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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 →

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

825 comments

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  • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Let's correct the assumption that when you used two instances of Excel in versions prior to SDI it functioned the same as it does using MDI. Copy/paste did not function the sam and creating formulas by selecting cells in the 2nd instance did not work as the 1st instance didn't recognize the 2nd.

    Before everyone attacks....I prefer the old method and have voted for and still hope that one day someone at MS sees the light and makes MDI/SDI and option.

  • Richard Laycock commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Let's correct something even Microsoft seems to have wrong...
    Excel prior to this SDI only error ALWAYS allowed BOTH SDI and MDI, regardless what others claim.
    Double-clicking any shortcut for Excel.exe will open a new instance in 2007 or 2010. I never used 2013 but it probably worked the same.

    I can dual boot into my 7 pro drive and still work on 2007. I frequently have one instance on one Monitor 1 and another on #2. Both with multiple workbooks. MS doesn't have to create anything new. They simply have to admit they screwed up and go back to the way it was.

  • Roy commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Sorry, I wrote that badly:

    Physically set the monitors only once when setting up the computer. NOT every, every day! Just the shortcut keys once a day when logging on to match what Windows presents to the screwy physicality. Lordy, not moving the monitors themselves each day!

  • Roy commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Too bad we can't rotate monitors 90°. Windows can be easily rotated too, in 90° increments, so one could just do that each day. Ctrl-Alt-(arrow of choice) and your computer matches your monitors in their "goofy" orientation. If I have to logon with a password to MY computer, I can do this without feeling put upon! (Well, one has to go to the Action Center once after buying the computer to turn on the use of those shortcut keys. Oh my, that does it!)

    When you'd need width too, you could spill the windows you tiled off the edge of whichever monitor so they cover both (the once a year I do this, I get columns A through AU). LOTS of columns too then.

    Oh well...

  • Roy commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    So many of the difficulties we are listing in here could actually be addressed individually by Excel, in ways that do not depend on MDI/SDI. Even the more involved thoughts, like if you open a file from INSIDE Excel, use Excel to do it (File|Open), not Windows (by Exploring to it and clicking, say), Excel could almost certainly easily keep track of those (it does now, build 1904, in that only one instance shows in Task Manager while using Windows to open the 2nd file shows two in TM) and if you tell it to, allow presentation of the files like it did for MDI, even though they are truly SDI, and provide a single ribbon at the top. So whatever window, maximized or normal, that it starts with, ribbon at the top that keeps track of which file you are in at the moment and acts upon it, like tiled windows and MDI did.

    Literally, how hard would that be? Probably? Not very since they can keep track of the files a single instance opened, and all the pieces are simply windows anyway so they can just work with the pieces differently, and use both those things to present it AS IF it were MDI. Who cares? Real estate-wise.

    Solve half a dozen of the little things without the major switchback to real MDI, like they did with the copy/paste issue the switch created but is now solved, and I bet ¾ of us could make nice-nice with it all.

    That could be seen as "divide and conquer" but it would be "responsive to customer needs" in my book.

  • bksouthard commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    TAZ1911--unfortunately, you can no longer do this. Every file opens in a separate instance of Excel now. It is the source of all of the frustration here. I regularly use a model that is ~25 linked spreadsheets. It no longer works efficiently with the new versions. If only Microsoft would listen to the frustrated users here!

  • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    TAZ1911 - similar situation for me the other thing is that with MDI docs will retain their position when opened and closed with SDI you have to waste time repositioning them on screen too.

    Pain in the rear when you have 100's of files to deal with and need to open / close often.

  • Taz1911 commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    I need to open multiple books in the same instance of excel. I was just upgraded from Excel 2010 to 365 and most of my screen is eaten up by ribbon and formula bar when viewing Horizontal. I view horizontal almost daily to compare multiple columns to analyze changes and problems. I have attached screenshots of both ways so there is NO miss understanding of why I need to do this. I see in this thread where people use insults instead of helping and other threads where comments are made that there is just no use for this. I have a legit use and really need help.

  • David Portwood commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    bp: With no choice in the matter, I'm trying to coexist with SDI. To that end, I point out that your reformatting issues are easily overcome using VBA. Well, "easily" depending how well you know VBA. I do this all the time: a little Excel app with userform where the operator selects a source file, selects a target file, clicks a button labeled something like Run Macro and it's done. Coding such a macro requires VBA knowledge and probably takes longer than doing it manually via cut and paste and/or vlookups, but it avoids the problems you mention and it is repeatable. I hate defending SDI but there's nowhere else to go.

  • bp commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    I haven't paid attention to this in a while...just cursed it over and over, but decided to take another look and, sadly, there appears to be no really useful movement.

    My use case is working with ugly data files that have to be standardized for import to other systems. The files are ugly because although they contain the same basic data, the formats are all over the place, for example, "Yes/No" in one version and "True/False" in another. I have NO control over this!

    In the old days, I would open a master file and the new piece of blinkity blink that I was sent, stack them up and make them match in some way or other.

    With SDI, although I can stack them, the screen space scarfed the extra ribbon and then you have to use the right ribbon, rather than selecting a cell and knowing that the ribbon, the one and only ribbon, was pointing at that cell.

    And then there's the Vlookup challenge that is horribly made worse because the formulas have to reference the whole directory chain. I can't architect a process, send it to someone else, and say "open these files in a single instance" and know the vlookups will work. Now I have to have someone on the other side open the files and modify the process to suit their environment....

    I and the people I work with have old copies of Excel hanging around (bootleg in some cases) to support these two use cases. Totally stupid...have no desire to cheat MS out of its $ but what is one supposed to do?

  • DC commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Hey gentlefolk! The only frustration should be with Microsoft, and that certainly is deserved!

    Just as an aside, when I first switched to 2016 I got a warning about overlapping conditional formatting... clearly created in Excel2003 so that was completely wrong :)
    Maybe 2016 couldn't handle it, anyway 2010 seems OK with it

  • Daniel commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    To the two people accusing me of not knowing how to use Excel, I say you don't know how to read.

    I specifically said it should be user choice, not that everyone should be forced to one or the other, so don't claim I want to prevent you getting MDI restored.

    I also specifically said that I know how to open new instances of Excel 2010 to have the sheets in separate windows, and that it's buggy as heck especially in regards to copy and paste.

    I also specifically said that the thumbnail previews on the taskbar often get flattened after I open more than 2 sheets in the same window and that I have to close all instances of Excel to fix that issue - so yes, Anonymous, I do know how to use that feature.

    It's laughable that you go on to accuse me of not reading others' comments when you clearly didn't read mine.

    I know I can tile and arrange sheets within the window, Richard, I specifically described doing exactly that and explained my problem is with the position of the menus being very annoying and counter-productive. Did you read anything I said past the second sentence? I regularly work on quite wide spreadsheets so having to tile several sheets within one window, on one monitor no less, is a nightmare. I would hardly be able to see anything! If I want to see two sheets side-by-side, why should I be unable to easily flick them onto separate monitors? In 2010 it's awkward as heck because opening a workbook in a new instance is frustrating and buggy, and spreading one instance across two monitors to tile them slows down my entire workflow.

    If you get along fine with MDI then that's great, but most of the problems I have with Excel exist because of MDI and / or related bugs in Excel that don't apply to SDI or were fixed in later versions. Forcing MDI on all users would be hated just as much as forcing SDI was for you, so have some empathy for other humans, please.

  • DC commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Microsoft are raising the temperature by apparently completely ignoring this issue. New arrivals may not know the background so well, but for clarity you've always been able to open a new file in a new instance of you wanted to. But lets not snap though our own frustration!

    I made the leap from Excel 2003 to 2016 when I bought a bundle with a new Laptop. After much frustration I then bought 2010 to get something that gave me some choice.

    My main spreadsheet has a large number of tabs and data going back to 2013 which were getting a bit laborious with my old setup, so I decided it was time to come into the present day.

    The main thing I found in this leap from Intel Centrino Duo to Core i7 laptop, Vista to Win10, Excel 2003 to 2016/2010 was how unreliable it had become. I had duplicate views of tabs that I used to cycle through - which yes now became separate instances (grrr). The main gripe was Undo frequently froze everything, and indeed it was in some instances slower. I often waited 20 mins or more (longer than ever before) to see if it was trying to do the undo still, but no it had frozen.

    I did not have this with my old setup with less compressed file size - what was originally a 24Mb file was now around 10Mb (not massive).

    Presumably the smaller size means it can't undo so easily and is less raw, so I have not found the investment in time and money worth it. My 10 yr old Inspiron and Excel 2003 was more reliable in principle, just generally a bit flaky after 10yrs of number crunching.

  • Futski commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Richard Laycock and Anonymous, there is no reason to accuse Daniel of not knowing how to use Excel. He has his preference just as you have yours. He simply doesn't want SDI to go away. I'm certain he'd be OK with being given a choice between SDI and MDI, just as you are.

  • Richard Laycock commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Daniel doesn't know how to use Excel properly. With MDI I'd have multiple spreadsheets open and tiled or cascaded. When you need to work on one you just click the box and it goes full screen. You work SDI style if you wish.

    SDI is a disaster. Excel's a POS compared to 2007 or 2010.

  • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Daniel, you don't know how to use 2010 because it had the ability to use both MDI and SDI if you know how to launch it and you can use your MDI 24/7 if you want. And have you ever used the "switch windows" functionality? You can even put the icon in your quick access toolbar so you can see up to 8 or 10 open files listed to choose between quickly before the list gets too long to display all of the options. Make sure you know what you are talking about before you post. The super majority of people in this forum have asked to have both kinds available and the ability to choose which one they want to use to be added back to Excel. You didn't read very far back in the posts before you posted. Make the default MDI if all of the non-power users want and like that - we don't really care. What we all want from doctors to accountants to engineers to salespersons is the ability to HAVE BOTH OPTIONS in 365. MS obviously doesn't want the intelligent user community to use their product anymore or they would have fixed this almost going on two years ago now. We are all searching for something else to use and when we do MS will find themselves going the way of Word Perfect and Lotus 123.

  • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Daniel,
    You're right, some people have a requirement for it. But by far the consensus on the board is that it's needs to be a choice that the user can make.

    Of course some dumbo at microsoft changed the title to be "kill one/restore the other," in the same short-sighted user-ignoring way that they made the original change from the old one to the new one. Shows you how much users figure in MS requirements gathering process...

    And now, instead of what they wanted from this board ("Give us **** new stuff to code") they instead got "Fix all the rubbish you've put out over the last 25 years," so they've lost all interest and completely stopped responding.

    Don't waste your time!

  • Daniel commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    I absolutely disagree with killing SDI, that's a terrible idea. I'm stuck on Office 2010 at work but have Office 365 at home so I'm on the latest version. I never have trouble managing Excel windows at home but at work it's a nightmare. At most there should be an option available for users to choose which behaviour they want, but Microsoft should absolutely not force a return to that archaic monstrosity.

    I regularly find that after opening a second or third workbook the Excel icon on the Windows 10 taskbar flattens to a single instance and the little preview thumbnails only shows one of the workbooks - usually the last one to be opened. I have to restore or minimise the workbook **inside Excel** to find and switch between the other workbooks. Once it happens the problem does not go away until I fully close all instances of Excel and start again.

    If you manually open multiple Excel windows to separate the workbooks then often copy-paste breaks down. It either refuses to copy functions and pastes them as values when you just copy the cell, instead of from the formula bar, or it simply says that the data could not be pasted and you have to close all instances of Excel and try again.

    If you want to display two workbooks side by side across two screens, all the ribbon and menus are left-aligned so working on the right-hand workbook is a nightmare as you have to move the mouse all the way over to the far side of the left screen to click a menu option and then move all the way back over to the right screen to click on cells. It's disgusting.

  • David Portwood commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    I've been trying to coexist with SDI. I keep making excuses for its bad behavior. But always I end up wondering why we are dealing with such an issue when everything was going so well before with MDI? Why do I now even know the difference between MDI and SDI? I still don't understand what was the purpose in switching over. My sense of all this, it feels like a classic "ugly baby" situation. This idea (SDI) came from somebody elite at MS. It's therefore his baby, and no matter how ugly the baby is turning out to be, he doesn't see it and he is going to fight for it.

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