Shaping a new XL Toolbox

This year marks the 5th anniversary of the XL Toolbox. It has made my work life a lot easier, and from the feedback that I get from many users, I know that it is an everyday work tool for many people.

Development has become increasingly cumbersome though. Visual Basic for Applications is an ancient programming language. It lacks many concepts that are typical for modern languages. The user interface is ancient and very basic. Finally, due to the different file formats for Excel 2003 and Excel 2007-2013, two versions have to be maintained.

To make development of the Toolbox easier and provide a modern user experience, I have decided to rewrite the XL Toolbox from scratch using up-to-date tools and technology.

The working title of this project is “XL Toolbox Mark II”.

The user’s perspective

The very first user of the Toolbox was – me. Today, many of my colleagues use the Toolbox at work. Some of the requirements for Mark II from a user’s perspective are:

  • Ability to install on systems without administrator rights.
  • Compatibility with all versions of Excel, from Excel 2003 through Excel 2013, both 32-bit and 64-bit.
  • Rapid responses to bug reports.
  • Rapid addition of new features.

The developer’s perspective

From the developer’s perspective, several features of a programming environment would make life a lot easier:

  • One code base for all versions of Excel.
  • Object-oriented framework with objects for common tasks, obviating the need to re-invent the wheel over and over again.
  • Modern visual designers for the ribbon user interface and forms.
  • Real source code files rather than source code embedded in a binary file.

Time frame

It will take several months for me to find out which tool is suited best to rewrite the Toolbox. Once I have settled with the right tool, I will port one feature after another from the old Toolbox. My aim is to publish development milestones frequently. These versions will be far from feature-complete; but those features that they offer should be stable and fit for everyday use.

I am planning to document the process of building the Toolbox Mark II with a series of articles in this blog.

Comments are welcome.

Shaping a new XL Toolbox

Articles in this series:

  1. Shaping a new XL Toolbox
  2. Selecting the right tool for the Toolbox
  3. Introducing first alpha of XL Toolbox NG
  4. Alpha 2 and 3 with graphic export and Apache license