Excel expands connected data types as it evolves into a real-time data tracker

Microsoft continues to take the Excel spreadsheet into the "third dimension" by putting vast amounts of live data into a single spreadsheet cell via data types.

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft on Thursday leaned more heavily into its support for “data types” within Excel, going beyond the staid concept of numbers and formulas to embrace a huge variety of elements that could reside within a single cell.

Microsoft calls data types the “third dimension” of an otherwise two-dimensional Excel cell, and it’s easy to see why. In 2019, Microsoft introduced the first two data types: “stocks” and “geography.” If you input a stock symbol into a cell, and then identify it as a stock symbol using the Data > Data Types > Stocks identifier, the term “MSFT” opens the door to numerous fields of live data which can be set as separate cells, columns or more. You can always get the latest data by tapping the “Refresh data” button within Excel.

microsoft excel stock data type Microsoft

Microsoft has also partnered with Wolfram Alpha to take hundreds more data types and bring them into Excel, everything from exercise to food, chemistry, space, universities and their tuition and more. What’s more, Microsoft is now allowing users to define their own data types, and bring them into the related Power BI service as their own “customer” data type, defined however they wish. If you enter data into an Excel spreadsheet, you’ll be able to create your own custom data types and query them using Power Query.

Data types sounds like a feature that would be relegated to an accounting firm, but it’s a foundational technology that can really be applied to a number of different applications, including this DIY diet analysis:

Microsoft excel data types Microsoft

This spreadsheet taps data types that are connected to the Wolfram Alpha database.

For now, the Wolfram data types are relegated to the Office Insider channel, and most aren’t quite live yet. You’ll also need a Microsoft 365 subscription, as well as the appropriate Power BI subscription, to take advantage of the Power BI features. But Brian Jones, the head of product for Excel, also wrote in a blog post that the company plans to debut a new set of “smart templates” that will enable people to get started quickly with data types, and “do things like track their nutritional information, research potential colleges, monitor stocks, learn chemistry, and much more.” Unfortunately Microsoft didn’t give a timetable for this.

Microsoft has allowed Excel users to pull data from live sources for years, though the new data types allow for constant updating. The Collections feature within Microsoft Edge sort of flips this on its head, allowing you to “collect” several webpages and then track their attributes inside an automatically generated spreadsheet. All of this points to a future in which data is tracked, measured, and reassessed in real time.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?