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This post is an overview of our investment strategy with the web version of Excel. As I explained last quarter, one of the Excel team’s key goals from FY20 was that “Customers can use our web app for all their work and should never feel they need to fall back to the rich client”. By “rich client” I mean the Windows and Mac native desktop apps.

 

This post will primarily focus on the what and how but let me briefly cover the why… the web version of Excel is critical to our overall strategy as it gives us the broadest reach and helps ensure everyone has access to the latest version of the product. This not only makes a better experience for the individual customer (since they can leverage all the advances we’ve made in the product), but it also benefits anyone else working with them (because of all the collaboration investments we’ve made). Often people don’t have the ability to install/update native apps on their device, so they don’t have the latest version of Excel, and the web version is serves as a great alternative. Additionally, we’re seeing more customers who prefer to use web based apps as part of how they work. Because of this, we view the web version of Excel just as important as the native Windows and Mac desktop versions, and we’re investing heavily to make the experiences just as rich.

 

Here’s the OKR we have around Excel for the web. It includes how we measure success, as well as the investments we’re funding to help meet those targets:

Web OKR.png

Key Measures

NPS – The key top-level metric we use for measuring our progress is Net Promoter Score (NPS). You may have seen these surveys when using the app… we ask you how likely you are to recommend the web app to other people. It’s a common tool in the industry, and we use it across all the Excel platforms. The NPS within Excel for Windows is incredibly high (higher than most other software I’ve seen). We aspire to hit similar levels with our web app, and it has become a key goal for the team. When people submit their ratings, they can also leave a comment, and we read through these verbatims to better understand the areas people love or want to see improved. The more information you can provide in those comments, the easier it is for us to take action and improve the product. We also spend a lot of time talking to customers and reading the feedback people send through channels like UserVoice and the in-product “Help Improve Office” where you can say if you like something or don’t like something.

 

The most impactful areas for NPS of the web app are performance, reliability, and feature differences with the native desktop apps.

 

MAU & Engagement – Another target we have is overall MAU (monthly active users), and engagement. There are a few ways we measure engagement, but the top-level goal is focused on “usage intensity” which we define as 5 or more days active per month. It’s measured as a percentage of overall MAU, so usage intensity of 75% would mean 75% of the MAU we see have used the app at least 5 days in that month.

 

Teams – Teams is a key way people work together (obviously even more so now with people working from home). It’s important to us that using Excel within Teams is a great experience, and people feel Excel spreadsheets can be a key tool to helping them work together. The primary way people experience Excel within Teams is through our web app. It’s hosted within the larger Teams experience, and we track things like usage, engagement, and NPS within that experience.

 

Initiatives

The initiatives are essentially sub-teams within the broader Excel team. We choose the initiatives based on our key goals, and we work with the initiative drivers to determine how many resources they’ll need to meet their goals. As you can see from the list of initiatives, there are three key areas we focus on for improving Excel for the web: Performance, Reliability, Features.

 

Performance – Performance is the term we use around the speed and responsiveness of the app. The native desktop versions of Excel for Windows and Mac set a very high bar for performance. With the native apps, most of the computation happens on the same machine you’re running Excel. So, if you have a fast machine, Excel is fast… if you have a slower machine, Excel may run slower. With the web, it’s a different architecture. Most of the compute happens in the cloud. This means you aren’t quite as constrained by the speed of the machine you’re on, but instead the bottleneck is usually around network latency.

 

We are focused on two key areas for performance… PLT (page load time); and responsiveness.

 

PLT (page load time) is where people get their first impression of the app. This is time it takes to load the Excel web app, and fully render the file you’ve selected. There are shortcuts apps sometimes take like showing an image of the last rendered version of the file while a full load happens in the background. That approach is something called “perceived page load time” where the user thinks it’s fully rendered, even if it’s it not yet interactive. We focus most of our energy on full page load time, as we want to make sure the app is interactive as quickly as possible.

 

Responsiveness is the term we use for measuring how long it takes between when you take an action, and you see the results of that action. Often times, you have to wait for the web app to send the action up to the server, it gets applied on the server, the server sends back the results, and the browser rendering is updated to show the results. In most cases, the biggest delay comes from the server roundtrip… the time to actually apply the change in Excel on the server is pretty quick. These lags can add up, and make the app feel pretty sluggish, so a key focus over the past several years has been on Client-side estimation. We have more and more intelligence running client side in the browser to show the results of an action immediately, without having to wait for the server round-trip. We will still send the update to the server to make sure the data is all in sync, but we don’t have to wait to hear back from the server to show the results and let you continue editing/formatting/etc.

 

Calc (the engine that executes all the formulas in the workbook) is something we’re now able to do client side in the majority of cases. We built a typescript version of Excel’s calc engine that doesn’t cover all functions, but a large percentage of them. You may have noticed over the years that more often a re-calc (re-calculated… meaning the results of all the formulas are updated after an edit) happens immediately in the web app, where in the past there was always a delay waiting for the service. The project to build a typescript version of calc was done in partnership with Microsoft Research (MSR) in Cambridge, UK, and it was recently published to the Microsoft Garage Wall of Fame!

 

Another big shift we made over the past year (and we’re still in the process of working on it) is moving away from using an HTML DOM of tables & cells to represent all of the grid, to instead use HTML Canvas to draw the grid. It’s much lighter weight and doesn’t put as much of a burden on the browser to render the huge complex set of HTML elements. It’s significantly improved scrolling performance, animations like the presence indicators (when other people are also editing the file), etc. You may have noticed it already, as we’re now at a point where we support the majority of the web apps features in the Canvas rendering, which means we’re able to use Canvas for a lot of the sessions. Basically, anytime we can use it, we will. If you have a spreadsheet with some of the more advanced formatting features, then it will probably still be using the old rendering stack. We should be close to having 100% coverage by the end of this calendar year.

 

While much of the investments to improve responsiveness are happening within the browser on the client side, we’re also making improvements on the backend server to handle larger, more complex workbooks. For some of you heavier Excel customers, you’re probably aware of MTR (multi-threaded recalc) where we leverage multiple cores on the machine to help take full advantage of the processing power on your machine to recalc faster. We’ve added MTR to the server, which helps Excel for the web handle much more complex workbooks too. We’re also making calc abortable, so that the app doesn’t become unresponsive, or sluggish when it’s trying to do a more complex recalc. For the really complex models, you can now turn off automatic recalc, which was an option in the native desktop versions, but hadn’t been available in the web.

 

Reliability – Similar to the native desktop versions, we track things like crashes, hangs, data loss, etc. and we have goals around each of these areas. In addition to those core reliability categories, we also track things that are unique to a web app. We track issues like where you need to refresh the page because the connection to the server has been lost, or token expirations. We’ve made a huge amount of progress here over the past couple years. I used to have to regularly refresh my page when I’d go away for an extended period of time. I find I hardly ever need to do that now. Our goal is for Excel for the web to feel just as stable and dependable as the native desktop versions for Windows and Mac.

 

Features – This is the area that I usually hear about the most when having direct conversations with customers. People have specific features they use on the native desktop versions that are not yet in the web app. We’ve made a huge amount of progress here over the past several years. In addition to all the feedback we receive, we also look at usage data in the Windows and Mac versions, and use that to prioritize features that we have not yet brought to the web. We are getting to the point where it’s less about specific features missing, and it’s more about the polish around how the feature operates and whether it's a bit more limited (or just different) from how it works in the native desktop versions.
We’re rolling out so many features that we set up a dedicated site to help folks follow along with everything that’s been released: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/what-s-new-in-excel-for-the-web-f8f98d6b-4752-4119-a2aa-4...

 

You can see everything we’ve rolled out already this year. There is a link at the bottom to see the list from 2019. We don’t currently list the performance and reliability improvements, although I’ve talked to the team about starting to include those as well.

 

Here are a few examples from the past 6 months or so:

 

Manage conditional formatting rules

webF1.jpg

 

Cell Style Gallery

webF2.jpg

 

View and restore previous versions of a workbook (note that in this example, the web experience is now even richer than what we have in the native desktop versions)

webf3.png

 

Sort by color or icon

webf4.png

 

You can count on us to continue rolling out more capabilities in the web until we get to a point where you can use the web app for all your work and should never feel the need to fall back to the native desktop apps. There are a few exceptions to that though, as there are a handful of features we do not intend to bring to the web, but that list is small. VBA and COM add-ins are really the only high usage example where we won’t bring them to the web. We have a new web extensibility model that works across platforms (Windows, Web, Mac, iPad) and we’re encouraging everyone that wants support in the web app to migrate their solutions onto that new model.

 

In closing… I hope this was a useful walkthrough of how we’re splitting out our investments in Excel for the web. We’re always looking for more feedback on the priorities we’ve chosen, so please send any thoughts our way either through the NPS survey, in product “send a smile/frown”, UserVoice, or just leave a comment here in the blog. Thanks!

 

-Brian

20 Comments
New Contributor

Great article. I would love to know some stats around performance and reliability improvements.

For example, opening a blank Excel document is now 50% faster than before or Excel web now crashes 15% less than before.

Great job to the team, @Brian Jones (OFFICE)..

Occasional Contributor

Nice article!  Looking forward when Excel Online equals, or at least is near the functionality of the full application. Is there any ETA for working in Excel Online with protected sheets and protected cells?

 

Thanks...

Senior Member

Brian  welcome news!  Excel on web still cannot connect to power bi datasets.  This would be a super useful feature.  Mac users are missing this ability to connect to pbi published datasets in excel, so a web option would be great.  Please consider it.

New Contributor

the rich client for windows will be needed as long as excel for the web doesn't support cross-file data transfer (updating cells based on content in cells in another file).

@pradeep viswav , that's a good suggestion. I think we'll have follow up post from folks on the team to drill into some of these topics with more detail (not sure when). I'll have them look into providing some actual data around those improvements. 

 

@Abiola1 , Thanks!

 

@Daniel Velez , I'll need to drill into that one a bit more. We have done some work in this general space, but there are a couple different types of protection features and I need to get the full list and where we are with the implementations.

 

@doughza , I think we'll be able to get to it on the web before we do on the Mac. The Mac is a bit more challenges because of some other system components we depend on. The BI investments in the web right now are primarily focused on improvements in Pivot Tables. There are several Power BI connectivity pieces we also have on the backlog though and will continue to work through over the coming year. 

 

@jurajt , we'll be announcing later this month the ability to reference cells in a different workbook with Excel Online. 

Occasional Visitor

When are we going to be able to run macros on excel for when? 

@Photo_chute , here's more detail on Office Scripts which are supported across all platforms (including web), and you have the ability to record them too (just like the VBA macro recording on Windows): https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/excel-blog/office-scripts-announcing-a-simplified-api-power-a...

Frequent Visitor

@Brian Jones (OFFICE) 

 

Okay, VBA isn't coming to Excel Web. But what is the alternative if we need macros and codes to perform tasks, validations and complex stuff?

What is Microsoft plan to meet this user and and enterprise / industrial need?

Thanks!

Occasional Contributor

Excellent article. Good transparency. I’ve built and maintained some pretty useful spreadsheets just on web/ phone. Web works “ok” for building and phone is surprisingly good for data input. I cannot imagine though easily recreating multi-sheet model in web only version at present. This should though be a real possibility with a web version where useful individual templates should be XML-able. Would be great to spin up a new workbook matching my need “anywhere” (PC, Web, phone). 
will watch this space with interest. 

@EduardoGS  here's more detail on Office Scripts which are supported across all platforms (including web), and you have the ability to record them too (just like the VBA macro recording on Windows): https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/excel-blog/office-scripts-announcing-a-simplified-api-power-a...

 

@Epee_Sharkey , thanks! We'd love to hear more about the key pieces of functionality missing in the web that's preventing you from using it for more heavy modeling. 

Microsoft

@Daniel Velez - Thank you for your comment, happy to share Protection features availability in Excel for the Web:

Protected workbook:

When using the desktop a user can define to protect the structure of the workbook (not the content) with or without a password.

Excel Online will enable to open the WB and protect the WB structure. The action to protect WB structure is not supported in Excel Online.

 

Protected sheet:

When using the desktop a user can define to protect a specific sheet within a workbook.

If a sheet was protected using the desktop, the workbook and sheet can be open in view or edit mode using Excel online, the sheet will have lock icon and its content cannot be changed. If a user will try to edit it, he will receive the following notification:

TamarTz_0-1595278031539.png

 

“Protec Sheet” action is unsupported in Excel Online.

 

 

Protected sheet and “Allow Users to Edit Ranges”:

When using the desktop a user can define to protect a specific sheet within a workbook but to allow (with or without a password) to edit a range within the sheet. “Allow Users to Edit Ranges” can provide permission only to specific users.

·         The user need to mark a range

·         Choose “Allow Users to Edit Ranges”

·         Define a new range

·         Define a password – Optional

·         Choose Protect Sheet

If it was done using the desktop, the workbook and sheet can be open in view or edit mode using Excel online, the sheet will have lock icon and its content cannot be changed. Excel online doesn’t support edit of the range. If a user will try to edit the sheet or the range within the sheet, he will receive the following notification:

TamarTz_1-1595278031545.png

 

 

“Protec Sheet” and “Allow Users to Edit Ranges” actions are unsupported in Excel Online.

 

Protected sheet and unlock cell/ cells:

When using the desktop a user can define to protect a specific sheet within a workbook but to allow to edit cell or cells within the sheet.

·         The user need to mark cell/ cells

·         Right click, Format Cells, Protection tab – uncheck the box for Locked

·         Choose Protect Sheet

If it was done using the desktop, the workbook and sheet can be open in view or edit mode using Excel online, the sheet will have lock icon and only the cells that were marked as unlocked are editable. If a user will try to edit the sheet excluding the unlocked cells he will receive the following notification:

TamarTz_2-1595278031548.png

 

“Protec Sheet” and unlocked cells actions are unsupported in Excel Online.

 

Password encrypted WB:

When using the desktop a user can choose to encrypt the workbook with password.

This feature is unsupported when using Excel online and the user will be directed to open the workbook in the desktop. - Soon we will be able to open password encrypted workbooks in Excel for the Web.

 

 

Occasional Contributor

I see the integration with Teams being the biggest driver of Excel for the Web usage. Being able to dip into a file in Teams to edit alone or with colleagues without opening another app is extremely useful. I’m not Excel power user so I’m just mashing the vote buttons or any UserVoice topics for dark mode.

Occasional Contributor

@TamarTz - Thanks for your response.  

Occasional Visitor

I have recently completed a PC Excel VBA project.  New requirements are that it must also work on A MAC.  My research into this is that PC Excel VBA and Mac Excel VBA are not very compatible.  Low and behold I just today discovered Excel for the Web that I presume will resolve all the issues I am currently facing with current and future PC-MAC incompatibilities.  My questions are: (1) "Where do I begin in order to learn how to program and use Excel For the Web"; (2) "Will my VBA code which is essentially a user interface with several user forms, easily convert wot Excel Web?"  I have not done any web programming but am quite proficient in writing fairly complex VBA projects.  Thanks in advance for any replies.

Microsoft

@TonyMExcel great questions—

 

(1) "Where do I begin in order to learn how to program and use Excel For the Web"

 

I'd recommend starting with the documentation for Office Scripts which can be found here:

http://aka.ms/office-scripts

 

Depending on your preference, the documentation has reference pages, tutorials, and sample projects which can get you going quickly.

 

(2) "Will my VBA code which is essentially a user interface with several user forms, easily convert wot Excel Web?"

 

This is a trickier one; currently, Excel for the Web does not (yet) have robust in-Workbook user interface components like buttons and forms. Depending on what you're trying to accomplish, you might be able to do is to use Power Automate with Microsoft Forms and the Excel connector's "Run script" action. This allows you to take Forms input and pass it to an Office Script which runs on your Workbook.

 

You can learn more about this here:

https://aka.ms/office-scripts/power-automate

Visitor

Tengo un inconveniente, no se si este sea el espació, tengo el siguiente problema, tengo dos libros libroA, libroB, quiero traer del libroA una cierta cantidad de datos por medio de formulas y condiciones, pero no logro hacerlo, y lo otro es que no puedo proteger el libro para que nadie mas cree hojas y proteger las celdas, muchas gracias por su colaboración, quiero saber si hay algún post o tutorial que me pueda servir para poderme guiar con esto. 

Occasional Contributor

When will it be Generally Available, please? 

Occasional Contributor

Hi @Brian , What is the "new model" you refer to here? Can you supply a link, please, to an introductory page on it?

"We have a new web extensibility model that works across platforms (Windows, Web, Mac, iPad) and we’re encouraging everyone that wants support in the web app to migrate their solutions onto that new model."

Thanks.