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College students learn about SkyDrive and embedding workbooks

Last month, a couple of other writers and I visited the main University of Washington (UW) campus in Seattle, Washington, where we presented to a group of business students who were interested in learning more about Excel.

Our main takeaways: First, college students are young! We too, were once young college students. Ah, where does the time go? But I digress.

What really struck me was how everyone’s ears perked up when I led them in a hands-on exercise that showed how you can work on a spreadsheet in your web browser without having Excel installed on your computer. Better though, is that unlike with the Excel program, multiple people can work on the same file at the same time! What we were doing was working in the Excel Web App in a file stored on SkyDrive on Live.com. Or working in “the cloud.” Below you’ll see three people are working in this spreadsheet at the same time in the browser (see the bottom right-corner).

3 people editing in Excel Web Access

When you work with an Excel file in Excel Web Access, the genuine Microsoft Excel “engine” is doing Excel things behind the scenes. You save a file to the cloud, and voila…you can open it with 100% fidelity in the Excel program. Let’s face it, students are busy and not always at a desk or with a laptop at hand…for that matter maybe living in the browser or on their smartphones. Mobility is the name of the game.

Another thing that piqued their interest was “embedding” a workbook in a webpage. Want to share an Excel file, or just part of it, with your fellow students, friends, or (gasp!) the world? Embed it in a webpage by inserting some easy-to-use HTML code. I promise, it’s not as daunting as it sounds.

Below is a workbook that’s saved on Live.com: You can see it contains a bunch of sheets with lots of sample data, charts, and examples of formatting.

Go ahead, click in its cells — it’s okay to touch! Double-click cell B3, and you’ll see it’s a formula; it refers to the end-of-year value for the previous year, C2. Now change the value in C2 to 100. Notice that B3 also changes to 100, and the symbol in D2 changes from a red down arrow to a green up arrow? Yep, changes you make in the workbook are updated in the browser version of the workbook, instantly.

You might be wondering, so I’ll set your mind at ease. My embedded workbook is perfectly secure; although you’ll see changes in your browser, those are happening only in your browser. My source workbook remains untouched. Values are being changed and formulas recalculated in your browser only. So feel free, experiment with formulas or values in the workbook, and see what happens. Get up to speed on this by learning how to embed an Excel workbook on a webpage

And you can limit what’s shown and how the workbook looks by customizing how your Excel workbook is embedded. Below, I’m showing a PivotTable and its slicers from the same workbook by specifying the defined name I set for them in the workbook as an item parameter in the embedding code. Want to share just a chart or a region of a worksheet? This is how. Cool beans!

I hope you’re ready to go into the cloud and do some sharing and embedding of your own. The college students we met at the UW definitely seemed excited to give it a try.

–Gary Willoughby