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How can we improve Excel for Windows (Desktop Application)?

Restore MDI file handling (open all files in one window); Kill SDI (each spreadsheet opens in a seperate window)

In the good versions of Excel (prior to 2007) one could open multiple workbooks in the same window. Now, one has multiple instances of Excel (and every other Office app) whenever one opens more than one document / spreadsheet. Quite stupid.

(2016-04-27 Dan [MS] - updated title to fix MDI/SDI usage - they were previously being used "backwards")

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    LilBro shared this idea  ·   ·  Flag idea as inappropriate…  ·  Admin →
    Accepting Votes  ·  AdminExcel Team [MSFT] (Admin, responded  · 

    Thanks for all of the votes – the team has definitely taken notice of the activity around this issue. We moved to SDI as a result of customer requests, but it looks like we’ve got work to do to really nail the use cases people care about. From a read over the comments, I see a number of cases that we will want to investigate further as we think through MDI vs SDI. We’ll get someone from the team to take a deeper look, and we may reach out to some of you for more clarification as we go. Thanks again for all the voting and passion here!

    John, Excel


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      • Roy commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        I'm looking for the following things:

        1) EVERY spreadsheet opens in the SAME instance of Excel. NO MATTER how I open them, every last method of opening them works like this and it does not matter where I open them from (including from inside other programs, Outlook being an example). ONLY if I intentionally force an new instance does one ever happen.

        2) EVERY one of them comes with a ribbon, etc., and looks and acts like it owns the world. (Better yet, bring back real menus and ditch the ribbon.) When they open, they open in their own windows which will be "normal" windows if I set it that way or maximized windows if I set it that way. There will be no tiling inside one workspace, or staggering, or whatever. They each get their own full window. If I wish to do side by side, I set that up.

        3) I have full and absolute interactivity between them. Only if I intentionally open new instances do I lose that full interactivity. That includes full value copy and paste, amongst other things, and full access via formula to any and all open files.

        4) I'd like a unique Undo stack for each but have lived 28 years without that so I can go a few days longer.

        5) Like any window, if I move it to another monitor, well, it's just on the other monitor. Nothing fancy needed, just Windows letting me move an Excel window around. I can do this because each file simply has its own window, NOT because someone chose the nuclear war option of forcing new instances. But to be explicitly clear: no returning to primitive days where the instance had a framework and a workspace and all the spreadsheets lived in the workspace... and could never be lifted out of it as their own windows.

        This is what I had using Excel 13 from an Office 365 purchase. IT couldn't make the 365 installation run on the new computer, so they dumbed it down to the Excel 13 version that could be installed instead. NOT 2010, 2013, no matter what people tell me.

        (Supposedly, I could not have had what I describe above, but I did. All with the Excel 13 available instead of the 365 installation.)

        For the time period I did try to use the suite's 365 version (it wasn't Excel that was unable to ever work safely with the computer), I experienced all the horrors I see today with Excel 16 (again from a failure of an Office 365 installation to work with a seriously plain vanilla Dell business computer). Then life returned to me. Now I'm stuck in this terrible place again.

        So... basically, it DID all work nicely as described above in the Excel 13 world which I am assured was 100% SDI.

        Which leads (finally) to the POINT:

        I don't really care about MDI vs. SDI, per se. I simply want the above, numbered, things just like I had them before when supposedly I had SDI anyway. I apparently had an SDI program, but had all the nice things about MDI which I list above. I just want the usability. MS can leave it SDI if they give me the usability I list above, back.

        I think most of us actually want precisely that and that some of the things said in order to attack and defend SDI are not really on point because apparently what is desired can be had in either situation. MS just has to return to accomodating MDI usability like they did in whatever version of Excel 13 they let one use if dumbing down from a 365 installation.

        (Not only did it tell you it was Office 13, it had formulas introduced in 13. So... Possibly there were odd files and Registry entries that hung around from the 365 installation that made it a Frankenstein monster, but a friendly, happy one.)

        As to SDI defenders, when I first came here, while using that version, I saw endless things here screaming to bring back SDI. So there is a big support for it. That's why, since it seems SDI is not, perhaps, the literal failure point here but rather removed functionality riding along with it, that there may a culture of ignoring us on the basis that we might be fervent, but don't know what we're talking about. (Thanks, MS, for giving us the benefit of believing we have the capacity to be ignorant, if that is so. Not every software provider believes that deeply in their users.) If they think that, then there's really nowhere for them to take this suggestion.

        Frighteningly, the difference I see between 13 and 16 could mean they did not remove all the MDI-like functionality with 13, but as they put 16 together, they "cleaned up" lots. And that it could get worse and worse as further releases "clean up" even more.

        All I care about is the usability I once had, and need, and apparently even when I had a full SDI version. Not about MDI vs. SDI, per se.

      • Mats Samuelsson commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        Stephen, I may add to the the problems with Personal Macro Workbook that if you use VBA to open and close additional workbooks, Excel is randomly unhiding the Personal Macro Workbook as and empty, grey workbook when at closing the later workbook. This workbook can not be closed unless you exit Excel entirely or hide the "shadow" workbook again! Furthermore, if you're working with other hidden workbooks, like we have, a currency table with links to the workbooks you're working with, you may end up with several visible "shadow" workbooks. I haven't been able to find out the conditions when this happens, it's random. Hence as many of us have concluded, Excel with SDI has terribly poor functionality and is definitely NOT any longer an application for multiple workbooks and an advanced spreadsheet environment and use of VBA. Like Anonymous stated, Excel is nowadays designed for tablets where you have very limited screen space and working with only one visible window at a time! This is a huge step backwards in the Excel development.

      • Stephen Eddleston-McGrath commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        Just adding my voice to this.
        Excel's File/Open functionality has become much more click-intensive (you click Open, THEN have to browse to get to your familiar folder structure with all your favourites in place). A quick way around this is to open Windows Explorer, and select files from there. That now launches a whole new instance for every file EVEN IF YOU MULTI-SELECT FILES IN EXPLORER.
        This is crazy. You can't link the files any more when this happens, and if you have a Personal Macro workbook, you get a warning that it is already in use for every single file opened. So I now have 5 files open with 5 copies of Personal.xlsm.

        This new behaviour is just not useful and we need to have an option to turn it off. PLEASE!

      • Greg commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        We have just been "upgraded" at my work and I just despair... I suppose lots of companies will start moving over now that its been a couple of years, maybe the problem will get more traction, but I won't hold my breath.Without going into the boring details of what we use excel for, suffice to say this change makes everything more difficult, slower, less intuitive... I hope there are some major benefits in the background, because I can't think of a single one beyond a casual user occasionally not being able to find a spreadsheet they have open somewhere. Sigh.

      • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        One more in the bucket of you guys are idiots for doing this to begin with. Your customer suggestions are for other programs and not excel. Stop favoring tablets over productivity. *********.

      • J ROGERS commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        I have not used the Apache OpenOffice. I have used the LibreOffice suite of docs, spreadsheets, etc at home since I bought a used laptop that didn't come with anything loaded on it and it is better than nothing, but I wouldn't just give it a glowing recommendation. The spreadsheet program will do pivot tables, vlookups, and most anything I need for my home use, but it is SLOW it seems and it has less formatting options and quick access options (ribbon and right click) than Excel does. I haven't tired to open multiple spreadsheets in it because I just don't do that kind of power computing at home. It does convert its format to .xls(x) or .doc(x) or etc files so that is nice. I get my spreadsheet started at home and complete complicated things in the office when the slowness gets to me or I can't get something formatted the way I want which isn't very often....

      • AnonymousAlso commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        Has anyone here attempted to see how good Apache OpenOffice Calc can replace Excel? It supports Python, JavaScript, and at least 2 other languages. I would like to hear some feedback from Excel power users on their experience and/or developers that have attempted large coding efforts between the 2 frameworks.

      • J ROGERS commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        THANK YOU! I am more tech savvy than the average office product user, but I am only at best a closet IT techie (I am an accountant by day but took some programming back in college so I know what you are talking about but try not to mess with that stuff myself because I can totally torque it up if I am not careful) so I will pass your registry suggestion on to my IT guy who is awesome and see if that gives me at least back a little of what I had. Much appreciated.

      • Roy commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        @J ROGERS:

        Some of the MDI side of things still exists but needs a Registry entry. After someone mentioned it, and I created it, I eventually had the ability to open multiple files in one instance if I used File|Open or dragged a file from Explorer ONTO the instance of Excel that I wanted it in. I can also achieve that opening a file with VBA.

        However, most of MDI is swept away even still. For instance, find a file in Explorer and click on it? Opens a new instance. I can drag it onto the running instance of Excel, drop it, and it opens in it nicely, but click on it and it opens a new instance. And in no circumstance I've tried can I open an Outlook attachment by dragging and dropping (MDI effect): no matter what I've tried, they open a new instance of Excel. Maybe using a macro?

        Anyway, the Registry edit is from a MS Support article and does give some MDI functionality back:



        Value to give (DWORD) = 0

        The Support article is:

        (You may notice it was designed, apparently, for an MDI world in which one might want strict SDI, hence a positive value for the key forces SDI only. Hence the need for the value to be zero.)

        Again, it doesn't bring my world back to being right, but it does restore some of the MDI world to me.

      • Alan Odom commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        Give up now – I’ve tried lots of things and it is impossible to truly return to MDI.

        It is hard to know if you have two separate instances running now that there is a Ribbon for every file. But, if you want a separate instance… from the Windows menu, type “Run” then type “excel.exe /x” This will open a separate Instance.

      • J ROGERS commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        AMEN Adam Odom, eloquently and accurately stated. I just wasted a 3/4 of a day trying to figure out how to open two files in one instance to no avail (FYI don't try the software called Office Tabs - it doesn't do it either). Microsoft - you owe us an update and a patch.... hide it on some obscure tab and make it something you have to "turn on" like certain other features and keep the "mainstream" users who aren't tech savvy with this "version", but bring it back.

      • Alan Odom commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        @John; @John, Excel; @Excel Admin; @Microsoft; @Excel Product Manager; @Any Microsoft employee willing to respond to our questions and concerns

        Please provide a status update regarding MDI being restored within Excel, either by default or at least as an option.

        As a recap, here are the reasons why I (and many who have posted here) want MDI restored:

        1. Stability
        * I experience ~3X Excel crashes in 2016 (SDI) as compared to 2010 (MDI)
        * Microsoft claims Excel is more stable, but my experience is the exact opposite

        2. Screen Space / Real Estate
        * Drastically reduced screen space when each workbook requires its own Ribbon, Quick Access Toolbar and Formula Bar
        * 4 workbooks arranged in MDI – 896 visible cells; 4 workbooks arranged in SDI – 560 visible cells. This is a 63% reduction of space. This is not a linear relationship – you lose a larger amount of space with each additional workbook.
        * At most, you can only work with 2 workbooks arranged Horizontally
        * Arranging Vertically compresses the Ribbons to a point of complete uselessness
        * Using multiple monitors should not be a solution for a poorly designed/downgraded product (SDI)

        3. Toolbar to Workbook Confusion
        * One Ribbon + Quick Access Toolbar + Formula Bar to control all workbooks is far less confusing (MDI)
        * In SDI, each workbook remembers its own Ribbon setting creating additional work with redundant tasks. If you want to cycle through ~10 workbooks and change anything (Font, Page Layout, View), you must change the Ribbon on all 10 workbooks. Then, if you want to change something different, you must change each Workbook Ribbon again. This is massive waste of time/productivity
        * WebEx screen sharing is virtually impossible and difficult to share a desired workbook (see J. Summie comment on 26-Oct-2018).

        4. Navigation Between Workbooks
        *a. With MDI, Ctl+Tab and Ctl+Shift+Tab worked flawlessly to cycle (forwards/backwards) through all open workbooks in a single instance of Excel. Using the same key combinations in SDI, I always see a screen “blip” of the last used non-Excel program – why? Even worse, sometimes it cycles a non-Excel program into the mix. When I’m trying to cycle between two workbooks, I do NOT want Windows Explorer thrown into the cycle!

        5. Links (across workbooks)
        * Ability to update links between workbooks is less flexible – sometimes you want links to update and sometimes you do not. In the past, we could easily open a new/separate instance of Excel and prevent links from updating between workbooks. Now, it is far more difficult to open a new/separate instance of Excel and it is more confusing to work between 2 instances

        6. VBA – macro instability
        * Running macros between multiple Excel Workbooks is not consistent in SDI – sometimes it will choose the next workbook, sometimes it does not. There are a lot of comments on this topic. I can only imagine the countless hours of VBA work that have been destroyed by the forced SDI

        7. Closing Workbooks
        * With MDI, you could close and save ALL workbooks with a couple of mouse clicks. In SDI, you must close and save each workbook individually. If you have ~10 large workbooks open at once this will require you to stay engaged in the process as you will be forced to wait for each workbook to save, so you can save and close the next workbook (another massive waste of time/productivity).

        8. Opening Workbooks
        *With MDI, we could count on workbooks to open and be sized where we had saved them. Now, they open in the exact same size and cascade – WHY? How would you like to go to your desk every day, only to find everything in a different drawer? That’s not where you put it last time you used it?... so why keep moving things on us?

        9. Minimize/Maximize Workbooks
        * Per Kary Williams post on 6-Aug-2018, working with 12 workbooks, with MDI you could use 3 mouse clicks, but with SDI it now takes 18 mouse clicks. Do you think the customer desires to use their mouse more? Kary was one of the lucky ones to revert back to 2010… but we’ll see her on this post in the future.

        10. Excel alternative?
        * 2010 is the only alternative at this point but will Microsoft will end support on 13-Oct-2020 (unfortunately, my I/T team will not put 2010 back on my PC)
        * Office 2019 – I have not determined if MDI will be restored, but given the absence of feedback from John (the admin of this page) I am not optimistic.
        * Other products (e.g. Google Sheets) requires a massive time investment to learn a new product. I’m not afraid to learn something new, but it is difficult to carve the time out of my day. Most of the products I’ve explored have some limitations/deal breakers compared to Excel. Even with the massive downgrade from MDI to SDI, it is still a better product in my opinion.

      • Alan Odom commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        We hear you @J Rogers. We’ve tried yelling, begging, pleading, bribing etc. I’m pretty sure Microsoft no longer monitors this thread – they just give us a empty hole in the wall to vent our frustrations.

      • J ROGERS commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        I NEED BOTH MDI AND SDI AND YOU USED TO BE ABLE TO HAVE BOTH WAYS OF OPENING FILES with the version of Excel previous to 365. Yes, I am cognizant I am yelling. This was a feature of Excel that was VERY useful. There are times I need to open several files in one instance because I need them to stay attached to each other and attached to the same folder this is the only way to guarantee that opening them up in multiple instances the fastest way to end up with a corrupted file. There are times when I need to open a file with the EXACT SAME NAME (but different revision versions) and if you opened two instances of Excel in the pre-365 days you could do that as well. I held off as long as possible before converting to 365 because I knew that some of the great functionality of Excel had been disabled or changed, but I was forced by my company to take it recently and IT IS AFFECTING MY ABILITY TO DO MY JOB. STOP DUMMING DOWN EXCEL FOR NON-SUPER USERS OR SELL A VERSION THAT IS FOR SUPER USERS AND BRING BACK THESE GREAT FEATURES.

      • Roy commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        Folks aren't really aware of how change happens in many arenas... Science for example: the new ideas are never really accepted by most of the folks who preceded them. They have to work with them to keep their jobs, but like Einstein, NEVER accept their win and work as much as possible in their old paradigm. They move from the front line (teaching, working in labs) to administration and slowly to retirement. Then they die.

        Like it or not, this is how Big Bang theories, etc., eventually are the only thing taught, or largely so, and called "mainstream."

        LOTS of arenas, this is precisely how we (grudgingly) progress. Consider how it works when the results of experiments, and whatever stands in for experiments, are more a matter of opinion than clear and absolute (seeming) fact.

        Point of mentioning that?

        It's kind of looking like we will see one of two outcomes here:

        1) With no promises or updates, one day a new version will come out that restores MDI, whether tubing S(ucky)DI, or giving us a direct option.

        Yay! I wait the day!


        2) MS just... never does do that... tosses an ADMIN comment to us every two-three years... (look at Pavlov's set of experiments: you'll be stunned at how long those dogs would salivate at the bells after the conditioning was set (or consider Cleveland Browns fans)) and just... NEVER does restore MDI.

        Figuring, of course, that like so many arenas of human life and endeavor, if they just wait it out, what? 30-60 years?, that all of us who ever knew MDI could even exist will die and then there'll be no pushback on the subject at all.

        Playing the "long game."

        I know which one I'm coming to believe it is.

        So... and I'm not there yet, but... alternatives. And as I've said before here, if I do significant work on that front, I will change and of course, never come back. I used three spreadsheets before switching to Excel and never returned to any of their predecessors after moving to each new one.

        When someone gives you an absolute "Pick from these one choices" edict, picking choice three is ALWAYS the way to go. If it weren't for Google's perfectly understandable willingness to utterly drop a whole idea the moment they determine it might not have a future, I actually would have switched already. That risk though... it's significant. "Pick from these zero choices" is even worse than what MS is offering.

        And finally (this comment, not forever, lol, seriously, right?) given how they are pushing the add-on programs like BI and the quick programming via Power Apps, I think they really want to break us from using Excel for anything other than quick and dirty databases with all the "fancier" work being done by one subscription app after another so they can add a pile of cash onto the initial purchase or basic subscription price. Honestly, breaking easy connection between sources and therefore the ability to separate a process into several spreadsheets so one interacts with only what his role needs to interact with, not fixing the Undo stack issue, ever, and giving VBA fits... at the very same time one is offering things like Power Apps and BI... it just smacks of a plan that is NOT NOT NOT going anywhere any of us want it to go.

        Ever watch the You-Tube videos of Bill Gates explaining how monopolu power allows a wonderful, beneficial organization like MS to force development of the future along just the right path instead of those nasty fits and starts and dead ends the riff-raff come up with? Ah, those wonderful idealists at MS. And Apple. And Exxon. And so on... where would we be without them and that sweet, sweet use of monopoly power?

        So... yeah... there's an old saying about sh*tt*ng in one hand and w*ish*ng in the other and see*ng wh*ch one f*lls up f*rst. MS is helping us with the "one hand"... will someone like Google step up and promise their spreadsheet will exist in twelve years? Not everyone left Eqypt in the Exodus, but enough did to keep a whole kingdom running for a few hundred years.

      • Alan Odom commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        We heard from "John, Excel" almost a year now on March 27, 2018.

        Clearly, we are a top priority for Microsoft.

      • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        When was the last time the "Excel Team" responded to this post. I voted and commented a couple of months ago and all I have seen are more dissatisfied comments like mine lamenting the fact that MDI is not an option. In my view, it should be the default as it was in the past version. If I wanted a separate instance of excel, all I had to do was click on the excel icon at the bottom of my screen and, magically, a new instance opened. Regarding the lack of response, Pink Floyd said it best. "Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?"

      • Adrienne Scher commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        Why isn't there a simple solution to turn on/off single or multiple instances of Excel?!? This is yet one more Microsoft inefficiency that I have to deal with daily since I had to switch (upgrade?!?) to Windows 10, MS Ofc 2016--I did not have these issues in Windows 7, MS Ofc 2010.

      • Roy commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

        @Frank: That might be Windows, or MS apps in general. For me, Excel opens on the correct monitor, first of the day, almost always. Maximized nicely. Open a file then close when done? Pops over to monitor #2. (By the way, glad SDI solves multiple monitor issues, right?) Put it back and it stays put. However, the many times a second instance opens, it's the same cr@pshoot you see for which monitor it opens on. And whether it's maximized or not. And even if it IS maximized, the first window it opens (the one that persists if you just close the file, not the instance), sometimes called the "gray window" by people, is often a normal window trying to get lost in the shuffle and left open.

        All s*cks. But...

        I've noticed similar problems with other MS programs. Not precisely those, but Explorer, say, sometimes opens as an odd window for no obvious reason. Word? Never a problem. Anything else MS, whether Windows or Office, yeah, one odd behavior or another vis-a-vis the window the open, sometimes.

        Most obnoxious of course, are the subsidiary windows: password entry boxes, file saving boxes, pretty much any dialogue type window, find, find and replace, sort... you get the idea... ALL OVER THE PLACE. They stay in place for days, then all of the sudden hide away in some corner of the program window.

        It was using Acrobat (X, not that sh*tty DC version), its file export and import functions in particular though that suggested something other than the intentional forcing me to use a window if only for moments instead of everything being maximized unless I had a particular need to see two programs at once, though the second monitor solved that need forever — the intentional forcing of "normal" windows upon me that it seemed like MS was doing (As in: "Oh, if only the unwashed would JUST try them, they'd understand how wonderful sh*tty little windows all overtop of each other are! Then they'd sing their praises and use Windows the way God intended it to be used!") — that something else might be happening.

        It was a glitch in Acrobat that suggested Windows, running on a computer that puts any I had before it to shame, now needs maybe 5-10 seconds to close out actions it takes involving files. I've experienced this for years now, not just the latest computer so it happens with regular hard drives and with SSD types and it happens at the computer level at home as well as with networked files at work. I just never focused on it before.

        If I gave Acrobat a 5-10 second count before the next click, its glitch went away. Completely. Not ITS glitch: it's the underlying file operations of Windows, of that I am convinced.

        With the exception of the monitor jump that ALWAYS occurs when I close the first file of the day in Excel (But not if I open a second one first using File|Open, even if I close the second one before closing the first one.) all of the things I hate vis-a-vis window sizing and location (for dialogue boxes) seem to be solved by making sure I remember to give Windows 5-10 seconds after closing a program before shifting to another or launching another. Basically, let Windows save final conditions for things, I think, before moving it on to another thing. I SHOULD have noticed this with IE, how if I re-launched it immediately (1-2 seconds) after closing it, it would abort deleting all the browing stuff it is willing to delete and turn the files over to the new instance rather than give it a set of its own while continuing to delete the old. Seems obvious in retrospect, but the Acrobat thing (not their glitch I am now sure) that opened my thinking.

        Hence my saying what you experience might be Windows jacking you with inexcusably slow file operations work that it aborts the moment you launch something new so it can concentrate on the something new. Once aborted, it doesn't seem to go back to it, especially if you're re-launching the program.

        Worse, given how MS now does the SDI thing, and you have constantly launching instances, some of which will persist (keeping a deathgrip on certain file operations) because you closed the file, but not the instance, I think you're seeing Excel launching and seeing incomplete or contradictory garbage for loading and choosing the default ideas that make sense to the 75 windows overlying each other people in Redmond. Kool-Aid drinkers doing OUR thinking and choosing for us. Yay.

        Another way of putting it is that I think it's a MUCH larger problem than just Excel, though given Excel's extreme shakiness, its frailty, due to the SDI garbage-implementation, and its presence in EVERYONE'S day, we see it there, first and a lot.

        (That frailty actually disturbs me more than any particular obnoxious expression of it does.)

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