hot take:
documents should never have an embedded turing-complete language that runs automatically or without the informed consent of the user.

@enkiv2 OK, I'm gonna go the other direction with this hot take, than I usually do, given the context.

(Usually I make the argument that HTML is a document format and therefore shouldn't have JavaScript.)

I'm going to argue that Excel is a radically different form of IDE, not a mere document editor, and therefore a degree of Turing-completeness is expected.

@enkiv2 That said, there needs to be heavy restrictions on what can run without consent (and, it's worth noting that by default, VBA macros are disabled, and these JavaScript add-ins need to be manually installed (as do COM add-ins)).

It's still not a great situation, though...

You make a good point: formulas are a fundamental selling point of spreadsheet programs.

I still think they probably shouldn't be turing complete.

@enkiv2 Basically where I'm going with this is that Excel - not Visual Basic, not JavaScript in a browser, not some scripting language on the local machine - is the 2018 equivalent to BASIC on an 80s home computer.

Granted, Excel isn't on every machine, but it's something that lets users, not just programmers, develop task-specific software relatively easily.

I've seen this take before. I'm not 100% sure I buy it. Spreadsheet formulae are both more technical and more limited than BASIC. Something like Twine is a better match (though again most people don't have a copy).

Non-technical users can and do create incredible things in spreadsheets, but I think you'll probably find that nearly all of them went to company-sponsored seminars on spreadsheet formulae to gain those skills.


@enkiv2 @bhtooefr Excel already contains a specialised dialect of BASIC called VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), its had it for about 20 odd years.

I've used it in the past in a previous job to parse raw text files containing financial data from Oracle systems into spreadsheets than could be further analysed.

Word and other MS office apps have the same functionality (which can and indeed has been misused by malware already, hence the security settings needed to turn on macros on documents)

@vfrmedia @enkiv2 @bhtooefr VBA seems like a perversion of the spreadsheet model to me though. All you need to express yourself is functions and cells.

@calvin @enkiv2 @bhtooefr

Although AFAIK (thinking back 25 years) even Lotus 1-2-3 had macros, in a really clunky way that emulated keypresses (and was even harder to debug than VBA), so this functionality has been around (and of at least some value to "power" end users) for a few decades now..

@vfrmedia @calvin @enkiv2 Action-repetition macros are still a thing in Excel, too, IIRC.

@bhtooefr @calvin @enkiv2 I've seen mixtures of these *and* "proper" VBA functions in some code (especially when put together by accountants rather than those who have even basic knowledge of coding).

To be fair, it often works a fair bit of the time until its fed with data containing some odd edge case like a control character in a text file and the whole thing chokes.

I remember explaining to colleagues the innocent lookng "square box" in that text file is *not* always the same thing 😉

@bhtooefr @vfrmedia @calvin
I don't think so either. Even if it was, nobody would have used it to write anything elaborate, on 8 bit micros.

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