, CA--Microsoft Excel is a surprisingly flexible application. But in spite of its impressive feature set, most users find that Excel's power goes largely untapped. Why? Because the typical introduction to the program is often a case of sudden immersion--one that leaves users in possession of the rudiments but unaware of dozens of features and shortcuts. It's not unusual for new users to find themselves confronted with a spreadsheet they've inherited from a predecessor or discover that they need to come up to speed instantly to complete a project. Their natural impulse is to turn to the manual for help. The panic, despair, and eventual resignation only materialize when they realize there's no manual to turn to.

But now Excel users at all levels of experience will find reprieve for their woes in Excel: The Missing Manual (O'Reilly, US $39.95) by Matthew MacDonald. With the clear explanations and witty prose that the Missing Manuals have come to be known for, this comprehensive guide will help users master the art of turning raw data into valuable, manageable information.

Excel 2003 has a reputation for being tougher to use than any previous version of Excel. A marvelously rich program, its emphasis is no longer on just crunching numbers, but using tools to analyze, communicate, and collaborate effectively. Power users can even take advantage of industry-standard Extensible Markup Language (XML) data to connect to business processes. But Excel's reputation for being tough is not necessarily deserved, says MacDonald.

"Excel is one of those incredibly flexible Swiss Army Knife applications," notes MacDonald. "Another is Microsoft Word. Excel can be applied to everything from calculating your mortgage payments to predicting the amount of money you'll lose in an all-night casino binge. But while most people know how to use Word to get their day-to-day business taken care of, a large majority of otherwise-normal people live in fear of Excel." According to MacDonald, there's never been a better time for Excel-phobes to get on board with the application. As he points out, "Excel is easier to use than ever before, it no longer changes from version to version, and it runs smoothly on even antiquated computer equipment."

Even Excel-phobes will find all they need tame their fears in Excel: The Missing Manual. The book includes coverage of:

  • Spreadsheet basics: The book gives readers everything they need to create basic, yet professional looking spreadsheets, including easy-to-use formatting tricks, tips on how to write formulas and use functions, and the world's simplest guide to understanding Excel's federal-tax-code-like rules about data formats.
  • Data analysis tools: Excel is packed with tools that help users see and reveal the story behind their spreadsheet's numbers. From charts and graphics to Pivot Tables and goal-seeking tools, Excel's tools can help users uncover patterns and trends in data.
  • Getting Excel to work and play well with others: Excel lives in a networked world. This book shows users how to get data into and out of their spreadsheets, and includes in-depth primers on Excel's new XML capabilities, database importing and exporting tools, and using Excel with other programs like Word and PowerPoint. Web publishers will learn how to quickly post spreadsheets on the web and how to add interactive controls that let viewers manipulate and analyze the spreadsheet's data.
  • MacDonald observes that one of the nicest features of the Missing Manual series is that, owing to their extensive cross-referencing, they're useful for a range of different readers. "The Excel novice can read Excel: The Missing Manual from the first page to the last for a comprehensive tour," he says. "People who have a basic background Excel and are interested in learning the real tricks of Excel guru-dom can also use the book to skip directly to the most impressive material. Obviously, Excel geniuses who are interested in better ways to plot the gravitation field of the earth need not apply."

    Excel: The Missing Manual was written with Excel 2003 in mind, but most of the concepts, features, tips, and tricks work equally well with Excel 2002 (the version released with Office XP). Each chapter clearly spells out any differences between the two versions. The Mac version of Excel is covered in Office 2004 for Macintosh: The Missing Manual (due to be released in February 2005).

    Additional Resources:

    Excel: The Missing Manual
    Matthew MacDonald
    ISBN: 0-596-00664-0, 770 pages, $39.95 US, $57.95 CA
    order@oreilly.com
    1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

    About O'Reilly

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