I spend a lot of time here writing about the new Office 12 UI. And why not--it's the project I work on and I'm proud of the work our team is doing.

But in reality, the purpose of any UI framework is to support the programs using it--and ultimately to enable them to provide awesome user experiences.

One of the things that blows me away in Excel 12 are the new data visualizations. This is an area in which the new UI technologies (the Ribbon, Galleries, Live Preview) and new capabilities in Excel (Conditional Formatting improvements, new graphics functionality) come together to make something great.

I use Excel a lot, but I'm not an incredibly hard-core user; generally, I throw some data in the grid and push it around. Excel for me is a decision-support tool. I use it to analyze and visualize my data to help make good decisions.

For that reason, the fact that I can make something like the following picture in just one click in Excel 12 is enough already that I dread having to use previous versions.

Just one click to apply this automatic formatting in Excel 12

I'm sure it must have been possible to make things like this in Excel 2003--probably through writing fancy VBA code or by finding and buying $200 add-ins.

But I never spent the hours necessary figuring out how to create something like this. Now that I have these capabilities at my fingertips, I find them indispensable. "Format as Table" and "Conditional Formatting" on the first tab of Excel might just be the two commands I use the most frequently in Excel 12.

What really rocks is seeing Live Preview in action with Conditional Formatting. As you hover over all the choices in the gallery, your data is instantaneously updated to show you what the visualizations look like. Finding the most meaningful one takes just a few seconds. This is all working in current builds, and it's one of my favorite parts of Office 12.

If you use Excel to analyze data, you owe it to yourself to read all about Conditional Formatting on the venerable Excel team blog. (I'd recommend starting at the bottom and reading up.)

Have a great weekend everyone!