If you're an Excel whiz who can throw data into cells and have it all come out perfectly neat, color-coded, and saved as a formula, you'll be impressed by Refinate 3 from AnalogDigital Engineering. This free/free-to-try Excel add-on is simply the most versatile spreadsheet extension we've tried.
While the basic program with reduced features is free, Refinate also installs a monthlong trial of the full version. Refinate's full version isn't cheap, but it's clearly aimed at professional users, especially those in engineering, manufacturing, and purchasing. In fact, it grew out of a printed circuit board maker's need for a better bill of materials (BOM) system. It's become an extremely flexible tool for organizing and managing data inside Excel, with data mining, data grooming, conversions, and even useful everyday features like contacts management.
When you install Refinate, we recommend reading the brief text describing how to load the add-in for your version of Excel. Most users can simply click Refinate's desktop icon to open Excel with Refinate installed. A set-up dialog gave us the opportunity to enter a license and set up some printer and viewing options. Refinate's main interface is the free-floating Refinate Window, a very small but feature-packed dialog. We would have clicked Help to open Refinate's 53-page PDF manual except we had the manual open already.
It took some time to become familiar with Refinate's basic operation for two reasons: as the developer points out, "applications for Refinate are limitless," and its tightly focused toolbar is not especially intuitive, so you can't really just start fooling around with it. However, hovering the cursor over any feature, control, or option produces pop-up explanations and definitions that are a great help, especially when it comes to finding things in the manual.
We started very simple with Refinate, creating a basic workbook and sampling Refinate's options. An extensive drop-down list of scripts let us try a variety of features, with lots of pop-up dialogs offering specific controls. We're confident that users with specific needs will find Refinate not only intuitive but also easy to use.