Microsoft brings custom data types to Excel

Up until recently, Microsoft Excel users have only been able to enter text and numbers as data into cells. One of the announcements Microsoft made at its Ignite 2021 event this week is the addition of more types of information users can enter into Excel, on top of additions it has made in recent years.

Microsoft will soon open up a preview of a new JavaScript API for Excel that will let users make their own custom data types containing things like images, entities, arrays, or formatted number values. These can all be backed up by users’ own custom data sources. Users will also be able to make custom functions that can use these data types as both inputs and outputs.

Microsoft published a blog post elaborating on the changes to Excel as well as other parts of Microsoft Office, and includes animated gifs showing Bloomberg using the new data types. The gifs show someone entering a graph into an Excel chart by entering what looks like a formula. Another shows them dragging locations from a world map into cells in a chart, incorporating them with formulas on that chart.

In 2018, Microsoft added AI-powered stocks and geography to data types. Last year it started letting users enter their own data as a data type, and announced plans to add over 100 more data types going forward like chemistry, elements, food, and more.

At Ignite 2021, Microsoft also announced changes to PowerPoint, the Office app, and more. It announced a whole new video editing app called Clipchamp, along with more significant changes to Microsoft Office applications.