Historically all Excel users operated on the same playing field, and if you’re an Office 365 subscriber, your version of Excel is gaining new features on a sometimes-monthly basis that aren’t available to users who have perpetual licenses for Microsoft Excel.
For decades, software companies would cajole users into buying periodic upgrades. Many users would oblige, but others would take the “it’s not broken, so I’m not going to fix it” approach. As time goes by, the number of software choices we have is both getting smaller and larger: smaller on the desktop front, larger on the “there’s an app for that” front.
Consolidation on the accounting software front has left us with only a handful of choices. Google Sheets is trying to give Excel a run for its money, but many of us can’t carry out our day-to-day work without using Excel. Renting software through subscriptions, instead of one-time purchases that allowed us to hold onto a given version with a death grip, is the new normal.
If you’re using Excel 2013 or earlier then you have parity with everyone else using the same version of Excel. This means Excel 2013 users in particular can use Slicers with both pivot tables and tables, filter pivot tables with the Timeline feature, and avoid repetitive data entry with Excel’s Flash Fill.
Excel 2016 has all this and more, such as the Tell Me feature that eliminates the Easter egg hunt approach of scouring Excel’s menus to find that feature or function that was so helpful a few months ago but has since slipped your mind. When Excel 2016 was first released, a subsequent software update added six new chart types: Treemap, Waterfall, Pareto, Histogram, Box and Whisker, and Sunburst. These charts work in any version of Excel 2016, but are not viewable in Excel 2013 or earlier. We’re accustomed to such new features not being backwards compatible.
What’s new is since then, Microsoft began slipstreaming other new features that are available based on how one chooses to pay for Excel. The term “slipstream” means adding new features or introducing bug fixes to a software program subsequent to its initial release.
Slipstreaming is widely used among apps for mobile devices and cloud-based packages. Log into QuickBooks Online, for instance, and you may encounter a whole new user interface one fine day. Microsoft’s euphemism for bug fixes or feature improvements to its software were known as service packs. The number of service packs for Microsoft Office has trailed down from three for Office 2007, two in Office 2010, one in Office 2013, and thus far none for Office 2016.