Python in Excel, What about it?

Python no Excel
Python on Excel

In August 2023, we were surprised by the announcement of Python integration in a future Excel update. Wow! This is a big deal, and we need to pay attention to what it means, especially to dispel any misconceptions that may be arising around it.

As a prelude, I must clarify that everything I write here is entirely based on my opinion and public information about the subject, with references at the end of the text.

Python vs. VBA

Every fiber of my being, especially those dedicated to programming, wants Python to be the replacement for VBA. Let me be clear on this point: it’s not. There is nothing, or very little for VBA application programmers in this Python integration with Excel, at least from what has been presented.

So, dear VBA programmer, don’t get too excited. The most that will happen is that you can avoid creating UDFs in VBA by solving everything within a concise Python block in a Excel cell.

Who is Python in Excel for?

It’s essential to make this clear: nobody (except Microsoft and the Office product team) has any idea at the moment who the target audience for this implementation is.

If I had to guess, I would consider two fronts:

  1. The Office team is targeting the data mining/data science audience, in other words, data analysts. When tools like Excel, the Powers*, Tableau, among others, start struggling with large amounts of data, these professionals often turn to Python. There’s much to unfold here, as it’s not just Python but rather a micro-ecosystem created to serve this audience.
  2. Since Python is becoming an “almost” universally used programming language, there might be an intention to provide a familiar environment for the market and its users. What makes me a bit skeptical of this theory is that they already tried this with ScriptLab using JavaScript, another widely-used language. Who knows?

But again, for whom is Python in Excel?

I’ve tried to answer this above, as have many other Excel enthusiasts. The fact is, we don’t yet know where this will lead.

Microsoft is an expert at making mistakes, but when they get it right, it’s for real. There are plenty of examples, and Excel itself is one, as it has carried this company for decades.

That’s why it’s too early to predict the acceptance this feature will have. Until about five years ago, Power Query and Power BI were beyond the reach of mere formula writers. Today, they are here to stay.

As an enthusiast, I’m excited. As a programmer, I’m skeptical. As an Excel user, I’m indifferent. As a data analyst, I’m intrigued.

Is Python in Excel for me?

This one’s easy. No. But why?

I am a programmer; I like code. More than that, I like creative freedom. Opening VBA gives me such a great sense of creativity that it’s impossible to compare to the Python prompt within a cell replacing it.

Additionally, Python doesn’t run locally. This is where the success or perhaps the failure of this implementation lies: security, the cancer that has plagued the Office suite for decades that Microsoft wants to get rid of at all costs.

In summary…

It’s early; we can’t conclude much, especially from my perspective as a programmer who likes VBA and has little experience with the Data Science side of Excel.

I am indeed very curious to hear what Power BI colleagues have to say about this. For those of you needing a Python tip, we’re here.

Stay tuned for the next chapters. I have a feeling that Python in Excel is here to stay.

References

StackOverFlow 2023 Survey: https://survey.stackoverflow.co/2023/#section-most-popular-technologies-programming-scripting-and-markup-languages
Python in Excel by Leila Gharani: https://youtu.be/FbBXtqtRnWU?si=f2X3wolD9c0fN-MP
Microsoft Excel just got Python by Fireship: https://youtu.be/8ofsE7xiGho?si=JvyPZ236Oi-O1VF4