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Keywords: Excel, spreadsheet programming, office automation, VBA

Title: The Definitive Guide to Excel VBA

Author: Michael Kofler

Publisher: APress

ISBN: 1893115798

Media: Book

Level: Beginner/Intermediate

Verdict: An extremely useful resource

The biggest hurdle faced by anyone wanting to seriously program in Microsoft Excel is the huge, overly complex and inconsistent object model that lies at its heart. Add to this the inconsistent and often obscure VBA language, multiple versions of the product, each a little different from the last, documentation that is sometimes sorely lacking and you have a recipe for confusion and despair. Even relatively simple tasks can appear intimidating to those taking their first steps into the joys of VBA and Excel.

Michael Kofler aims to cut through the confusion and to offer a map to navigate the object model and a key to using VBA to around Excel's inconsistencies, gaps and contradictions. However, given the huge problems with the object model, the language and the application itself, this is no easy task.

Firstly, it has to be pointed out that the book we're reviewing is an English translation of the German original, and also the second edition of the book. As such the text sometimes struggles where it shouldn't. Some of this should have been fixed by a decent review - surely someone should have picked up that Realm of Validity of Variables and Procedures translates into tech-speak as Object and Variable Scope? This isn't the fault of the author, nor does it detract from the technical content, but it does make the book harder to read.

The actual technical side of things is well-covered. The book gives good coverage to all aspects of VBA and how it applies to Excel. Opening chapters chart the evolution of Excel, and detail how the object model and VBA have evolved over recent releases. Note that the book covers Excel 2002, though in fact the differences between Excel 2000 and 2002 are often marginal. Later chapters look at VBA, programming constructs, navigating workbooks, worksheets, ranges, cells etc.

Coverage includes the development environment, debugging and security in addition to core Excel issues. More advanced topics include using ADO and other methods of accessing external data, charts and graphics, the programming of pivot tables, ActiveX and more. The book really does have a very wide scope, which makes it an ideal reference to keep around. What is more the text is peppered with asides and things to look out for. These are important given the number of exceptions and special cases required to do anything marginally complex in Excel.

With so many topics covered, navigation through the book would have been improved with a better use of headings and other markers in the text.

Is it the definitive guide that the title claims? Well, there's no doubting the range and scope of the material. The technical content is high, and the sample code is generally useful. However the book is let down slightly in its presentation and the occasionally unclear text, but these are relatively minor complaints. If you need to automate Excel or add functionality this is an excellent reference and resource.

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