Is the Office button a menu or a dialog box?

Another of Simon’s excellent posts about the Ribbon and other parts of the Fluent UI in Excel 2007 has prompted me to respond. Read the ribbon file blunderfest, where Simon says (I snipped a few bits out here for brevity, and the bold is mine):

I already mentioned the lack of file open icon, and previously I have talked about the ridiculous blob. And the initial flashing they had to incorporate to tell us its a button. But when you actually get closer it just gets sillier – I really wouldn’t have thought that was possible!

When you click and look, if you decide to cancel and move to the traditional cancel location (lower right) and click that button, does it close the file open dialog/ribbon? Or does it close Excel?

Everyone I have asked (and me) has accidentally closed Excel numerous times before eventually learning that this particular piece of the interface is not ‘normal’. In fact to cancel that thing you click anywhere else in Excel – and Excel ignores the click but closes the dialog! How ridiculous is that?

They have created a thing that is not as powerful or controllable as a dialog, but is too big and intrusive to be a menu or toolbar so they butchered an existing UI concept – the click away to cancel menu concept to work with this quasi dialog. But dialogs never worked like that before or in other applications. So now Office is the most friction-full application in the widows world (excluding perhaps Ulead products).

So, does the Office button bring up a (poor) dialog, or is it just a menu?

Sorry Simon but I have to disagree with you on this one (I seem to recall being told I was the voice of balance on smurfonspreadsheets by someone…).

Just because you think it’s a dialogue and call it a dialogue does not mean it is a dialog or should behave like one. Shredding a straw man / ribbon does not make a valid argument. To me it looks and behaves pretty much like I would expect a menu to behave:

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Excel cell styles – useful feature or waste of ribbon space?

I agree with Simon in his article about the usefulness of cell styles in Excel, where he says:

Styles in Excel are one of those things that sound good in theory, but are significantly worse than useless in reality. In an isolated world they may work but as soon as you start copying a pasting between workbooks…then you get a right royal style mess.

Cell styles as a concept seem pretty weak to me. The built-in ones are hopeless; I know hardly anyone (actually no-one that I could name right now) that uses them.

I have recently done some extensive work for a client on a set of templates, themes, etc for the whole Office suite. For the Excel templates I included some cell styles to make it quick to format things in “corporate” colours for headings and so on (as well as default table styles for the same reason). This provides user convenience and helps them create more consistent documents with more of a “branded” feel to them.

As to imposing a regime of “pink means bad” and “orange double underline means linked” (linked to what?), no chance.

Why styles don’t address the real need for good formatting

I teach students on my Excel training courses that formatting of spreadsheets should be used for three purposes:

  • to highlight (data outliers; estimates as opposed to actuals)
  • to group or associate data together (months in the same quarter or year having a light shaded background say, next group no background; using matching colour for axes and lines in a two-series chart with two different scales)
  • to separate data by category or type (line above the first month of a new year; making the title row bold)

These principles of using formats to help interpret the data, rather than help it look pretty tend to get people focussed on the task rather than the appearance. The built-in cell styles only seem to address the concept of highlighting, rather than being useful for grouping or separating. The highlighting they provide seems arbitrary at best, and quite likely to cause headaches with some of the colours involved.

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Changing many cells in Excel to recalculate new values after VAT changes

So you have a spreadsheet with lots of values in – future monthly invoices for service contracts, say. Actual values, not calculations which multiply up by a VAT rate stored in another cell, or a named range, or even as a fixed number in a formula. And the Chancellor of the Exchequer just announced that the VAT rate (sales tax for our colonial cousins) has changed so all your values are now going to be wrong for the next twelve months.

What can you do to change many cells at once by a specific amount?

A few approaches spring to mind, depending on the scale of the problem and the structure of your data.

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Excel 2007 calculation bug fix released after two weeks

A fix for the Excel 2007 calculation bug affecting results around 65535 and 65536 has been released in the last few hours. The Excel team blog post says:

As of today, fixes for this issue in Excel 2007 and Excel Services 2007 are available for download…We are in the process of adding this fix to Microsoft Update so that it will get automatically pushed to users running Excel 2007 or Excel Services 2007.  Additionally, the fix will also be contained in the first service pack of Office 2007 when it is released (the release date for SP1 of Office 2007 has not been finalized).

Microsoft knowledgebase article KB943075 discusses the fix and gives the usual details for what versions and sizes the updated files should have after the fix. The version number of Excel.exe is altered from 12.0.6024.5000 to 12.0.6042.5000. Now read that again – yes, easy to miss the difference from ’24’ to ’42’ if you look too quickly. (NB: you may have a different version, mine is at 12.0.6024 after installing the security update as per KB936509, as far as I can tell.)

The download for the fix for Excel 2007 (33Mb exe file) is linked from the Excel team blog as well as from the KB article. The blog post also has links for Excel Services 2007, both 32 bit and 64 bit.

Excel 2007 bug shows wrong answers to simple multiplications

This is a follow-up post to my earlier one about a bug in the way Excel 2007 displays the results of certain calculations. Read that one first of you have not already done so.

A few people in the comments thread in the Excel team blog post about the bug seem to have some misconceptions about the seriousness of the problem. Some have asked how often it is likely to come up, implying that they think it is vanishingly unlikely. This seems to be particularly those who have misunderstood that the example of 850*77.1 is only one simple example which is easy to remember and to type, but there are several more simple ones as well as thousands of other combinations which lead to the buggy result (due to floating point rounding errors in the calculation hitting a result which is sufficiently close to 65,535 to cause the false display of 100,000). Nine examples are shown in the screenshot below, and in a table you can easily copy and paste to try this for yourself.

» See some simple examples and find out more about functions which reproduce the error, and which ignore it safely»