About a million years ago, my wife's work sent her on a training course optimistically titled "How To Use Excel As A Database."
We were both horrified. Excel is a perfectly good spreadsheet program - but it is categorically not a database!
OK, it has rows and columns which sorta look like a database table. And you can put constraints on cells which mimic a schema. And, yes, you can sort and query data. And you can join data across multiple tables. And... you know what...? Excel is a pretty decent visual introduction to databases. Sure, it isn't ACID and you wouldn't want to run a production environment off it. But Excel is a reasonable introduction to some database concepts.
My wife had to visit a hospital recently for a COVID test. Hospitals are often large and confusing buildings. But the hospital's website had a handy "Click here for a map" link. She clicked it, and I heard her scream from across the house.
Yes, some enlightened person had decided to use Excel to draw a building map... I can't even...
There are many reasons why this is bad. A user might not have Excel installed on their phone. The thin grey lines are easy to confuse with thick grey lines. There's no way to see entrances. The plain text means it doesn't have familiar icons for toilets. I'm sure you can think of a dozen more reasons.
And yet... It was probably easier to get permission to install Excel on a machine than it was to procure a specialist graphics tool. Just about anyone can use Excel to draw boxes without training. It's easy to edit if a room is closed or changes function. The text is searchable, unlike a graphic. It doesn't overwhelm the user with colours and extraneous information. At 41KB it's easy to download over a crappy WiFi connection.
As a quick hack, to get a vaguely usable map up on the website, Excel is... well, it isn't fine. It is barely even adequate. But it fulfils the brief. I hope that this was a quick bodge done one day with the aim of fixing it later. But, 7 years later, it is still there. Do people complain, or do they sigh and move on?
Or am I wrong and Excel is the perfect tool for the job?
You can see people's reactions to this map in the following Twitter thread.
My friends, please do me a small favour...
🏥 Go to this website - https://t.co/HLdcpzmoFd
🗺️ View the hospital map.
↩️ Reply to this tweet with a GIF of your immediate reaction.
🚫 No screenshots - just your heartfelt opinion.
— Terence Eden (@edent) April 14, 2021