A Spreadsheet Update: The Battle of the Spreadsheets Intensifies

By Wolfe, Christopher; Viator, Ralph E. | Journal of Accountancy, November 1989 | Go to article overview

A Spreadsheet Update: The Battle of the Spreadsheets Intensifies


Wolfe, Christopher, Viator, Ralph E., Journal of Accountancy


A SPREADSHEET UPDATE

The battle of the spreadsheets intensifies.

Spreadsheet software in many ways has defined the microcomputer industry for accountants. In all likelihood, microcomputers would have conquered the accounting environment without spreadsheet software, but it would have happened at a slower and more uneven pace. Spreadsheets represent the essential component of an accountant's microcomputer tool kit.

Furthermore, spreadsheet software is still dominated by a single program--Lotus 1-2-3. In fact, customers remaining true to the standard set by Lotus have kept competitors at bay regardless of the quality of their products.

However, times are changing. A number of powerful spreadsheet packages have been developed that are threatening to redefine the spreadsheet marketplace. In addition, Lotus recently introduced two new spreadsheet releases, versions 3.0 and 2.2. The salvos of the spreadsheet wars have been fired.

This war is being fought on two fronts. Next-generation spreadsheet software packages, such as Lotus version 3.0, Microsoft Excel, SuperCalc 5 and Quattro Pro, are vying for market share in the power user category. On the other hand, Lotus version 2.2, Lucid 3-D and clones of Lotus version 2.01 are competing for spreadsheet users who do not necessarily want every feature possible.

How should accounting professionals react to these new products? Should they continue to use their old tried-and-true Lotus, or should they update to one of the newer Lotus releases, or would another product serve their needs better? Accountants should not immediately assume they need the most powerful spreadsheet they can get their hands on. Only after an analysis of the features of alternative spreadsheet packages should a software selection be made. This article is designed to aid in that selection process.

NEW SPREADSHEET FEATURES

Next-generation spreadsheets offer improvements or innovations in five areas:

* Three-dimensional spreadsheets.

* Graphics.

* Database support.

* Spreadsheet auditing.

* Macros.

New features in other areas are minor but they do add convenience to the spreadsheet application. The exhibit lists the features of the spreadsheets reviewed.

Three-dimensional spreadsheets. The ability to generate electronic spreadsheets that can be stacked on top of each other appears to be the most valuable new feature because it enables CPAs to use the spreadsheet as they would workpapers. The traditional workpaper file has individual workpapers that refer to other workpapers and present summarized information in the topmost workpapers. CPAs review and analyze information in such files simply by thumbing through the files' pages. The 3-D feature supports the traditional file design while also offering the ability to link external files. Two important features of 3-D spreadsheets include

* Page mode, which allows a single spreadsheet file to contain multiple pages, with each page as a fresh spreadsheet.

* External file linking, which allows a master spreadsheet to refer to spreadsheets in different files and to use values from these files in formulas in the master spreadsheet.

The 3-D feature requires multiple windows on the computer screen. The additional windows are used to view different spreadsheets or different pages or parts of the same spreadsheet.

Enhanced graphics capabilities. Next-generation spreadsheets offer enhanced graphics capabilities such as

* More variety in area, bar, column, line and pie graphs.

* More customizing features such as explanatory text with reference arrows, expanded legends and various background colors and patterns.

* Multiple type sizes and styles.

* The ability to print graphs without exiting the spreadsheet.

With an additional enhancement--windows --the user can change values in a spreadsheet and watch the effects in a graph at the same time. …

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