Microsoft integrates Python into Excel

Microsoft is bringing its Excel spreadsheet and the Python programming language together. How this works and what exactly is planned.

The Python programming language can be used in the Excel spreadsheet program in the future. Microsoft has published a first Public Preview, in which it is possible to combine Python and Excel analyses in the same workbook. Interested parties can find the preview in the Microsoft 365 Insiders Program in the beta channel for Excel for Windows.

Stefan Kinnestrand, responsible for Modern Work at Microsoft, calls Python’s integration a “significant advancement for analytical capabilities” in a blog post. To be sure, the ability to bring Excel and Python together with add-ons has been around for a long time. Microsoft’s approach, however, should be much easier to use.

Cloud instead of local solution

Python code can be entered directly into a cell. However, the calculations do not take place locally on the computer, but in the Microsoft cloud. From there, the results are sent back to the spreadsheet along with diagrams and visualizations. Why Microsoft has chosen this route is not explained.

For the cloud solution, Microsoft is working with the data science platform Anaconda. The company provided popular Python libraries in Excel through the Anaconda Python distribution and Azure, including Matplotlib and Seaborn for data visualization.

Where do we go from here

Guido van Rossum, who helped develop Python and has worked at Microsoft for three years, said in a statement that he’s convinced “both communities will find interesting new applications through this collaboration that will extend the capabilities of both partners.” Commentators also see the move as Microsoft’s response to the fact that data analysts working with large databases have partially turned their backs on Excel in the past and are realizing their work with Python.

Microsoft announced further improvements and developments of the Python integration in Excel for the finished version. Improved editing options, such as auto-completion and syntax highlighting, and improved error behavior are planned. Microsoft also wants to tighten the current limits for data size and processing power. These are intended to prevent misuse, but also not to be too rigid.

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