A Better Look at Your Spreadsheets

Vista promises better and faster financial graphics, provided your PC can satisfy its prodigious appetite for processing power and memory.
John EdwardsMarch 16, 2007

The new Microsoft Vista operating system will spread your spreadsheets in ways that aren’t available through Windows.

Vista’s enhanced capabilities include the new Aero 3-D user interface, a more powerful graphics engine, and various smaller design tweaks, all of which can help you examine financial data in unique and innovative ways. The updated interface, for example, presents all open windows in a three-dimensional desktop stack, so you can move between different spreadsheets and other applications and compare their data more naturally and efficiently. “You get this 3-D kind of Rolodex effect, and you can pick the window you want,” says Michael Cherry, an analyst at research firm Directions on Microsoft. In addition, a semi-transparency effect lets you see what’s behind the active window, and live thumbnails allow you to preview the contents of files without opening them.

If you pull up graphics from spreadsheet and financial modeling applications, Vista’s revved-up graphics engine promises swifter, more responsive performance. Windows XP just couldn’t keep pace with the latest multicore graphics-processing technologies, says Rob Enderle of technology analysis firm Enderle Group. Also new: smoother, crisper fonts that “make it easier to read the numbers, particularly on large monitors,” according to Cherry. “They’re much easier on the eyes.”

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Vista’s greatest potential for delivering improved financial graphics, however, will be realized only after application developers build on the operating system’s new capabilities. According to Enderle, developers will be able to exploit Vista’s graphics tools to create applications that are” visually richer and more dynamic.” Bill Hartnett, a Microsoft group manager, claims that during the next couple of years, a new generation of financial applications “will make it much easier to visualize data. … Applications will let you view data in a graphic way, rather than looking at a column of numbers.” Graphical views will spring automatically out of the application or be available at the press of a key, adds Hartnett, rather than requiring you to manually switch to another mode.

The downside to Vista’s new graphics capabilities is its prodigious appetite for processing power and memory; your current office PC probably falls far short. (To run Vista to its full graphics potential, you’ll need nothing less than a 1GHz processor, 1GB of system memory, and a Direct X 9-compatible graphics processor featuring a Windows Display Driver Model and at least 128MB of video RAM.) If your company plans to migrate from Windows to Vista, you’ll need to balance the costs of new PCs against the cost of upgrading existing computers.

You’ll also need to cope with the green-eyed monster — unless your company’s tech budget is unusually extravagant, everyone may not land one of the new, souped-up machines. Enderle recommends taking a tough cost-benefits approach: “Is what the user does important and complex enough to warrant the improvements?” he asks. “PCs aren’t a gift or an entitlement; they are a tool and should be justified based on hard business needs.”

When it comes to tech spending, that may be the clearest view of all.