Excel is still the key to the Microsoft empire

Today: why Microsoft added support for Python in Excel, the cloud-native community mourns the loss of an influential colleague, and the latest funding rounds raised by enterprise tech startups.

A screenshot of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with the new Python for Excel feature enabled.
Microsoft's addition of Python to Excel could make it easier for data scientists and finance pros to work together. Credit: Microsoft

Welcome to Runtime! Today: why Microsoft added support for Python in Excel, the cloud-native community mourns the loss of an influential colleague, and the latest funding rounds raised by enterprise tech startups.

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From low code to more code

For all the powerful shiny business intelligence and financial planning software tools released over the last 40 years, Microsoft Excel still sits at the center of an enormous number of businesses. However, that doesn't mean it can't learn a few new tricks.

Microsoft announced plans Tuesday to add support for the widely used Python programming language to Excel, which would allow Python developers to use the language's data-analysis libraries directly in Excel spreadsheets to generate reports or charts. The new feature started rolling out today to customers enrolled in the Microsoft 365 Insider Program as a preview.

  • "Now you can do advanced data analysis in the familiar Excel environment by accessing Python directly from the Excel ribbon," wrote Microsoft's Stefan Kinnestrand in a blog post. "No set up or installation is required."
  • Microsoft worked with Anaconda, which provides a Python development platform for enterprise customers, to integrate support for the language into Excel.
  • "We pioneered the use of Python for data science starting back in 2009, and this is still where our passion lies: using the world’s preferred, most intuitive programming language to do the hardest math out there," according to Anaconda's own description of its business.

While most executives like to think of their companies as data-driven businesses, data scientists and business teams like finance tend to operate in different worlds using different tools.

  • Adding support for Python will allow data scientists to create sophisticated analysis workflows in the medium their business colleagues are most comfortable.
  • "While no tool can magically resolve human communication problems," wrote Matt Housley, inadvertently dropping a truth bomb about enterprise software, "Python in Excel will create a common working platform for data scientists and spreadsheet users, dramatically streamlining the collaboration process."
  • Businesses are drowning in data, and they often resort to complicated stacks of data tools to try and make sense of it all.
  • With this collaboration, those businesses can take advantage of two technologies they already know very well.

There's a long history of programming languages running in Excel, and not all of it is pretty.

  • Visual Basic "macros" allowed Excel users to create countless numbers of custom programs based on their business needs, but they also introduced an enormous security problem as people started sharing spreadsheets online.
  • In fact, last year Microsoft announced that all macros destined for Office that arrived from the internet would be blocked by default.
  • So in this implementation, Microsoft made it very clear that all Python code in Excel spreadsheets will actually be executed on Azure in "hypervisor isolated containers built on Azure Container Instances."
  • However, that forces any business that wants to use this feature to share that data with Microsoft, which could be a problem for companies that run spreadsheets locally for security reasons.

Today's announcement underscores how much of Microsoft's power over enterprise tech starts with an Excel workbook, and how much potential revenue it could generate by upselling compelling new features to that massive user base.

  • Microsoft already announced plans this year to nearly double or triple the cost of Microsoft 365 for customers that want to use its Copilot AI tools when they become available.
  • While Python for Excel will be free for Microsoft 365 customers during the preview period, "after the Preview, some functionality will be restricted without a paid license," Microsoft said.

"The world is diminished"

GitHub's Kris Nóva, a legendary software engineer and one of the most distinctive voices to emerge from the "cloud native" era, died last week in a climbing accident, according to close friend and former colleague Joe Beda.

"She was an amazing person that lived out loud and built connection and community wherever she went," Beda wrote on Sunday. Nova was known for her work on Kubernetes (co-created by Beda) and in building the Nivenly Foundation, created to improve governance in the world of open-source software.

"The world is diminished with the loss of Kris Nóva," wrote Duffie Cooley, a former colleague and member of the technical oversight committee for the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Beda encouraged those looking to make a contribution in her memory to donate to either TransLifeline or Transgender Law Center, and said plans for a larger memorial are in the works.

Enterprise funding

Elemental Cognition, founded by the leader of the team that built IBM Watson, has raised $60 million in new funding for its enterprise AI chatbots, according to CNBC.

Grip Security raised $41 million in Series B funding to further work on its software for detecting unused accounts that still have access to sensitive data.

ProjectDiscovery landed $25 million in Series A funding to launch a cloud version of its open-source project for detecting vulnerabilities in codebases.

Cerby raised $17 million in Series A funding to help secure edge-case applications that aren't supported by traditional identity-management vendors.

The Runtime roundup

VMware announced a partnership with Nvidia that will allow its current customers to get generative AI tasks up and running in their own data centers.

IBM revealed an AI coding assistant that can translate the ancient COBOL programming language used to manage its mainframes into Java.

Zoom beat Wall Street's earnings expectations and raised its guidance for the year, but analysts still fretted about the staying power of its rebound.

Those same analysts (some of them, anyway) dumped Palo Alto Networks stock after it scheduled its earnings call for a summer Friday afternoon, fearing bad news, only to watch it report better-than-expected earnings.

Google Cloud opened its second region in Germany, its 12th overall in Europe.

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