Microsoft Excel celebrates 30 years today!

The hits and the misses

Microsoft has seen a number of milestones this past year and another falls today as its revolutionary Excel program celebrates its 30th birthday.

Ever since September 30 1985, the spreadsheet program has been at the centre of the enterprise especially in the finance field and it has meant a series of hits and misses that have been detailed in an eBook published by Operis.

Calling it "the world's most useful and dangerous program", the book details a range of errors made by huge firms like JPMorgan and Fannie Mae that have resulted in multi-million dollar losses whilst on the other side of the coin pointing out the ways it has changed world finance.

That aforementioned JPMorgan case dates back to 2012 when a trader known as the London Whale lost the company $6.2 billion (around £4 billion, or AU$8.8 billion) and the illicit trader used Excel to copy and paste between spreadsheets to try and cover it up.

Another notorious case, this time in the UK, involved the West Coast Main Line when the bid was scrapped due in no small part to 'technical flaws' in Excel spreadsheet models that ended up costing the tax payer some £55 million (around $83 million, or AU$118 million).

Other errors include a forgotten negative sign causing Fidelity Magellan to miscalculate a $1.3 billion (around £850 million, or AU$1.84 billion) loss as a gain and Fannie Mae's upgrade to new accounting standards resulting in $1.3 billion (around £850 million, or AU$1.84 billion) being added by mistake as a profit.

As becomes abundantly clear, almost all the errors made are the result of human intervention and the advantages of Excel far outweigh the disadvantages.

Its release ushered in the widespread adoption of a program that is cheap, accessible and a standardised suite for the global finance industry. Over its lifespan it has revolutionised project finance and allowed hugely complicated deals to be presented in a way that anyone can understand.

Then and now

That isn't all as it has also allowed equity analysts to cope with the ever increasing scale of listed companies and valuations in the highest level of detail possible and Operis thinks that the program deserves far more "respect and diligence" than it currently garners among financiers.

Fast forward to the present day and Excel is an integral part of Microsoft Windows 10 and continues to evolve as a true cross platform offering that huge swathes of the finance sector cannot afford to be without.