Friday, 27 June 2008 10:55

Solver to Mac Excel users: 'I will return'

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Like General Patton's famous promise to the Philippines during World War 2, Microsoft's MacBU is telling Excel wielding Mac users that the Solver add-in will be making a comeback.

Solver implements within Excel a technique called linear programming. This involves finding the minimum or maximum value of an equation, subject to various constraints. This can be applied to a range of business problems. For example, it can come up with a least-cost recipe for dog food, given the prices of various ingredients and the restrictions on the amount of carbohydrate, protein and so on in the blend.

Solver came with Excel 2004 but was dropped from the latest version because Office 2008 does not include Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).

That decision was not popular among many users - even those who never need Solver - because it meant they could no longer use macros created in Word and Excel documents originating in earlier versions including those for Windows.

Microsoft's current recommendation is that people who need Solver should run Excel 2004 and 2008, switching to the former whenever Solver is required. Not very elegant, but there you go.

There is hope: largely due to pressure from the education market, Microsoft is working on restoring Solver to Excel 2008. Yes, the company is talking about delivering the new Solver in an update to the present suite, not as a feature of the next version of Office.

No timeframe has been announced, but it is said to be a top priority for the Excel team, which is exploring two possible approaches.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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