Excel @ mentions approach general availability on the desktop

Microsoft's Excel is to continue its march to be the coolest software kid on the block as @ mentions move closer to general availability for the desktop version.

It has been a while coming (the ability to create, assign and track tasks in a workbook was added to the Microsoft 365 roadmap in January 2021) but by October, the software vendor says users will be able to pop in an @ to send some formula-based goodness to their pals.

The 35-year-old spreadsheet was in the news recently over its foray into the world of esports. As well as being yet more evidence of its hip credentials, using the @ key to assign work and draw people's attention will be useful for those whose teams have trouble keeping up with all the workbook changes.

The assigning of tasks using the @ mention first arrived in Excel for the web back in 2020, with those on the receiving end getting email notifications letting them know they need to act. At the time, Microsoft said it was working on bringing the functionality to the venerable desktop incarnation and so here we are. Exactly why it took the company so long to get the function up and running is open to question.

The approach is common in the industry. As well as messaging platforms, such as Teams, Microsoft's rivals have long supported the tagging of users. Google, Slack, and Atlassian are among proponents. The use of the @ symbol as a means to ensure other users know you're talking to them was first floated on social media network Twitter in 2007.

The use of @ mentions is already in use across other programs in Microsoft's productivity suite of tools, with the approach made popular by messaging platforms turning up in the comments of documents to tag people (although you need to be using Outlook for it to work).

We look forward to seeing what Microsoft does next to ensure that its productivity suite does not go quietly into middle age. The replacing of functions with emojis seems an easy win (a frowny face for anything to do with pivot tables, anyone?).

How else might Excel be dragged from the clutches of the accounting department and made cooler than cool? We welcome your suggestions below. ®

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