8.1. Understanding Templates
Before you begin using and creating templates, it's important to understand what they really are. Many template novices assume that templates are a special sort of file that's similar to Excel spreadsheets. However, the crafty individuals who created Excel actually designed template files so that, except for the file extension Excel gives them and the folder in which Excel stores them, they're exactly the same as spreadsheet files. (Whether this feature is a brilliant masterstroke of simple, elegant design, or the product of terminally overworked programmers is up to you to decide.)
If you use a tool like Windows Explorer to look in a folder that contains spreadsheet files and template files, you'll notice that templates always have the file extension .xlt instead of .xls. For example, Invoice.xlt may be a template file for creating invoices, while Invoice-01.xls would be an actual invoice. However, you can put the same type of data in both files: elaborately formatted worksheets, formulas, numbers, text, and so on.
Based on this similarity, you may wonder why you should bother using templates at all. The difference is in how Excel handles templates. Here are some of the differences:
Finally, it's easy to distinguish template files (the blueprints) from real spreadsheets because the file extensions are different. The file icon also looks slightly different.
Most organizations and businesses maintain a group of templates that define things like standard layout and formulas for common types of spreadsheets, such as invoices and expense reports. Some organizations store these templates in a central location on a network file server or Web server (the two best options), or just distribute them to each employee who needs them.
So how do you put templates to work? First things first: before you try to create a template, you'll want to see a few in action.