Review: StrikeIron OnDemand Web Services for Microsoft Excel

StrikeIron OnDemand Web Services for Microsoft Excel
Starting at $99.95
StrikeIron, Inc.
Durham, North Carolina
(919) 405-7010

Web services have been around for a few years now, but after the initial splash and promise of being the greatest thing since sliced white broadband, they seem to have largely dropped out of the news. That's despite the fact that there is actually a wide range of useful information available via Web services, from sales tax rates to address verification to Do Not Call lists to stock market updates. Part of the problem is that it's tough for the ordinary end user to connect to and grab information from a Web service.

StrikeIron has been tackling that part of the problem for a while, and with this latest product they have done a simply amazing job of unlocking Web services for the average business user. Basically, if you're a reasonably experienced Excel user, you can use Web services. I'd say if you're comfortable inserting a range of data from a database, this product would make you equally comfortable building a spreadsheet to do a stock market lookup.

Part of the key is that StrikeIron hides almost all of the tangle of Web service-specific language from the user. After a painless installation (you need to have the .NET Framework on the computer, but that's getting to be a common requirement), you'll find a StrikeIron menu added to Excel. Open it up and select "OnDemand Web Services" to get a list of all Web services hooked up to the current workbook. The "New" button lets you add new Web services. If you're experienced, you can point to a WSDL file or a UDDI server. If you're not, no problem: enter a search term and search StrikeIron's own extensive listing.

From there, it's a matter of selecting the Web service that you want to use, and then integrating it with the workbook. You do this by dragging and dropping input and output fields wherever you'd like to see them. Dismiss all the dialog boxes, fill in the input fields, and select the Refresh item from the StrikeIron menu. Behind the scenes, StrikeIron makes the Web services calls and fills in the output cells. You never have to write a line of code or even a formula. In a nice touch, if someone without the add-in tries to open a StrikeIron-enabled workbook they'll be warned that they need the add-in and told where to get it.

It's tough to imagine an easier way to hook things up short of the mind-reading interface that we don't quite have yet. StrikeIron works with any Web service you can find, but they also have their own selection of premium Web services for things like reverse phone number lookup or real time stock information that you can subscribe to on a per-hit basis. You can try those services out on their Web site if you'd like to, where you can also download a 30-day free trial of the Excel add-in. If you're ready to take a bet on Web sevices for the business end user this is one to check out for sure.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.