Meet the Excel 12 formula bar, or “don’t hijack my grid!”

I’d like to shift gears a bit and talk about the work we’ve done to improve the experience around building and editing formulas.  For most customers, this is a core activity in their daily use of the product.  In planning for this version of Excel, we took a hard look at the features in this area, and we have made what we think are some significant improvements.  Over the next week, I am going to cover the work we have done in this area. 

To start, let’s take a look at some changes to the formula bar.  In Excel 12, we’ve redesigned the formula bar to be both flexible and less intrusive.  When we were researching the area of formula editing, the most common customer feedback we received about the formula bar was that it didn’t respect their data on the grid.  In order to display text in the active cell, the formula bar would spill into the sheet, often resulting in obscured column headers and sheet content. This could be frustrating when users were working with a spreadsheet containing cells with more than one line of text.    We’ve addressed this issue in Excel 12 by giving formula bar its own space that never overlaps with the grid.  The behaviour is similar to resizing a docked task pane.   Let’s take a look at an example.

Below is an image of the Excel 2003 formula bar when a cell containing a lot of text is selected.  Column headers and data are obscured by the formula bar.

(Click to enlarge)

Now let’s look at that same document in Excel 12.  Rather than spilling the content, we’ve added a scroll bar and kept the formula bar to a single line (which is the default state). 

(Click to enlarge)

To display more cell content, users just need to adjust the height of the formula bar. This can be done in two ways – by dragging the resize bar at the bottom, or by clicking the auto expand/collapse button at the far right.  As users resize the formula bar, it pushes down the grid instead of overlapping it, so that spreadsheet content is never obscured.  For the keyboard user, we’ve added a short cut that allows them to quickly toggle between the collapsed (1 line) and expanded state.

(Click to enlarge)

Another piece of feedback we heard from users about the formula bar was that the name box was not big enough to display long range names.  Accordingly, we’ve added the ability to resize the name box horizontally. This gives customers the ability to accommodate their long range names by dragging the name divider (circular dimple) left or right.

Here is an example of a long range name that doesn’t fit in the name box:

Here is what things look like after the name box has been resized:

Finally, I’ve already talked about limits, but I thought I’d mention a few here in the context of the formula bar.  The changes we’ve made will accommodate these increased limits and the larger formulas that result.
The maximum length of formulas (in characters)
Old Limit: 1k characters
New Limit: 8k characters

The number of levels of nesting that Excel allows in formulas
Old Limit: 7
New Limit: 64

Maximum number of arguments to a function
Old Limit: 30
New Limit: 255

That’s all for today.  Next up, formula auto complete (yes, it’s as great as it sounds)