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Microsoft’s making Excel’s formulas even easier

Microsoft’s making Excel’s formulas even easier

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The company is adding some handy automation features to its web-based spreadsheet software.

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Illustration of Microsoft’s Windows logo
It’s only a matter of time before Excel can take over my job.
Alex Castro / The Verge

Microsoft has announced it’s making Excel’s autocomplete even smarter, at least in the web version that comes with Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365). Last week it announced formula suggestions and formula by example, both of which may help automate some things that you had to do manually.

Formula suggestions are pretty much what they say on the tin: if you type the equal sign into a cell, Excel for web will try to intelligently suggest what type of formula you should be using, given the data that’s around it. For example, if you have a full of quarterly sales numbers and a column at the end labeled “total,” Excel might suggest summing the range of cells. According to a blog post from Microsoft, the feature currently only works in English, and will suggest sum, average, count, counta, min, and max formulas. It’s not a groundbreaking feature, to be sure — Google Sheets has had something similar for a while, and Excel’s AutoSum has long been a quick way to apply formulas to data — but for some use cases, it could be a nice timesaver.

Then there’s Formula by Example, which is similar to the Flash Fill feature that can automatically detect patterns in data and fill out the rest of a column. The feature is a bit hard to explain succinctly, but this video from Microsoft gives you an idea of what it’s about; detecting a pattern where you’re combing information from cells and then automatically generating a formula that will save you some typing.

I tried to test out formula suggestions and formula by example on the web but couldn’t actually get it to show up. The blog post does say that the features are now rolling out, though, so it’s possible they just haven’t made it to my account. For what it’s worth, I also checked the Excel desktop app for Windows and Mac, and they also didn’t seem to have the autocomplete features.

Microsoft’s blog post also includes several other feature announcements, though I’ll admit I’m not enough of a power user to really understand them — I’ll leave that to esports competitors like the field of the recently-concluded Microsoft Excel World Championship 2022.

There’s a function for adding images with alt-text into your tables coming to Windows, Mac, and web, and the company’s also adding nested Power Query data types and the ability to get data from dynamic arrays to the Insider version of the Windows app for testing. One other potentially useful (and thankfully easy to understand) feature coming to the web is “suggested links,” which will automatically help you fix broken links to other workbooks stored in the cloud.