What Are Excel Add-Ins?
Excel add-ins extend the functionality of the software. They aren’t limited to Excel either. You can find add-ins for Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, SharePoint, Publisher, and now even Outlook. We are hoping to see the list grow when Office 2016 arrives with Windows 10 later this year.
Excel actually comes bundled with just over a handful of popular add-ins–you just have to know where to look to activate them. Try File > Options > Add-Ins and see what is already available to your copy of Excel. Note the Manage drop down box, and the Go button? Pressing Go brings us to the Add-Ins installation/activation page. I’ve selected the Analysis ToolPak and the Solver Add-In. Once installed, these add-ins introduce new functions to the Data tab, under Analysis.
Add-ins come in slightly different flavors, too:
- Excel Add-ins: These include those included in the Excel installation, and those added later via a .xll file.
- Downloadable Add–ins: These include add-ins downloaded from Office.com, and usually extend the functionality of Excel, for instance granting greater communication and analytics with SQL Servers.
- Custom Add-ins: These include custom, third-party Excel add-ins, Component Object Model add-ins, automation, VBA, and .xll extensions. Most custom add-ins require installation, rather than simply activating.
Information on installation or activation can be found on the add-in download page, and there is a large amount of literature online should you come unstuck at any point.
Microsoft is slowly phasing out the term “add-ins” in favor of the popular and more relevant term “apps.” If you sign into Office, the Apps for Office button will appear in the Insert tab. Opening it up provides a direct link to the Office store and all of the add-ins and apps to be found there.
Let’s look at some of the best add-ins for Excel.
A business is only as good as its data. And some businesses have all the data. Extracting maximum value from your data can empower your business, allowing you to make informed, direct decisions backed up with empirical evidence.
It can be a little tricky to get used to, and it does have its own, separate interface, but it will enable you to build beautiful data analytics dashboards you can share with the entire company. And people will be impressed, especially if they haven’t seen it before. You can consult the detailed Power BI support pages to get started or when you’re stuck.
A nice little add-in that allows you to send your data directly to the Power BI dashboard and analytics tool.
Bubbles, Radial Chart, and People Graph
Excel is an excellent data visualization tool and the charts included in the base design are extremely useful. Sometimes though, we just want something a little different. Here’s where Bubbles is useful, providing you a fun, immediately accessible interactive data visualization experience. Expand on the example table, or insert your own data to see what it can do. And play with the colors. Fun data times.
The second data visualization tool is the Radial Chart. Again, it’s easy to use and offers you a new way of analyzing your data. I would stick with the default colors–the Night Vision offering makes my eyes bleed.
The third data visualization tool is People Graph, a nice little tool akin to an infographic design developed by Microsoft. Comes with 16 different shapes, 7 themes, and 3 chart types to bring your data to life.
Databurst is a really pretty and well programmed interactive multiplatform visualization tool. It supports filters, slicers, formulas, hidden columns, and more, and you can access it from your desktop, tablet, or mobile.
As a bonus, Databurst includes a number of sample weather and geographical datasets–but they don’t quite compare to my breakfast analysis, included in the image.
Sometimes you just need more data, and if you’re looking for serious volume these add-ins will give you those extra records you crave, you data-fiend, you. Quandle gives you that data functionality, granting you access to their massive range of datasets. You can also cross-reference the dataset with graphs found on their site.
Pro-Tip: Follow the on page instructions for advanced search within the Quandle add-in–it’s worth it if you’ve something specific to find.
Now, I haven’t had a chance to use this add-in, but it certainly looks very interesting. It pulls data from your IoT connected devices and displays them within a worksheet for you to manipulate, and allows you to share your personal datasets using JSON or XML. Best of all, it works in real-time, so you know exactly what your devices or sensors are doing every minute of the day.
We recently wrote about the productivity boost you’ll find using Excel templates, and many of the best templates in that article came from Vertex42. This add-in consolidates many of their best templates into one single, handy Excel app. You can even try it in your browser first. Use it!
This is really, really cool. Anyone who loves data visualization must give this a try. The Audible Charts app lets you listen to your data. The higher the number, the higher the pitch. Have a listen and look:
Slightly (completely) novel, but interesting nonetheless.
Bing Maps plots location data from your worksheet onto a Bing Map, providing basic location based data visualization. In my quick mock up below you can see select MakeUseOf employee locations by country, but this can be narrowed down by Zip/Postcode, street addresses, states, counties, and much more.
If you have location-based relational data, you can multiple select columns and insert pie charts over your specified locations.
We’ve covered data visualization, business intelligence, templates, audio visualization, and dataset importing. But there are many more Excel add-ins and apps out there for you to find, and as with most things Excel, if you’re thinking about something useful, chances are someone has read your mind.
Have you used Excel apps or add-ins before? What are you favorites? Let us know below!