Are Spreadsheets Obsolete?

Spreadsheet programs have been in existence for over 40 years (VisiCalc in 1979). We have all used them at work, in the home, and for school. We know them. We love them. But have they become obsolete?

The short answer is “No”. However, their role, especially when it comes to dispersion modeling is very limited to just displaying information. You really don’t need a spreadsheet program, though.

Dispersion modeling is a highly data-intensive process, but there is really no reason to ever consider using a spreadsheet for any part of the process. Spreadsheets are good for performing calculations but all the calculations are done by the model program. They are not good a storing data, especially multi-dimensional related data. Spreadsheets have their place in the world, but when it comes to dispersion modeling, they are NOT well equipped.

Spreadsheets have been used by dispersion modelers for decades. Even I used them for years, but they were always so awkward and clunky to use. So what’s the alternative? When it comes to storing, manipulating, and reporting lots of data, there is only one answer: the database.

Being completely transparent, I do use a spreadsheet as a data entry interface, but I could, just as easily, use the interface for my database program. I confess, I have a hard time letting go completely, as there is still some irrational attachment to using a spreadsheet program. As I add more functionality to my databases, there is really just no need for a spreadsheet. By the end of the year, I should be completely weaned off.

When it comes to data and how we use it (storing, manipulating, and reporting), databases are just the right tool. Would you use Vise-Grips to hammer in a nail? You could, but an actual hammer is the best tool.

If you think I’m nuts or just flat out wrong, go to our free online course on applying databases to dispersion modeling. After going through a few of the lessons, if you still think I’m nuts or completely off-base, let me know why you feel that way.

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