Tag: on schedule

Extend RealData Programs To Fit Your Investment Property Or Development Analysis

One of the great advantages to using Excel as a development platform for our software products is the ability for you, the user, to make customizations to fit your analysis objectives.  We encourage our customers to add to the software rather than changing formulas so the base product remains unchanged.

It is very easy to add a user worksheet.  All RealData products have an “Add User Worksheet” feature in the RealData menu.  Just add your own worksheet and begin adding your own formulas which link back to our product.

In our Learn section, we have an article on expanding our popular development program, On Schedule, to accommodate long term rental income when analyzing distressed, partially-built development projects such as housing developments and condominium buildings.

Support is included with the purchase of RealData’s products.  If you would like advice on creating your own extension to your copy of our software, open a support ticket or give us a call.

Excel 2007 – New File Types, Macro Security and Other Mysteries

When Microsoft released Excel 2007 it deployed some of the most extensive changes to the product in many years.  It introduced an entirely new user interface, a new menu format called the “Ribbon,” enhanced security, and an entirely new data structure for its files.  With this new data structure came an array of new file types.

Many of these changes have implications that are not always obvious to the user and, from our point of view at least, are not always entirely welcome.

This will be the first of what may be several posts on the RealData blog where we try to address what we feel are some of critical changes you need to know about in Excel 2007 so that you can use it successfully.  We’re writing these posts with users of RealData software in mind – particularly users of our more sophisticated Excel-based products like “Real Estate Investment Analysis,” “On Schedule” and “Commercial/Industrial Development” – but we feel strongly that it’s information all Excel users should have.

So – let’s begin with by comparing the file types in the old Excel vs. the new Excel.

How Things Were:  Two Key Facts to Remember

  1. If you have used earlier versions of Excel, you probably know that you used workbooks, called .xls files – and templates, called .xlt files.  Workbooks are collections of worksheets, sometimes accompanied by built-in programming code called “macros.”  Templates are a special kind of workbook.  When you launch a template, it leaves the original unchanged and presents you with a new workbook file based on that template.  That way you don’t accidentally overwrite the original.
  2. If you used RealData software, or perhaps certain other commercial Excel-based applications, the Excel file included hidden macro code.  You never saw it, but you know it was there because Excel would ask you if you wanted to enable the macros. Such code is typically essential for the functioning of a complex Excel-based program.  For example, our “Real Estate Investment Analysis” uses more than 12,000 lines of such code to provide menus, format reports, add/delete data records, and so on – functions that can’t be accomplished with simple spreadsheet formulas.  If you lose the code, the program will no longer function properly.

How Things Are: The New File Formats and How They’re Different

New to Excel 2007 are the .xlsx, .xlsb and .xlsm formats which Excel refers to as “Excel Workbook,” “Excel Binary Workbook” and “Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook,” respectively.  It’s important to understand the differences among these file types, and which can be used with RealData software products.

Each of these new formats is based on what Microsoft calls an “Open XML File Format.”  Without getting more technical than we need to here, the short version is that one can openly view and read the data from these files and convert them to other formats if necessary.  This ability is part of a trend toward an open and universal standard for documents so that data is not tied to a particular proprietary software product or company.

If you used earlier versions of Excel, then you know you customarily saved your workbook as a .xls file.  Let’s look at each of the new file formats and compare them to that original .xls Excel file format:

1. The .xlsx format is a lot like the old .xls format, but with one key difference:  It intentionally does not support macro code and will remove any macro code from a file that contains it. Remember what we said about RealData software and other products that rely on macros to provide their advanced functionality?  Right.  Without the macros these programs won’t work.  If you open a macro-driven .xls file and save it in the new Excel .xlsx format, the macros will be deleted and the program will no longer work as expected.

Fortunately, if you do try to save a file in this format, you will receive a warning message before the macro code is deleted:

Keep in mind that macros can be used by malefactors to deliver viruses. If you download an Excel file from some source other than a trusted commercial vendor, you run a risk as you would downloading a file from any unfamiliar source.  You’ll want to keep the macro code in a program from a trusted source like RealData, but you should be wary of any file containing macros if it comes from a source with which you’re not familiar and confident.

If you want to be certain to keep the macros intact in your RealData program, the simplest and most certain solution is this: Click “No” and return to the “Save” dialog.  Where you see a pulldown that says “Save as type,” choose “Excel 97-2003 Workbook (.xls).”

2. In contrast, the .xlsb and .xlsm formats do support macro code.  The .xlsb file is a streamlined format intended to speed up the process of opening and saving the file.  Like the .xlsm format, it can save an equivalent Excel workbook in a significantly smaller file size than the traditional .xls format.  The information in each of the cells is saved as plain text (you could view the information in Notepad if you wanted to) but the  macro code is encrypted.

Is it all right for you to save your RealData program as a .xlsb or .xlsm file and save some disk space?  The answer is a resounding maybe.

To re-open one of these files once you’ve saved it as .xlsb or .xlsm, Microsoft requires that you have installed on your computer an antivirus product capable of scanning and reviewing encrypted macro code before the file opens.  If this scan process does not happen, then the macros will be disabled in your software.  If you’re alert, you’ll  know this is so because of an inconspicuous warning message that appears in a horizontal bar above the Excel work area:

Click on “Options” and you should see something like this:

The default choice is “Help protect me….”  If you are confident that this file came from a trusted source, you can choose “Enable this content.”  If the file has a security certificate attached, the details of that certificate will be displayed and you can choose “Trust all documents from this publisher.”  RealData does have a security certificate attached to its program files.

Unfortunately, not all antivirus software is able to scan encrypted macro code. From our own experience we can confirm that Version 8.0 of the AVG  product appears to work without problems ( http://www.avg.com).

If you were getting ready to breathe a sigh of relief, hold it.  What we describe above is how .xlsb and .xlsm are supposed to behave.  Some users, however, have reported to us that, if they see the “macros disabled” message and click the options button, they get only one choice, and it’s not the one they want:

Why does this happen sometimes, but not always?  If we could answer questions like that, we’d be so famous you wouldn’t even be able to talk to us.  Seriously.

Which brings us back to bullet-point #1, worth repeating;

If you want to be certain to keep the macros intact in your RealData program, the simplest and most certain solution is this: Click “No” and return to the “Save” dialog.  Where you see a pulldown that says “Save as type,” choose “Excel 97-2003 Workbook (.xls).”

This should be your choice if you want your analysis to be compatible with both Excel 2007 and other computers which may have an earlier version of Excel installed on them.  RealData software products automatically detect if you are using Excel 2007 and set the default file type to be .xls, although you can override this if you so choose.

The Short Version

  1. RealData delivers its macro-powered programs using the Excel 97-2003 file format, i.e., .xls. If you always save your work in that format, you should have no problems with Excel 2007 opening or running the macros in RealData programs.
  2. If you save a file in .xlsx format, Excel will strip out all of the macro code and that particular RealData file will no longer function properly.
  3. If you save in .xlsb or .xlsm format, then when you re-open the file, Excel will be looking for antivirus software to scan the encrypted macros.  If it doesn’t find it, you will have to instruct Excel to open this content; some users have reported being unable to do so.


Excel Template Formats

As mentioned above, RealData delivers it programs as template (.xlt) files. When you launch a template, it leaves the original unchanged and presents you with a new workbook file based on that template.  That way you don’t accidentally overwrite the original.

Excel 2007 contains two new template file formats, so now there are three flavors:

  1. .xltx called “Excel Template”
  2. .xltm called “Excel Macro-Enabled Template”
  3. .xlt called “Excel 97-2003 Template”

RealData software is currently distributed in .xlt format.  You could convert this file to .xltm and it should work fine on your computer, assuming that you have anti-virus software capable of scanning encrypted macros.

But why tempt fate for no reason? We recommend that you stick with the .xlt format.

Excel 2007 File Icons

Each of the file formats has its own icon.  As you can see from the image below, these icons are very similar in appearance.  The template file types share a common horizontal yellow bar across the top edge.  You may find these images helpful when you try to recognize different Excel file types by their icons.

Stayed tuned to our blog for more about Excel 2007.

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