Excel 2007 ate my work

The call was from somebody senior, well respected, well paid, under pressure and now well chuffing annoyed.



Thus started one of the most amusing demonstrations of the Ribbon teams complete and utter lack of understanding of Office use in the real world.

Our user, lets call him Mister Angry from Fookin-Fumingville, had just been ‘upgraded’ (Microsofts term – not mine, not the preferred term of most experienced Excellers, and certainly not Mr Angry’s opinion) overnight to the latest Microsoft Office System ™.

He came in to work the next day, as usual updating his market price spreadsheet to reflect the previous days close. Except this wasn’t ‘usual’… not by a long way.

When you look at the Fail UI in Excel, do you see a file open icon? (probably THE most common first file operation on planet earth (certainly the corporate bit anyway).

Basci Ribbon home tab

Basic Ribbon home tab

Do you see anything that could be a file Icon?

Yep so did he, click the blue floppy button, browse to the file, try to ‘open’ it, overwrite it with the fresh new default blank file, call Simon and shout at him. (Act surprised when Simon turns and and pisses himself laughing)

Thank heavens for Shadow Copy is all I can say, revert to yesterdays saved version, open, update, job done.

Now, we could blame user error.  And perhaps if I thought the effluent UI offered anything of value to normal people I might try and defend it, but honestly? No obvious way to open previous work? I think its a perfect example of the gross skewing to inexperienced users in the misinformation they used to destroy a great productivity suite.

And this is not an isolated incident, plenty of other users, including me, have struggled to quickly and simply open existing files (ALT F O… (FO- how fitting ;-)), and plenty continue to not notice the save button up there in the title bar area, rather than down in the application user interface.

I have thought for a while that some of these common dialogs are too similar, especially when their usage is so different. On my VMs I colour each desktop a different vivid colour so I know which one I’m looking at. Maybe they could do the same with the File Open and file save as dialogs?

Why did they get it so wrong? Maybe they missed all those file open operations that get triggered from Explorer. Maybe the unrepresentative sample of beginners that allowed the Customer Experience program simply create their shopping lists, print it and close Excel, maybe they don’t know how to save?

Anyone else seen this accidental file overwrite?

Anyone else think the common dialogs are a bit too similar?



More ribbon posts tomorrow, and for the rest of the week…

14 Responses to “Excel 2007 ate my work”

  1. Harlan Grove Says:

    I agree that the absence of a File tab was really stupid. Hiding file system, printing and options behind the new Office logo button was stupid. And not including a file open icon in the default QAT was stupid.

    But the user in question here should have seen the word SAVE and not seen the word OPEN in the dialog when he clicked the disk icon in the QAT. Further, this user must have completely ignored and/or misunderstood the warning dialog that even Excel 2007 would display warning the user they were about to OVERWRITE the file in question. Sorry. This particular user seems to be neck-and-neck with the ribbon designers when it comes to blockheadedness.

    Then again I completely agree that the lack of a file-open command in the Home(?!) tab is inexplicable. I think I’ve used the analogy before that it’s like an automobile manufacturer replacing the break pedal with a button in the ash tray.

    The only explanation for the ribbon that makes any sense is that OpenOffice can’t use it.

  2. Mike Staunton Says:

    And if it really was his most critical file, surely he’d make a copy of the old file every day and/or carry it around on a USB stick

  3. Ross Says:

    >>Then again I completely agree that the lack of a file-open command in the Home(?!) tab is inexplicable.

    The person that did this should be shoot. I can’t for the live of me imagie the discussions that must have been had?!

    >>it’s like an automobile manufacturer replacing the break pedal with a button in the ash tray.

    Brilliant, that is what its like madness!

    >>I have thought for a while that some of these common dialogues are too similar, especially when their usage is so different.

    I can see your point. If the functions are the same then it’s ok for the foot print to be the same, but they should have some clear way of visually being different. If the functions are different then I would think that they should look different anyway, making everything look the same makes it harder to know what does what.

    >>and/or carry it around on a USB stick

    Carry it around on a USB stick? that sounds secure! ;-)

    >>Anyone else seen this accidental file overwrite?
    >>Further, this user must have completely ignored and/or misunderstood the warning dialogue.

    Seen it?! I do it myself about once a month, that or open 2 files with the same name, or some other stupid thing. Harlan, are you saying that you read every message and warning box that you computer throws at you, that you never make an error? Fair play if you do, but I know a lot of people who regularly fall fowl of this type of thing.

  4. Simon Says:

    Harlan, I kind of agree on the neck and necked-ness between user and UI designer, except they told us experienced user to stop being so selfish the new UI was to help less experienced users. Which would make this guy their target audience, and they failed him- big time.

    Mike – shadow copy = life saver (when its working) USB would have got him a slap.

    Ross – over time I’ve just learnt that certain operations require extra clicks – like file delete = delete then enter. I ignore close to 90% of dialogs that pop up during an operation. That works fine in Windows (usually), in Linux those dialogs are normally important.
    I turn off as many warnings as possible in Excel, but I tried turning off the warn before delete setting in explorer, I prefer that on and use an extra keystroke.

  5. Mike Staunton Says:

    Fortunately I work in an environment where there are no constraints on what I can do to backup key files – so I was just using USB as an option but my main point was that, at the very least, I would keep some copies of previous files just in case I did something silly with the original file

    But if no such disasters occurred, then Simon wouldn’t get to demonstrate what a genius he is – for which the world would be a much poorer place!

  6. Harlan Grove Says:


    When I OPEN files, I either see no dialog after the File-Open dialog or I see the macro security dialog, which is relatively large and has 3 buttons. When I SAVE files, I either see no dialog (meaning no like-named file exists where I’m saving it) or I see the file overwrite warning dialog, which is relatively small and has only 2 buttons. For me, the differences in the second dialogs (when they appear) are sufficient to warn me whether I’m about to overwrite any files.


    Anyone else use version control archives? My important files are stored in RCS archives. I can blast the working files with little damage done. The only time I’ve ever been nailed by data loss was when the harddisk on my first work PC that had a harddisk died on me. Long, long time ago. Backup onto different media has been part of my weekly work regimen since.


    “Anyone else use version control archives? ”

    I used to love Novells’s “Recover” (or whatever it was called) where every Save gets Saved to a new area of the Network storage so you can step back throuhg muliple versions of the same file any time – it was awesome. If the disk starts getting full it dropped the oldest versions seemlessly.

    I understand there is something similar available now in Windows but haven’t had to seek it out yet. Your man coulda used that capability…. I don’t believe it isn’t SOP for all networks frankly.


  8. ross Says:

    Don’t underestimate your powers of concentration!!! 99 out of a hundred I do the same thing, but there’s always that one time, when you drop the ball, and your furious at your self!
    In Simon’s example, I guess the point is that you can take steps to avoid it happen – but to some extent it’s impossible to completely avoid it we all make mistakes! – I seem to make more than everyone else, which is annoying!

    >>”Anyone else use version control archives?”

    I tent to back up excel file (and VS projects) with a date system and a copy of the file.

    What system are you/others using for version control Excel docs?

  9. AdamV Says:

    It sounds like he would also have had to go through the steps of switching to show “All files” or Excel 97-2003 files to see his old format spreadsheet, unless it was already in the new format (and he had been running with the compatibility pack for 2003) or IT have policied the install to force compatibility mode on upgraded users.

    As for seeing the Open button, I just can’t fathom out why all the items which are available on the picklist for the QAT in each app are not simply enabled by default.
    “Let’s add these to a picklist so people don’t have to find the button before they can add it here”
    “Great, but let’s still leave some turned off so people can tick a couple and feel like a power user with a customised environment”

    The flashing Office button does help with discoverability, but it’s still not ideal.

    Any major upgrade (in whatever terms you take that to mean) should be accompanied by training of some sort. Even an hour or two giving people the quick tour of where Office 2007 has it’s new features would be quickly repaid in improved (or at least maintained) levels of efficiency and productivity, and hopefully avoid such gaffes as this one.

  10. Bob Phillips Says:

    … The flashing Office button does help with discoverability, but it’s still not ideal…

    I never saw it flash myself, and only found this out when someone posted the details. So not that much help. And does hiding Copy Picture under Paste>As Picture hep discoverability?

  11. jonpeltier Says:

    I never saw the orb flash on any of my machines. I doubt I would have thought it meant “click here for more cool stuff”, I would have thought it meant “wow, isn’t the new ribbon grand?”

    Bob – It took me literally months to discover where the Copy Picture command had been hidden. I would open up the VBE and type code into the Immediate window. Which still may be faster than navigating down four or five levels.

    Speaking of levels, how about the excavation required to install an add-in? Fortunately I still remember alt-t-i.

  12. Bob Phillips Says:

    Jon, I have an Addin button on the QAT :-). As for addins, real Excel users don’t install addins, they either buy one with a self-installer, or they don’t know what an addin is. It is only perverse individuals like yourself, a few MVPs (), and they can be ignored.

    What’s the bet that they remove the old Alt key shortcuts soon on the basis that it was only to help migrate, and we’re all comfortable with the ease of use of the Ribbon now.

    Carrying on with the rant, I can understand why MS are ploughing on with the ribbon, they have invested so much, but why are other sane companies also buying into it, they have no vested interest? And what will Simon do when OpenOffice adopts it. LOL!

  13. Simon Says:

    I think most of us have dropped into the VBAIDE out of desperation at times. I know MS Office folks who have to do it, and I know I do.

  14. Blue Ribbon Interface | PTS Blog Says:

    […] Excel 2007 ate my work […]

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