Excel-lence in Data Visualization?: The Use of Microsoft Excel for Data Visualization and the Analysis of Big Data

Excel-lence in Data Visualization?: The Use of Microsoft Excel for Data Visualization and the Analysis of Big Data

Jacques Raubenheimer (University of the Free State, South Africa & The University of Sydney, Australia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 41
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2512-7.ch007
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Spreadsheets were arguably the first information calculation and analysis tools employed by microcomputer users, and today are arguably ubiquitously used for information calculation and analysis. The fluctuating fortunes of PC makers coincided with those of spreadsheet applications, although the last two decades have seen the dominance of Microsoft Excel in the spreadsheet market. This chapter plots the historical development of spreadsheets in general, and Excel in particular, highlighting how new features have allowed for new forms of data analysis in the spreadsheet environment. Microsoft has undoubtedly cast Excel as a tool for the analysis of big data through the addition and development of features aimed at reporting on data too large for a spreadsheet. This chapter discusses Excel's ability to handle these data by means of an applied example. Data visualization by means of charts and dashboards is discussed as a common strategy for dealing with large volumes of data.
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The democratization of electronic information can truly be said to have started with the advent of the personal computer, and spreadsheets have played a central role in that process, to such an extent that Hesse and Scerno (2009) pointedly state:

It was VisiCalc (in approximately 1981) and the development of electronic spreadsheets that advanced PC sales beyond word processing machines and changed the definition of secretary (eliminating much of the work that secretaries had done) to administrative assistant. Wang redefined the secretary’s job; however, with their word processing and spreadsheet capabilities, PCs redefined the secretary…. We contend that without the electronic spreadsheet, PCs might have remained hobby tools or game machines. (pp. 159-160)

History of Spreadsheets in General

The concept of a spreadsheet predates personal computers, with one of the earliest references (then as “spread sheet”) being listed in Kohler’s dictionary for accountants of 1952 (Mattessich, n.d.). Early accounting work was done by Richard Mattessich on the idea of the computerization of spreadsheets (1961, 1964). The first actual computerization of these ideas (LANPAR) was done by Rene Pardo and Remy Landau in 1969 (Pardo, 2000). However, it is commonly held that the utility of personal computers first became evident with the 1979 release of a spreadsheet program for the Apple II: VisiCalc (cf. Power, 2004), the first so-called “killer app” (Brandel, 1999; Grad, 2007; Walkenbach, 2010, p. 11). VisiCalc was developed based on Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston’s experience working with paper-based calculation problems in business school, independent of earlier computerizations (Bricklin, 2009b, 2015; Frankston, 1999; Power, 2004), so much so that Grad (2007) details how Bricklin’s prior experiences with word processing proved far more pivotal in the development of VisiCalc than actual accounting experience. Not only was a spreadsheet application the first “killer app” for personal computers, but spreadsheets could arguably be called the first area for the battle of software supremacy, even predating operating system battles. Things developed very quickly after the release of VisiCalc: SuperCalc was released in 1980, and Microsoft’s Multiplan in 1982. Multiplan’s fleeting early popularity was quickly lost to the superior Lotus 1-2-3 released in January 1983 (Campbell-Kelly, 2007, p. 15; Kapor, 2007, p. 37).

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