The second difficulty was that the code ran very slowly. ... My conjecture (though I have no hard data to back it up) is that the problem was my cell-at-a-time code.
This may well be the case. Writing data to Excel via Win32::OLE can be significantly faster if you write it in one go. Example from ActivePerl-Winfaq12:
my $Range = $Sheet->Range("A2:C7");
[['Delivered', 'En route', 'To be shipped'],
[504, 102, 86],
[670, 150, 174],
[891, 261, 201],
[1274, 471, 321],
[1563, 536, 241]];
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