UPDATE (2DEC13): ExcelWebApp continues to improve.
They’ve added key validation features that didn’t exist when I originally published this blogpost in October 2012.
See: App Development in Excel and Break-Even Calculator


This was an unplanned blog post. I accidentally published my experimentation. So, now that part of the world has seen it, I’ll share what I was doing. In this world of Data Management there is growing need to go between the desktop, the internet, and back again. So, I’m sharing this as the tale of a fellow and his journey to bring a 1-minute Excel solution to the internet as an embedded online calculator.

Let's look at online calculators   When I build a blog post, I often have to re-size photos. An original image might be 1730 x 1331 and, of course, that’s way too big. I might like to know: what is 35% of the original size? Such a calculation is easy to create in Excel. Less than 60 seconds and it’s done. Next question:

What does it take to have a custom online calculator embedded in a website? It would be nice to not have full-on Excel open just to do this calculation. So, I made various attempts and here is what I found:

  • JavaScript: not ready to drop straight into WordPress.
  • PHP: Too much of a learning curve.
  • Jazzy Forms (WordPress Plugin): Easiest to get going and effective. Minor complaint: I don’t like the vertical layout.
  • Excel Webb App: Interactive but TOO interactive.
  • Embedded Google Spreadsheet: BOOOOO! Just frikken a picture.


JavaScript   There are lots of free scripts that can be copied from the author’s site and pasted into your own site, as long as the creator’s name and email remain intact. However, getting the script to work in WordPress requires additional steps because there are protections in WordPress that prevent simple copy/paste of JavaScript.

JavaScript, Ajax, Python and other languages can be used in WordPress, they just aren’t plug-and-play.

PHP   OMG! The learning curve on this is maddening—unless you do want to become a programmer. PHP is granular, and allows ultimate control. But, until you’re facile with it you can spent lots of time looking for the missing curly bracket.

BTW: PHP coders can be snobs. Watch out. Tell them that you can build a calculator in Excel in 60 seconds, and the PHP coder will have a “yeah but …

Jazzy Forms (INTERACTIVE)   A WordPress plugin got me what I wanted! Easy to configure. Does the job.

I don’t like the vertical layout and there are some things I need to look into; e.g. the percent format. I would like to input “31” instead of “0.31” and there’s probably a way to do it. I just need to explore the admin panel more. Maybe there’s also a way to change the layout.

Go ahead. Use the calculator!

(See the Update at the top of this page. ExcelWebApp now includes the validation features that I complained about it not having in October 2013. There are dropdown lists and cell protections now. YAAYYYYY!)

Excel Web App (INTERACTIVE)   AWWW Hell, naw! It’s great that the calculator is interactive but there is no validation; i.e., no control of what users can do. Can’t prevent users from inputting information into the wrong cells. Can’t guide them to the right cells.

No validation also means: no dropdown boxes, no prevention of people inputting words where numbers should go.

This really hurt my heart. It was like ordering Kung Pao Chicken, and getting 90% rice, and 3 tiny bits of chicken. (You know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.)

Also, the Excel Web App timed-out on me and gave me a “Continue” button to bring the calculator back. Go ahead and try it out. The math works, the cursor moves pretty cool. And also notice how you can move the cursor to places there there’s nothing happening.

Google Spreadsheet (INTERACTIVE)   YUK! A static image.
No interactivity, just a snapshot of the living spreadsheet.
At least is doesn’t tease us like the Excel Web App does.

There are other solutions, applications, training, etc. I found a company that says they fully convert spreadsheets into interactive web-based tools. And, understandably, it costs a decent amount of money.

Also, some of the examples I provided may never have been meant for use as online calculators. I present them because they were the ideas I thought of first.

Hmmm … Google spreadsheet is online, it does calculations and there are instructions on embedding it in website. But … oh … once embedded it’s not interactive.

The purpose of this exercise was to see what it takes to go from a 60-second desktop solution to a functioning online calculator, and do a little work to learn a little something along the way. I hope you learned something and can avoid the blind alleys I went down. And definitely share solutions that you’re aware of.

photo credit: Gunnsi via photopin cc