Monday, November 12, 2012

Microsoft SkyDrive gets Excel Survey support

Okay, this news might have been a few days old. I caught this this morning when clicking the "Create" button to create me a new Word document. I saw the option to choose "Excel Survey", and I instantly jumped at the new feature to try to experience it as much as possible, and then write this article that I hope you fully read :).

A few weeks ago, after the new wave of SkyDrive features were released, it was noted that Recycle Bin and Excel Survey support was going to be added shortly after. A few weeks later we saw the Recycle Bin get introduced, and now we finally have Excel surveys.

Making a survey
To make a Excel survey, you need to click the create button, and then click "Excel Survey" from the list. Right now it is the option all the way on the bottom of the list. Clicking the box will reveal a create HTML popup near the create button, where you can enter the name of the survey/form you want to make. Keep in mind that this is still a glorified Excel workbook, so the document will save as a .xlsx file, which is the Microsoft 2007 XML version of the XLS document. It is currently used in all of the latest versions of office.

When you click create, the Excel web app loads, then you get a HTML popup that presents you a visual survey editor. You can insert questions, mark fields as required, specify the type of characters to be typed into a box, and more.

To the left you can see the create box. Pick a name that's valid and then click create or press enter.

Notice that the text above the box says that the results will be saved there. I can confirm this right now (more in a bit, though) that you can only store your data in the work book right now. There is no way to have an automated email be send to you every time a form is submitted. I hope SkyDrive adds an email feature instead of just collecting data inside of a work book.

The Web app -- Creating the form
After you enter a name in the box and create the form, you'll be taken to the Excel Web App. Don't panic as you'll see at first just a ordinary work book. You'll see the survey maker pop up shortly after, if not instantly. All depends on your internet connection.

When the interface loads, you can easily click and drag questions from one position to another using the mouse. You have a settings panel for that question that comes up, and you can enter in the question name, a description to place under the question, and set whether to have choices, a paragraph, and more. You can also specify characters to go into the box, so for example if you want a box that has only numbers you can set a number lock on that box. After creating a survey, this is what data looks like in your workbook. You can always get back to the survey by leaving and then clicking edit survey from the menu option at the top or in the right click menu.

Techman's World did manage to get a video in depth look added. It has no audio besides nice, soothing 009 Sound System music, but you can actually watch me trying to make another contact form for Techman's World. The first video was actually creating the file. The second video is the main one and covers me using he interface. I hope you all enjoy it. The first videos of Techman's World announcement will also be on the site in another post.

How will the forms appear to viewers
The Excel Surveys/Forms will appear nicely to viewers. The form itself is very clean. The only thing I would gripe about is the branding and links at the bottom of the form, but that is expected as SkyDrive is free (in my case anyways), and it is indeed a Microsoft product. When you select an Excel survey file, you have two options to share the file. You can share the file as the workbook, which will expose any entered data for that survey. The second method to share the survey is the actual survey itself. The user who visits the link will only see the excel survey, and nothing else. The user will not be able to see the Excel workbook where all survey data is being entered. Below is a screenshot of one of the forms/surveys I have made.
In the screenshot above, you can also see that Microsoft includes a nice warning telling you to not share personal info with those you don't trust. In this case, you do have to give your name and your email address. In the form itself, you have to fill in those fields to continue. In our real contact form, installed onto our website on the contact form page, you MUST provide a properly formatted email address. Currently Excel surveys does not support a number of features that I wish it had. If Excel survey's did have the features I wanted, I might swap in the Excel form instead of the JotForm solution we have now.

I had no technical issues using the Excel Surveys part of the Excel web app. I was using Google Chrome, running on Ubuntu in this in depth look. Performing tasks on Chrome on Windows had no difference besides platform.

Missing features
When I first heard of the Excel Survey feature, I was excited for it. So far, I still fairly am. I will not put this into production on my site right now, at least nor for the contact form. There are a few features that are missing that I wish was added. Since Excel Surveys is just a few days old, I don't give too much gripe on these issues, but they could still be corrected quickly nevertheless. I want the following:

  1. Ability to specify a format as an email address (currently not available in the formation options)
  2. Ability to remove most of the Microsoft branding (don't care about it that much but still decided to mention it anyways).
Currently that is all I can think of as I am writing this post. If I think of more I'll add them to the ordered list above. Hope you all enjoyed this in depth look.

I made some video below. This is my first video ever submitted to YouTube, at least for Techman's World. If something isn't right, please bear with me.