OutOfMemory Exceptions with Large Excel Reports

At times customers have experienced OutOfMemory exceptions when generating very large Excel reports with OfficeWriter. Generating reports with millions of cells will necessarily use a significant amount of memory, especially when using the ExcelApplication object. Note that ExcelWriter is not just keeping a file in memory, it is populating an entire object model in order to be able to manipulate the file. For example, each cell has associated objects for the value, formula, formatting, and more. The ExcelTemplate object (which is also used behind the scenes in our Reporting Services integration) has a smaller object model, so it uses less memory than ExcelApplication. However, a very large report can still require a significant amount of memory with ExcelTemplate.

This article provides tips about how to avoid memory issues when generating large reports.

Try to use the latest version of OfficeWriter
Make sure your application is compiled as 64-bit when possible
Use the ExcelApplication API in the most efficient manner
Cache reports if possible
Queue reports if necessary

Try to use the latest version of OfficeWriter

Many performance improvements have been implemented in ExcelWriter over time. To take advantage of these optimizations, upgrade to the latest version when possible. See the OfficeWriter Change Log for details about changes in every release since OfficeWriter version 4.0 (ExcelWriter version 7.0).

Make sure your application is compiled as 64-bit if possible

A 32-bit application will have never have more than 2 GB of memory available to it, even you are running the application on a 64-bit OS with a huge amount of RAM. The pure .NET ExcelWriter objects (in the namespace SoftArtisans.OfficeWriter.ExcelWriter) are fully 64-bit compatible (see Using OfficeWriter .NET on a 64-bit machine). If you are using the pure .NET objects and running on a 64-bit machine, make sure your project is compiled as a 64-bit application. If you have an ASP.NET application that was written against a very old version of ExcelWriter, it may have dependencies on ExcelWriter COM which is 32-bit, in which case compiling for 64-bit will not be an option (see this KB article for more information)

Use the ExcelApplication API in the most efficient manner

There are a number of steps that will improve performance when working with large reports with the ExcelApplication API (For more details, see Best Practices with Large Reports) :

  • Populate data with ExcelTemplate, and use ExcelApplication beforehand for any necessary runtime file manipulations. ExcelTemplate is the most efficient way to import data but it cannot make fine-grained changes to the workbook. If you need to modify the workbook at runtime, modify the template programmatically before passing it to ExcelTemplate to avoid having to open a fully populated report with ExcelApplication. See Preprocessing vs. Postprocesssing.
  • Avoid referencing Empty Cells. Any time you touch an empty cell with ExcelApplication, a Cell object (and all its associated objects) is created even if it didn’t already exist. If you need to loop through cells to look for something, used Worksheet.PopulatedCells to get an Area containing only populated cells. Note that PopulatedCells will return cells that have only formatting and no data. For this reason is it important to apply formatting in the most efficient manner. More information about this below.
  • Apply Styles to Columns and Rows, not Cells. Setting styles on a cell-by-cell basis or applying a style to an area, causes a separate Style object to be created for every Cell. On the other hand, if you Set a Style on a column or row, using ColumnProperties.Style or RowProperties.Style, there will only be one formatting record for the entire column or row. Currently there is no option to set conditional formatting at the column or row level with the ExcelWriter API. A workaround is to set the conditional formatting on the columns or rows in your input file, and ExcelWriter will preserve it.

Cache reports if possible

If you have a report that requires a lot of memory and is requested by many concurrent users, investigate whether it might be possible to keep a cached copy of the report and serve it to multiple users. Does the data change constantly or only at certain intervals? Are there parameters that tend to be different for every user or do multiple users run the report with the same parameters? If you have multiple users requesting a report with the same data and the same parameters, this report could be a good candidate for caching. You could run the report at a certain time with a background process, or you could cache a copy the first time any user generates the report within a certain timeframe.

If you are using OfficeWriter in a custom .NET application, you would implement caching in your own code. If you are using OfficeWriter in SSRS-integration mode, you can use SSRS’s built-in caching functionality.

Queue reports if necessary

If you have a report being accessed by multiple users that requires a great deal of memory in a memory-constrained environment (i.e. your server is 32-bit or you have to compile your application as 32-bit for some reason), and caching isn’t an option (i.e. every time a user runs the report it is different), then queuing reports may be something to consider. Instead of delivering every report on-demand, you can restructure your application to store the users’ requests, process them sequentially in a background process, and notify the users by email or some other means when their reports are ready. This approach should not cause your users to have to wait much longer for a report than if it was being generated on-demand, but of course the user experience will be a little different. One option is to implement logic in your application to only queue very large reports but deliver smaller reports on-demand.

If you are using OfficeWriter in SSRS-integration mode, you can accomplish queuing by using SSRS subscriptions.

Options for Importing HTML snippets into a Word document

If you are generating a Word document with OfficeWriter and you wish to import some HTML-formatted text, there are various  options, depending on the version of OfficeWriter you are using and the file format of your document (.doc or .docx/.docm)

The Template-based Approach
The Programmatic Approach

Template-based approach

With WordWriter’s template-based approach, using the WordTemplate API or  OfficeWriter’s SSRS integration, HTML-formatted text can be imported by using special merge field modifiers.  This functionality was introduced in version 8.0 with some limitations   (i.e. no SSRS support).     Further enhancements were added in version 9.0 and 9.1.    Using version 9.1 is highly recommended, as it provides the most comprehensive support for this functionality in both custom .NET applications and SSRS integration mode.

Advantages of template-based approach

  1. No complex coding required, everything is controlled through your template and data
  2. Allows HTML-formatted text to be used with WordWriter’s mail merge and grouping functionality

Limitations of template-based approach

  1. Only supports the OOXML file format.  The template must be a .docx or .docm file
  2. The feature relies on Word’s “altChunk” functionality.  Each HTML snippet is embedded as a separate little file, and Word renders the contents when the file is opened on the client machine.   Therefore, if you are viewing the output file in something other than Word (i.e. a mobile device), the HTML may not be rendered correctly. Note: If you resave the output in MS Word, the HTML will be merged into the main document and can be viewed in any Word-compatible application.

How to Use It

Version 8.0 through 9.0 – use the document(html) modifier

  • Your merge field should look something like this:
  • Your HTML-formatted text must be passed in as a byte array, since the “document(format)” modifier expects a file rather than a string.
  • Starting in Version 9.1, it is possible for your data to include a filepath or URL rather than a byte array, by using  the new AllowURIs property. However, in 9.1 the “document(format)” modifier is no longer the best way to import HTML snippets.  In 9.1 and above, the “document(format)” modifier should be reserved for cases where you wish to embed an entire document (HTML, DOCX or RTF)
  • Prior to version 9.0, the data must contain an opening and closing <html> tag.  Beginning in version 9.0, WordWriter will add the opening and closing tags for you.
  • For more information about using the document modifier, see Inserting an Embedded Document

Version 9.1 and above – use the new HTMLSnippet modifier

  •  Instructions for using the new HTMLSnippet modifier are in the WordWriter documentation.
  •  Your merge field for the field containing the HTML-formatted text should look like this: <<DataSourceName.ColumnName(HTMLSnippet)>>
  • The data being bound to a merge field with an HTMLSnippet modifier must be a string.  The string does not need to include opening and closing <html> tags.

Programmatic approach

If you have OfficeWriter Enterprise Edition, you can import HTML snippets using the WordApplication API together with our open source project HTMLToWord.

Advantages of the Programmatic Approach

  1. The HTML snippets are converted into true Word formatting, unlike the altChunk approach used by the WordTemplate object.     Therefore the output file will be viewable in any Word-compatible application.
  2. HTMLToWord provides very fine-grained control of the HTML import. For example:
    • Using the HTMLInsertProperties settings, you can specify a default font to override fonts in the HTML, and you can specify whether to ignore unknown tags or insert their contents as text.
    • Using the delegate methods (like InsertDelegate) you can override the default behavior when processing certain tags, or write your own code to handle custom tags in your XHTML.
  3. HTMLToWord is open source project so you can modify the source code as desired.

Limitations of the programmatic approach

  1. WordApplication only supports the .doc file format.  HTMLToWord cannot be used with .docx or .docm files.
  2. This approach is code-intensive
  3. The string must be valid XHTML
  4. HTMLToWord is an open source project, separate from the OfficeWriter product itself.  OfficeWriter support contracts do not cover support for HTMLToWord.

How to Use it

  1. Make sure you have WordWriter Enterprise Edition version 4.0 or above
  2. Download the HTMLToWord project from sourceforge
  3. Follow instructions in Using HTMLToWord for compiling the dll and referencing it in your application
  4. For detailed information about how to use the API, see the section of the documentation under Inserting HTML with WordApplication

Can OfficeWriter 3 or ExcelWriter 6 run on a 64-bit OS?

OfficeWriter version 3.x includes ExcelWriter version 6.x and WordWriter version 3.x.

OfficeWriter v3.x is no longer supported, and upgrading to the current version is highly recommended.   However, if for some reason you need to use version 3.x on a 64-bit system, this article provides all the information you need.

OfficeWriter 3.9.1 and 3.9.2

The first version of OfficeWriter to include 64-bit support was version 3.9.1.  The 3.9.1 installer will run on a 64-bit machine.   The .NET assemblies in 3.9.1 and above are compiled with the /anycpu flag, which means they will work with both 32-bit and 64-bit processes.  The COM dlls, however, are 32-bit.  Here are all the considerations when using 3.9.1 or 3.9.2 on a 64-bit system:

  1. If you are using OfficeWriter in a classic ASP application or an ASP.NET application that is using our legacy .NET wrapper classes for ExcelWriter COM, you will need to set your application pool to 32-bit mode   (For more information about OfficeWriter COM, see Using OfficeWriter COM)
    1. Open the IIS management console
    2. Create a new app pool or select an existing one
    3. Click on “Advanced Settings”?
    4. Set “Enable 32-Bit Applications” to True
    5. Click OK
  2. If your application is ASP.NET, whether it is using the pure .NET objects or the wrapper classes, you will need to install the 64-bit version of the J# runtime before running the OfficeWriter installer.  OfficeWriter 3.x had a dependency on J#.   This was removed in version 4.  You can get the 64-bit J# redistributable here.   Note that the version of J# must match the version of the .NET framework you are using for your application.   Microsoft has deprecated J# and there is no version of J# later than 2.0.

OfficeWriter 3.0 to 3.8.1

Versions of OfficeWriter 3 prior to version 3.9.1 do not officially have 64-bit support, however the dlls may be used on a 64-bit system with certain limitations. The automatic installer is not 64-bit compatible and the .NET assembles are not compiled with the /anycpu flag.  Therefore, both the .NET and COM dlls are 32-bit.  OfficeWriter 3.0 – 3.8.1 can be used on a 64-bit system only in the following manner:

  1. You must do a manual installation:
    1. If your application is ASP.NET, make sure the 64-bit J# runtime is installed.  See step 2 above.
    2. Copy the OfficeWriter dlls and LicenseManager.exe from an OfficeWriter program folder on a 32-bit machine
    3. Enter the OfficeWriter v3 (or ExcelWriter v6) license key with LicenseManager.exe
    4. If you are using OfficeWriter in classic ASP or if you are using the .NET wrapper classes for the COM objects, register the COM dlls (see Using OfficeWriter COM)
    5. Copy the .NET dlls to the bin directory of your application(s)
  2. You must be using OfficeWriter in a custom application rather than in SQL Server Reporting Services.   A 32-bit dll cannot run in a 64-bit process.  64-bit SSRS does not have an option to set it to run in 32-bit mode.  Therefore in order to use OfficeWriter in 64-bit SSRS, you must use version 3.9.1 or above.
  3. You must assign your application to a 32-bit application pool:
    1. Open the IIS management console
    2. Create a new app pool or select an existing one
    3. Click on “Advanced Settings”?
    4. Set “Enable 32-Bit Applications” to True
    5. Click OK

Upgrading from v3.x

If you have an ASP.NET application and you wish to upgrade from version 3.x in order to eliminate the dependency on J# and take advantage of  fixes and enhancements in later versions, you will need to make some changes to your code.  See these pages in the documentation:

Enabling ExcelTemplate and WordTemplate Properties for SSRS

OfficeWriter SSRS Integration allows users to generate OfficeWriter output from RDLs in Report Manager. To enhance the level of customization that SSRS integration provides, users are able to set ExcelTemplate and WordTemplate properties by adding keys to specific configuration files. This article will describe how to enable supported ExcelTemplate and WordTemplate properties in SSRS. Please note that these properties are global: they will apply to OfficeWriter output generated by every report in Report Manager. To see what ExcelTemplate properties are supported in SSRS, visit this link.

Generating Reports On-Demand

One possibility for generating reports from RDLs is to click on the RDL in report manager and export the RDL to ExcelWriter or WordWriter formats.

If you would like to use this functionality, you will need to add your property keys to:  C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\[SQL INSTANCE]\Reporting Services\ReportServer\web.config

SSRS Subscriptions

SSRS subscriptions allow reports to be generated from RDLs to a fileshare or delivered to users via e-mail on a schedule. However, it is important to note that SSRS subscriptions run in a different context and process from the rest of SSRS. The result is that you will need to add your property keys to a different configuration file for subscriptions than you will for generating reports on the fly.

If you would like to use this functionality, you will need to add your property keys to:  C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\[SQL INSTANCE]\Reporting Services\ReportServer\bin\ReportingServicesService.exe.config

Instructions for Adding Keys to A Configuration File

Here are the steps to enabling supported ExcelTemplate and WordTemplate properties to the above configuration files:

  1. Open the configuration file you would like to modify. See above for which configuration file will enable the functionality you desire. You can add properties for reports generated on-demand, by subscription, or both.
  2. Check to see if an appSettings section exists in the file: ie <appSettings></appSettings>
    1. If yes
      1. Add your keys to the existing appSettings section. The format is <add key=”[KEY NAME]” value=”[VALUE]” />
    2. If not
      1.  add an appSettings section before the closing </configuration> tag at the bottom of your file. It should look like: <appSettings></appSettings>
      2. Inside of the appSettings tags, add your keys in the <add key=”[KEY NAME]” value=”[VALUE]” /> format.


This is an example appSettings section in a configuration file

Using OfficeWriter COM

The COM version of OfficeWriter has been deprecated.   However, some customers have existing applications that use the ExcelWriter and WordWriter COM dlls. The officially supported versions of OfficeWriter (v8.x and v9.x) no longer include the COM dlls.   The latest versions of the COM dlls are ExcelWriter 7.6.1 and WordWriter 4.6.1.   The last automated installer which contained the COM dlls was OfficeWriter version 4.5.1.

One of the most important things to know is that OfficeWriter’s COM dlls are 32-bit. If you are migrating an existing application to a 64-bit server, any application using OfficeWriter COM will need to be assigned to a 32-bit application pool.

This article provides more information about the points mentioned above, as well as anything else you may need to know about using OfficeWriter COM.

How do I know if my application is using OfficeWriter COM?
What functionality is included in the COM version of OfficeWriter?
Getting the Documentation
Getting the COM dlls
Installing ExcelWriter COM
Installing WordWriter COM

How do I know if my application is using OfficeWriter COM?

If your application is classic ASP, it is obviously using the COM dlls.

But there is another possible scenario. If you have an ASP.NET application using a very old version of ExcelWriter, your application may have a dependency on the ExcelWriter COM dll.  This is because before the pure .NET version of ExcelWriter was released, we provided a .NET wrapper for the COM version.  Note: If you are using OfficeWriter in .NET, we highly recommend migrating your code to use the pure .NET objects which are fully supported, more up-to-date, and fully 64-bit compatible.

Note: ASP.NET applications using only WordWriter will never have a dependency on COM. This is because WordWriter, a newer product than ExcelWriter, has always been a pure .NET product. (A COM-callable wrapper was provided for use with classic ASP)

To determine whether your .NET application has ExcelWriter COM dependencies:

  1. First check if your code is using the SoftArtisans.ExcelWriter namespace.  This namespace contains all the interop classes provided by our .NET wrapper (The pure .NET objects, on the other hand, are all in the namespace SoftArtisans.OfficeWriter.ExcelWriter)
  2. If your application uses both the ExcelTemplate and ExcelApplication object and it was written using certain versions of ExcelWriter, you may find that your code references both namespaces mentioned above.  This is because the pure .NET ExcelTemplate object was released before the pure.NET ExcelApplication object.  ExcelTemplate .NET was released in ExcelWriter v5 (OfficeWriter v2) and ExcelApplication .NET was released in ExcelWriter v6 (OfficeWriter v3)
  3. If you see a reference to “SAEXCELLib” rather than SoftArtisans.ExcelWriter,  your developers probably imported the ExcelWriter COM dll into a .NET project rather than using our custom .NET wrapper.   The .NET framework will create a default wrapper if a COM dll is imported into a .NET project in Visual Studio.

What functionality is included in the COM version of OfficeWriter?

ExcelWriter COM Functionality and Limitations
ExcelWriter was already a mature COM product before the .NET version was introduced.   The ExcelWriter COM dll has no dependency on the .NET dll, and it includes full ExcelTemplate and ExcelApplication functionality.  However, in recent years, as most customers migrated to the .NET, many new features were added only to the .NET version.   Therefore the COM version of ExcelWriter has some significant limitations, including:

  1. No support for OOXML file formats (.xlsx, .xlsm)
  2. No automatic grouping and nesting functionality (released in ExcelWriter .NET v7.1.0)
  3. Does not support all new Excel formulas introduced in Excel 2007 and above
  4. No server-side calculation engine (released in v9)

Wordwriter COM Functionality and Limitations
WordWriter is a pure .NET product with a COM-callable wrapper (CCW) provided for use with classic ASP.  The CCW includes only the WordTemplate object. If you are using WordWriter in classic ASP, all the template-based functionality is available.  However, since 4.6.1 was the last release, the COM version does not include any fixes or enhancements added to later versions.  See the OfficeWriter change log to determine which new features and fixes were introduced after 4.6.1 and therefore are not included in WordWriter COM.

Getting the COM dlls

OfficeWriter version 4.5.1 was the last public release that included COM dlls in the installation package.   It includes ExcelWriter 7.5.1 COM and WordWriter 4.5.1 COM.  The latest versions of the COM dlls, ExcelWriter 7.6.1 and WordWriter 4.6.1, are available by request for customers with an active support contract.  This request may be made using regular support channels.

Note:  If you are planning to do a manual installation, you will also need a copy of LicenseManager.exe v4 or above in order to enter your OfficeWriter v4 (or ExcelWriter v7) license key.  LicenseManager.exe is included in the automated installer package, or you can request a copy from Support together with your request for the COM dlls.

Getting the Documentation

The latest documentation for using ExcelWriter and WordWriter in classic ASP is included in the OfficeWriter v4 documentation, which can be downloaded here: http://support.softartisans.com/download/OfficeWriter4Documentation.zip

  • ExcelWriter ASP documentation is in the file “EW-COM-7.pdf”
  • Instructions for using WordWriter in classic ASP are included in the main WordWriter v4 documentation – “WW-4.pdf”

If you are using ExcelWriter COM through the interop in an ASP.NET application, there is no up-to-date documentation available for this configuration.   However, there are some resources in older versions of the documentation that may be helpful.

Installing ExcelWriter COM

Installation instructions can also be found in the ExcelWriter v4 documentation.

  1. Install an ExcelWriter v7 (or OfficeWriter v4) license key
    The License Key can be entered using the full OfficeWriter installer or the LicenseManager.exe utility (version 4 or above)

    • LicenseManager.exe can be found in the program folder of an OfficeWriter installation on a different box
    • or you can request a copy of LicenseManager from SoftArtisans support.
  2. Register the COM dll – “SAXW7COM.dll”
    In versions 4.5.1 and below, the OfficeWriter installer will register the COM dll automatically, but it won’t be the newest version of the dll.  If you have an installer for  v4.5.1 or below, one option is to run the installer and then copy over the newer dll and register it.  That way you will have the full program folder in addition to the dlls.

    If you are doing a manual installation, or if you are updating a previous installation with the newer version of the dll:

    1. navigate to the directory containing the dll and enter:
      regsvr32 SAXW7COM.dll

      Note: On a 64-bit OS, make sure to use the 32-bit version of regsvr32, usually located in C:\Windows\SysWOW64. So you would enter:

      C:\Windows\SysWOW64\regsvr32 SAXW7COM.dll
    2.  Reset IIS by entering:
  3. Make sure your application is running in a 32-bit process
  4. Since ExcelWriter COM is 32-bit dll, if your server is 64-bit you must assign your virtual application to an application pool running in 32-bit mode:

    1. Open the IIS management console
    2. Create a new app pool or select an existing one
    3. Click on “Advanced Settings”
    4. Set “Enable 32-Bit Applications” to True
    5. Click “OK”

    Installing WordWriter COM

    Instructions for installing WordWriter for ASP can also be found in the WordWriter v4 documentation.

    These are the main steps for installing WordWriter COM:

    1. Check the system requirements
      • The COM-callable wrapper (CCW), WordTemplateCCW.dll, is a COM object that makes internal calls to the WordWriter .NET assembly.  Therefore, to use WordWriter in ASP, all of the system requirements for running WordWriter in ASP.NET must also be satisfied.
      • Version 4.x of the CCW also has a requirement for the Microsoft Visual C++ 2005 SP1 Redistributable. If this is a 64-bit OS, make sure to get the 32-bit version of the C++ 2005 SP1 Redistributable. Download Visual C++ 2005 SP1 Redistributable for x86 systems
    2. Install a v4 license key
      The license key can be installed using the automatic installer or (if you are doing a manual installation) the LicenseManager.exe utility (version 4 or above)

      1. LicenseManager.exe can be found in the program folder of an OfficeWriter installation on a different box
      2. or you can request a copy of LicenseManager from SoftArtisans support.
      3. Put the WordWriter .NET assembly “SoftArtisans.OfficeWriter.WordWriter.dll “ in the GAC.
        SoftArtisans.OfficeWriter.WordWriter.dll is a .NET assembly.  The CCW allows you to use the .NET WordTemplate object from ASP. The assembly must be installed in the Global Assembly Cache (GAC) to allow the CCW to work.

        In versions 4.5.1 or below, the OfficeWriter installer will automatically put the WordWriter.NET assembly in the GAC, however it won’t be the latest version of the dll. Here is how to manually add the .NET assembly to the GAC:

        1. On versions of Windows prior to Windows 2008 or Windows 7, copy the file “SoftArtisans.OfficeWriter.WordWriter.dll” to C:\WINDOWS\Assembly.
        2. On Windows 7 or Windows 2008 and above, use gacutil.exe. Unless you have Visual Studio installed on the machine (which most servers do not), you may need to download the Windows SDK to get a copy of gacutil.exe.
          Open a command prompt and navigate to the directory with the .NET dll and enter:

          gacutil /i SoftArtisans.OfficeWriter.WordWriter.dll
        3. Register the COM dll “WordTemplateCCW.dll” with regsvr32
          In versions 4.5.1 and below, the OfficeWriter installer will register the COM dll automatically, but it won’t be the newest version of the dll. If you have an installer for v4.5.1 or below, one option is to run the installer and then copy over the newer dll and register it. That way you will have the full program folder in addition to the dlls.

          If you are doing a manual installation, or if you are updating a previous installation with the newer version of the dll:

          1. navigate to the directory containing the dll and enter:
            regsvr32 SAXW7COM.dll

            Note: On a 64-bit OS, make sure to use the 32-bit version of regsvr32, usually located in C:\Windows\SysWOW64. So you would enter:

            C:\Windows\SysWOW64\regsvr32 WordTemplateCCW.dll
          2. Reset IIS by entering:
          3. Make sure your application is running in a 32-bit process
            The WordWriter .NET assembly is compiled with /anycpu and can run natively on 64-bit operating systems. However the CCW dll is 32-bit and must run in a 32-bit process.If your server is 64-bit, assign your virtual application to an application pool that is set to run in 32-bit compatability mode.

            • Open the IIS management console
            • Create a new app pool or select an existing one
            • Click on “Advanced Settings”
            • Set “Enable 32-Bit Applications” to True
            • Click “OK”

5 PowerPoint Professionals You Should be Following

PowerPoint is not an easy skill to master. Behind every great PowerPoint are hours of design, sweat, and tears. Thankfully, there are bright PowerPoint experts in our midst, here to alleviate any undue stress, caused by that last minute slide update before an important client meeting. Whether you need to learn the techniques for planning a presentation or putting together a well-developed slide deck, these are resources you should have in your back pocket. Below are 5 presentation and PowerPoint experts you should be following, if you’re not already.

1. Geetesh Bajaj – Indezine

Created by Geetesh Bajaj, Indezine is a site dedicated to providing the tools and resources any PowerPoint user needs to execute an effective PowerPoint presentation. Reviews, interviews with professionals in the field, as well as add-in recommendations, Indezine provides a roadmap to getting started with and mastering PowerPoint.

2. Cole Nussbaumer – Storytelling with Data

Storytelling with Data is run by Cole Nussbaumer. Her goal? “To rid the world of ineffective graphs, one exploding pie chart at a time.” With a focus on data visualization, Nussbaumer assists individuals and companies in finding the most effective ways of representing their data. Her underlying principle is that the data should tell a clear story, and she provides tips on just how to make that happen.

3. Nancy Duarte – Duarte Design

If you want to know about presentation design, you need to know Nancy Duarte. Passionate about visual storytelling, Duarte has authored several books, one being Slide:ology: the Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. You may recognize some of her work on Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Follow her on Twitter.  Listen to her TED Talk.

4. Sandra Johnson – PowerPoint Wiz

As a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP, Sandra Johnson brings her 20-year marketing background to assist enterprise companies in creating business-worthy presentations. Focusing on presentation as an art form, Sandra helps her clients communicate their message succinctly.

5. Dave Paradi – Think Outside the Slide

Dave Paradi is the author of 7 PowerPoint presentation books, as well as a consultant on giving an effective PowerPoint presentation. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, and he has worked on prominent presentations, including one used to brief President Obama’s cabinet ministers.  His workshops provide ways in which professionals can communicate their message clearly and effectively, and his site is brimming with free resources to get you started.

March Madness: Using Excel to Pick the Upset

Bracket Mania

It’s that time again! Time to get out the office pool and place all of your stock in one team to take you to the finals and earn you those much sought after office bragging rights. Last year, to aid in my bracket-making decision, I decided to write a way to be able to generate a randomized bracket for the NCAA college Men’s Basketball Tournament using Excel. This year, I dug a bit more into using an alternative method, the KenPom rating, to see if I could predict a better bracket. You can dig into this stuff endlessly (or so it seems), starting out with the source of the rankings at KenPom.com. KenPom.com is a college basketball statistics site that has been featured on FiveThirtyEight, Mediaite, and The Wall Street Journal for its predictions in game outcomes. Ken Pomeroy, the creator of the site, has statistics dating back to the 2003 season, and his research is used by many college basketball teams to gain a competitive advantage.

The bracket I made this year was built in a couple of different ways. First, I used the seed strategy, where a higher seed historically wins X% of the time. Second, I used KenPom to figure out how the match-ups might work based on a random outcome. This second method does allow for some very volatile outcomes, so use at your own risk!

I am attaching a project that goes into all of the details of generating the brackets, and I have updated it from last year to get the latest attempt to win some bragging rights.

Download the Brackets and Excel Spreadsheets

To see the completed Excel spreadsheet and my 2014 bracket picks, click the links below. May the odds be ever in your favor!

The full Excel file: NCAATournamentBracket
The C# project: TournamentBracket_2014
My tournament bracket: TournamentBracket_2014_Final

Note: To save the bracket, you need to turn off the auto-calculation feature. This is due to Excel always updating the RAND() output on each change. I recommend changing it to Manual Calculation, and using F9 to run it when you want new values. Don’t forget, this may eventually run through every possible outcome; let me know if you end up winning anything from this!


And the final prediction for this year is: Arizona wins it all.

Yes, the likelihood of me being correct is small, but given the current odds (6 / 1), I am feeling pretty good about it. Which does, of course, guarantee that this will be the incorrect bet.

Editor’s Note: Chad (the author of this post) hails from Arizona, so fair warning, there may be some home-state bias in this post.

[Press Release] SoftArtisans Expands its Product Offerings with the Addition of PowerPointWriter


SoftArtisans Expands its Product Offerings with the Addition of PowerPointWriter

SoftArtisans releases OfficeWriter version 9 and introduces a new tool named PowerPointWriter to their .NET API. PowerPointWriter is a template-based approach to generate dynamic PowerPoint presentations.

WATERTOWN, MA – February 26, 2014 – SoftArtisans, a leading developer of Office-based reporting software, announces the release of their newest product version, OfficeWriter version 9. Alongside their OfficeWriter version 9 release, SoftArtisans introduces a new tool called PowerPointWriter, thereby greatly expanding the product portfolio of their enterprise software.

PowerPointWriter is a template-based approach to generating reports. Unlike other tools on the market, PowerPointWriter uses a template model, making it easy for developers to design their reports within PowerPoint and merge them with data using as little as five lines of code. VP of Development, Sam Haddad, comments, “This has been a request from our customers for some time now. One of the things our customers always tell us is that they love our template-based approach to generating Office documents, and wanted the same ability with PowerPoint. So we did just that.” PowerPointWriter takes advantage of the technology behind Excel and Word’s mail merge feature, to make combining customized templates with company data easier.

Along with PowerPointWriter, SoftArtisans adds major developments to their ExcelWriter tool. The most notable of which, is a calculation engine, providing users the ability to calculate the results of formulas (such as SUM, PRODUCT, AVERAGE, VLOOKUP, etc.) in an Excel workbook through the OfficeWriter API. This allows users to view formula-laden Excel spreadsheets across many devices and viewers.

OfficeWriter has long been the trusted software for building Microsoft Excel and Word reports in .NET, without requiring Microsoft Office to be installed on the server. In addition to legacy binary file formats XLS and DOC, OfficeWriter supports OOXML files. With the addition of PowerPointWriter, SoftArtisans has expanded into PowerPoint file formats, including PPTX. As a trusted part of enterprise applications, OfficeWriter is easier to use than the OpenXML SDK, and, unlike automating Office on the server, is scalable and optimized for use in ASP.NET. The new product version is now available for download through their site at www.officewriter.com.


About SoftArtisans
SoftArtisans is a leading developer of Microsoft Office format reporting software. A key Microsoft partner, SoftArtisans delivers award-winning products to over 20,000 clients in more than 70 countries. SoftArtisans also offers a wide range of technical services that enable clients in industries ranging from finance to healthcare to government, to maximize their reporting abilities with OfficeWriter. Headquartered in Watertown, MA, SoftArtisans has been honored as one of North America’s 500 fastest-growing technology companies.

Elise Kovi

Upgrading from OfficeWriter 8.x to 9.0

If you are upgrading from OfficeWriter 8.x to OfficeWriter 9, there are a couple important things to note before you install OfficeWriter 9. Running the OfficeWriter 9.0 automatic installer, remove any previous versions of OfficeWriter on your server. If you intend on having OfficeWriter 8 and OfficeWriter 9 run on the same server, special installation steps will need to be followed. Another issue to consider when upgrading is that several deprecated objects have now been removed from the API.

Running OfficeWriter 8.X to 9.0 on the Same Server

Running the OfficeWriter 9.0 automatic installer will remove any previous OfficeWriter 8 installations on the server.

  1. Any version 8 license keys will be removed from the registry
  2. The Program Files folder will be overwritten by the new version
  3. OfficeWriter integration with SSRS installation will also be overwritten.

You will need to preserve the OfficeWriter 8 license key if you have applications on the server that use OfficeWriter 8.

If you want to run OfficeWriter 8.X and 9. 0 on the same server, please choose one of the two following installation paths before beginning to install OfficeWriter 9.

Option 1 Add v8 License Key after Running v9 Installer

Your first option is to record or backup your OfficeWriter 8 license key before running the OfficeWriter 9 installer. During the installation process, your OfficeWriter 8 license key will be removed from the registry and any applications using this license key will not work. However, once the installation is complete, you can run the License Manager program found in the SoftArtisans program files folder and re-add your OfficeWriter 8 license key there.

  1.  Record your license key
    1. Write down your OfficeWriter 8 license key
      1. Open C:\Program Files\SoftArtisans\OfficeWriter\LicenseManager.exe
      2. Click the dropdown to see the installed keys
      3. Copy your installed OfficeWriter 8 license key
    2. OR Export the OfficeWriter 8 license key in the registry.
      1. Enter regedit.exe to get to the registry
      2. Navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Licenses\SoftArtisans
      3. Go to File->Export and enter a file name. Make sure Export Range is set to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Licenses\SoftArtisans
      4. Save the file to your desktop.
  2. OPTIONAL: Back up the C:\\Program Files\SoftArtisans folder.
  3. Run the OfficeWriter 9 installer
  4. Add your OfficeWriter 8 License Key
    1. If you wrote down the license key:
      1. Run License Manager by going to C:\Program Files\SoftArtisans\OfficeWriter\LicenseManager.exe
      2. Enter your version 8 key in the “New Key” field
      3. Click “Add/Upgrade”
      4. Hit “OK”.
    2. If you exported the version 8 license keys
      1. Go to the registry
      2. Import the keys by clicking File->Import and selecting the registry keys file on the Desktop.

Option 2 Manual v9 Installation

You can also do a manual installation of OfficeWriter 9 to prevent your version 8 license key from being removed.

  1.  Download the OfficeWriter 9 Installer to your desktop
  2. Unpack the V9 Installation Files without Installing OfficeWriter 9
    1. Open Command Prompt and navigate to the desktop by entering: cd desktop
    2. Enter the command msiexec /a C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME\Desktop\OfficeWriterInstaller-9.0.0-x64.msi /qb TARGETDIR=C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME\Desktop\OW9UNPACKED
    3. This will unpack the installer files into a folder on your desktop called “OW9UNPACKED”
  3. Copy the SoftArtisans folder inside of OW9UNPACKED
  4. Paste the SoftArtisans folder into C:\\Program Files.
  5. Run the License Manager inside of the OW9UNPACKED folder
    1. Enter your version 9 key in the “New Key” field
    2. Click “Add/Upgrade”
    3. Hit “OK”.
  6. If you are integrating with SSRs, follow these manual SSRS integration instructions.

API Methods and Properties Removed in Version 9

Some API methods and properties that were deprecated in OfficeWriter 8 have now been completely removed from the OfficeWriter 9 API. For more information, please visit this link.

How to Format Rows or Columns only if they Contain Values


You want to apply particular styles or formats, but only to rows or columns that actually contain values. Here are some examples of styles and formats that you might want to apply to specific rows or columns:

  • Background/Foreground colors
  • Borders
  • Fonts
  • Text orientation, justification, indentation, orientation, number format
  • Horizontal/vertical alignment
  • Cell locked/unlocked when worksheet is protected


Conditional formatting is useful if you wish to apply particular formatting that changes depending on the actual values in the cells. Go to Conditional formatting resources.

A similar technique can be used to format just an area. For specifics, see Format an area instead of rows or columns.


This solution has several steps:

  1. Define an area that contains the populated cells in order to determine which rows and columns to format.
  2. Create the style to apply.
  3. Loop through the rows or columns in the area and apply the style to each row or column.

Step 1:

Get the populate cells in the worksheet. There are two ways to do this:

A. Worksheet.Populated Cells – 

Use Worksheet.PopulatedCells to return an area of all the cells that are populated starting with the top left cell that contains a value or formatting, down to the bottom right cells. It includes both cells with values/formulas as well as cells that contain formatting (e.g. background color, conditional format etc.)

ExcelApplication xla = new ExcelApplication();
Workbook wb = xla.Open("MyUnformattedWB.xlsx");
Worksheet ws = wb.Worksheets["SheetToFormat"];
Area populatedArea = ws.PopulatedCells;


B. Use a named range

Add a named range in the template file around the area that will contain the populated cells and then use Worksheet.GetNamedRange(String) or Workbook.GetNamedRange(String) to retrieve the named range. Use Range.Areas to get a handle on the desired area.

This is less expensive than Worksheet.PopulatedCells since ExcelWriter does not need to go through the worksheet to figure out which cells contain values.  There are some limitations to this approach:

  • The number of columns in the named range will not change after data is imported. If there are columns in the populated named range that do not contain data, the named range won’t reflect that.
  • The number of rows in the named range will only change after data is imported if  the named range is wrapped around ExcelTemplate data markers and new rows are inserted.
  • If you are using Worksheet.ImportData, the named range will not update to reflect where the live data is.
ExcelApplication xla = new ExcelApplication();
Workbook wb = xla.Open("MyUnformattedWB.xlsx");
Range myRange = wb.GetNamedRange("AreaWithValues");
Area populatedArea = myRange.Areas[0];

Step 2:

Create the desired Style with Workbook.CreateStyle().

For this example, we want to leave the populated cells unlocked, but leave the rest of the cells locked when the worksheet is protected. This is done by setting Style.CellLocked.

Style unlockStyle = wb.CreateStyle();
unlockStyle.CellLocked = false;

Step 3:

Determine the first row/column in the area with Area.FirstColumn or Area.FirstRow. Get the total number of rows/columns in the populated area with Area.RowCount or Area.ColumnCount.

int colStart = populatedArea.FirstColumn;
int totalCol = populatedArea.ColumnCount;

Step 4:

Iterate through the rows/columns with Worksheet.GetColumnProperties(int) or Worksheet.GetRowProperties(int). Call ApplyStyle on the appropriate RowProperties or ColumnProperties with ColumnProperties.ApplyStyle(Style) or RowProperties.ApplyStyle(Style). Applying the style on an entire row or column will consume less memory than applying the styles to individual cells.

for(int i = colStart; i < totalCol; i++)
//For worksheet protection, we also need to protect the worksheet

Additional References:

Applying Formatting to just an Area instead of Rows or Columns

If you want to apply the formatting just to specific cells, you can use Area.ApplyStyle()  or Area.SetStyle() instead of looping through the area to apply the style to each row or column.

IMPORTANT: This is only recommended for small areas.  Area.ApplyStyle and Area.SetStyle apply the style to each cell within the area, which increases the time and memory needed to process the file.  Applying styles on a per-row or per-column basis is the recommended best practice since the style is applied to the RowProperties or ColumnProperties object, instead to each individual cell.

Conditional Formatting