Microsoft Office (Excel) Helpfulness Snarl Rant



  • So, today, I wound up on an Easter egg hunt for an Excel document that I had just saved, because somehow it became "lost"; even though I had saved it mere minutes before. Of course, I found it through Excel but then the next question was :wtf: was Excel thinking, putting my document there?

    I figured it out, and it is yet another example of Microsoft being helpful and, especially, the designers of Microsoft Office being helpful.

    Now I have no problem with software being helpful, if its helpfulness is well thought out. My experience with Microsoft, and especially Microsoft Office, is that the helpfulness is...well...random. As in randomly sprinkled through the software, with random decisions on how to help, never ever implemented completely and, generally, just helpfulness that is actually unhelpful.

    So here is how my document came to be misdirected, for your edification.

    My story starts with a CSV document that I've loaded into Excel, which I want to save as an Excel workbook. So my first stop is File / Save as, which presents this lovely view:

    See, it used to be that Microsoft presented a file save dialog when you requested File / Save as. But these days, you can save documents on your drive, on a network drive, in SharePoint, in the cloud (OneDrive, right there), and in other places. So Excel can't just give you a Save as dialog anymore; first it has to find out which dialog to use to save. (Mostly, this helps you by adding another step to saving a document, but anyway...) Let's choose "Current folder" because I want to save the file where my CSV is. That yields the Save as dialog:

    See, it shows my current folder, and it also shows I'm saving my document as CSV.

    Now, I'm an experimental type, and so I decide to try an experiment (my first mistake). I tabbed to the "Save as type" list and pressed "E", to select "Excel Workbook". Now, if you look at the full list, you'll note that "CSV" is quite a ways down:

    So when I pressed "E", instead of jumping to "Excel Workbook", it jumped to "Excel Addin":

    Okay, that's logical, right? Not! :facepalm: Of all the things I might want to save my document as, "Excel Add-in" is pretty much towards the bottom of the list. In fact, I' pretty sure I have not saved a document as "Excel Add-in", except by accident, for 20 years. That means the likelihood that I would want to save my document as an add-in is about 0.0001%. On the other hand, it is about 80% likely I would want to save it as an Excel Workbook (native format) and the another 17.5% or so falls to CSV, believe it or not.

    Okay, so that would be a perfect opportunity for helpfulness, wouldn't it? Not hardly, Microsoft randomly decided I didn't need that help. :rolleyes:

    Sigh. Whatever. Press "E" again ("Excel 97-2003 Workbook, really need that) and again (whew, finally, "Excel Workbook". Click "Save".

    ...and that's how my document came to be misplaced. See, I glossed over something that happened when I pressed that first "E":

    You see, when I typed that first "E", the one that selected "Excel Addin" Microsoft decided to randomly help me. To work, add-ins need to be saved in the AddIns directory (c:\users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\AddIns.). That's only logical, right, that Microsoft should help me by making that little change, without announcing it?

    Now above, when I suggested that the first "E" should take me to "Excel Workbook", y'all shrugged that off as just Coyne being a pain. After all, it would take a lot of trouble to tailor a save files dialog to do something special based upon the list item selected. My counter: Microsoft had no problem going to all that trouble to override my &&$&$@#!!! directory, did it?

    Well, that's okay, isn't it? Because when I added a second "E", and then a third "E", Microsoft changed the directory back to the directory I specifically requested from the first screen didn't it? Not!!! :wtf: :rolleyes: :facepalm: This is Microsoft: They only help you randomly, never when you need it. "What could you possibly be suggesting, Coyne, that we do something so sensible as to restore a directory to what you requested?"

    So, as a result, I had to fire up Excel, again, to find out where it hid my #&@!!! document, because it wasn't where I requested it to be.

    Sigh.



  • @CoyneTheDup said:

    So, today, I wound up on an Easter egg hunt for an Excel document that I had just saved, because somehow it became "lost"; even though I had saved it mere minutes before. Of course, I found it through Excel but then the next question was was Excel thinking, putting my document there?

    I figured it out, and it is yet another example of Microsoft being helpful and, especially, the designers of Microsoft Office being helpful.

    Where Microsoft gets its definition of "helpful":



  • @CoyneTheDup said:

    Now above, when I suggested that the first "E" should take me to "Excel Workbook", y'all shrugged that off as just Coyne being a pain

    Actually, I shrugged it off as Coyne not understanding that the very first option starting with E after the currently selected one was "Excel Add-In" and thus what will get chosen next when pressing E.

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    Microsoft had no problem going to all that trouble to override my &&$&$@#!!! directory, did it?

    I think the add-ins have to go in that folder to be visible for use, at least automatically anyway, but I'm not certain on that.

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    Well, that's okay, isn't it? Because when I added a second "E", and then a third "E", Microsoft changed the directory back to the directory I specifically requested from the first screen didn't it? Not!!

    I agree, them changing the selected directories by file type chosen but then leaving it on the add-ins folder when you change selections later is maddening as :WTF:ing hell. If they're going to have an option force-override the folder, then deselecting the option should also force-unoverride it back to what it was.



  • There is no sanity here. Nothing will ever make sense to someone who can't understand alphabetic ordering.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    Apropos of nothing, except that I notice these things, I like how you took so much effort to hide your user name, but forgot to censor out your real name in screenshot #2.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    Okay, that's logical, right? Not!

    Actually, it is. It jumped to the first entry starting with E after the one you were on.

    ETA: :hanzo:


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @darkmatter said:

    If they're going to have an option force-override the folder, then deselecting the option should also force-unoverride it back to what it was.

    But then the dialog would have to remember a stack of locations. That seems like something that should be above and beyond the call. Anyone got OpenOffice on Linux to see if you can find an equivalent situation and see how it's handled there?

    The add-ins directory is a valid, if not terribly sensible, place for a regular document, so while it's a bit confusing that it didn't put the directory back to the way it was, it's not really horrible. I mean, I agree it's probably wrong, but it's not horrible.



  • @FrostCat said:

    But then the dialog would have to remember a stack of locations.

    I think it already does for the back/forward buttons in the dialog, but it wouldn't need to anyway. It could store just the last "normal" location that the user navigated to, and

    • stay there if changing between normal formats
    • go to whichever special location for formats like Excel Add-In
    • go back to the normal location when switching from a special format to a normal one

  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    Bear in mind the common dialog (as far as I know) doesn't support any of that, so Office would have to extend the dialog.

    Now, admittedly, if anyone should know how to do that, it should be Microsoft themselves, but I'm not sure the Office people are as smart as the Windows ones.



  • I don't think automatically changing directory when the user selects a specific format is built into the common Save As dialog, so presumably they've already extended it.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @hungrier said:

    I don't think automatically changing directory when the user selects a specific format is built into the common Save As dialog, so presumably they've already extended it.

    You're probably right. And TBH I'd agree that if they're going to implement it at all, they should probably add the additional features you mentioned in your previous post. Probably nobody ever thought about it, because probably approximately nobody has run into the problem @CoyneTheDup did.



  • I personally would prefer that if I've selected "Excel Add-In" and click save, it show me a prompt saying "Hey, those only work if you put them over here. Would you like me to switch to that directory and let you review and click save again, or are you sure you want this where you told me?"

    However, I already know my preferences about UX are sometimes pretty unusual (heck, most people I know seem perfectly happy with their start bars at the bottom of the primary monitor, so clearly I'm not the usual sort there), so...



  • @kilroo said:

    "Hey, those only work if you put them over here. Would you like me to switch to that directory and let you review and click save again, or are you sure you want this where you told me?"

    @kilroo said:

    UX

    Paperclip



  • ...I have to admit the Office Assistant never really struck me as a bad idea, just a poor implementation.



  • Now you can ask questions of a colored circle, rather than having random interjections by cartoony things.



  • @FrostCat said:

    Apropos of nothing, except that I notice these things, I like how you took so much effort to hide your user name, but forgot to censor out your real name in screenshot #2.

    My name is mine, and not really (whisper) a secret. The user id in question belonged to someone else. :smiley: That's right: meant to do that! Surprise!

    @FrostCat said:

    But then the dialog would have to remember a stack of locations. That seems like something that should be above and beyond the call. Anyone got OpenOffice on Linux to see if you can find an equivalent situation and see how it's handled there?

    @hungrier said:

    I don't think automatically changing directory when the user selects a specific format is built into the common Save As dialog, so presumably they've already extended it.

    They had to, yes. I was thinking about it after posting and decided I wouldn't have done it that way myself; I would have saved the override for a dialog that popped up when you click "Save". Such as for example, "Add-ins only work when they are stored in the special add-ins directory. Do you want to save this file in that directory?" (Yes/No)

    That way, you don't have to restore, or even go to the trouble to override the file dialog behavior.

    @kilroo said:

    I personally would prefer that if I've selected "Excel Add-In" and click save, it show me a prompt saying "Hey, those only work if you put them over here. Would you like me to switch to that directory and let you review and click save again, or are you sure you want this where you told me?"

    Precisely. Great minds think alike. :smile:

    @Magus said:

    Paperclip

    :facepalm: I hated Clippy. He got turned off after about 3 minutes.



  • @FrostCat said:

    but I'm not sure the Office people are as smart as the Windows ones.

    The useful one comes from the office people.

    INB4: teams very different from how structured then, single data point, one good decision doesn't mean better, etc.



  • @locallunatic said:

    The useful one comes from the office people

    Which was the useful one again?



  • Yeah yeah, everyone mocks it but I've found apps useful in some projects (deal with a lot of data keyed from images vs. machine lookups).


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    That's right: meant to do that! Surprise!

    That was an unexpected plot twist.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    Such as for example, "Add-ins only work when they are stored in the special add-ins directory. Do you want to save this file in that directory?" (Yes/No)

    Just playing devil's advocate: "People don't read dialogs and would be confused by that[1]."

    [1] Insert any number of Raymond Chen references here.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    I hated Clippy

    I always switched to the little kill-bot.



  • @FrostCat said:

    Just playing devil's advocate: "People don't read dialogs and would be confused by that[1]."

    [1] Insert any number of Raymond Chen references here.

    Okay, I'll play.

    So explain to me this: Why does Excel pop up a dialog when I save a file as CSV that says, "Some features in your workbook might be lost if you save it as CSV (Comma delimited). Do you want to keep using that format?" (Yes/No/Help)

    Also, there's an attendant :wtf: that goes with that dialog. I was viewing "Test.csv". Let's say I am doing "Save as" and I change the file name to something nice and descriptive like, "Purchasing Postings 2015-05-05". If I then click "No" on the aforementioned dialog, then I get the file chooser dialog again so I can change the type (because I actually do want to change the file type)...and my nice, descriptive file name that I typed in so laboriously is changed back to "Test.csv". :facepalm: Is that a :wtf: or what?

    @FrostCat said:

    I always switched to the little kill-bot.

    Ummm...he lasted 3 seconds.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    Why

    Because whoever wrote that dialog isn't as smart as Raymond, obviously. I despise that dialog, because by spells I work with CSVs regularly, and if you do ANYTHING AT ALL to one and then try to save it--and I include "changing the column widths so you can read the header row"--you'll get that dialog when you save. And again when you try to close the window.

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    my nice, descriptive file name that I typed in so laboriously is changed back to "Test.csv"

    Yes. I think that's because the file chooser doesn't give you back the file name if you cancel. I half-assed quick test program seems to confirm that.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    Ummm...he lasted 3 seconds.

    But he was so cute. And didn't nag you like that other clipshit.


  • mod

    @CoyneTheDup said:

    Why does Excel pop up a dialog when I save a file as CSV that says, "Some features in your workbook might be lost if you save it as CSV (Comma delimited). Do you want to keep using that format?" (Yes/No/Help)

    Only the one?

    I open a CSV in Excel, make changes, and save. I get a dialog. I then close Excel. I get another popup, asking if I want to save first. If I say yes, it takes me to a Save As prompt, where I select to save it as the same damn thing I opened it as. Then I get another dialog saying do I want to overwrite, then ANOTHER saying it might lose data in this format, am I sure?



  • @CoyneTheDup said:

    Which was the useful one again?
    The one that IntelliSense doesn't already sledgehammer you over the head with.



  • Excel's inability to tell that i didnt fucking change anything since saving the CSV is maddening. I open CSV in a plain text editor unless I absolutely need to do spreadsheet things to it.

    Excel's insistence on fucking with the formatting of CSV data just by opening it also pisses me off. I assume that's why they have 80 million popups when saving a CSV... they KNOW they fucked your file on you, even if you didnt change anything.


  • sockdevs

    My biggest Excel gripe: you still can't open two workbooks with the same filename.

    Seriously Microsoft, you've had, what, 30 years to fix that shit?


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @Yamikuronue said:

    Then I get another dialog saying do I want to overwrite, then ANOTHER saying it might lose data in this format, am I sure?

    OH MY GOD SHUT UP THE FLASHBACKS THE FLASHBACKS [insert zalgotext here] +++ATH



  • If they fix it then the VBA junk that runs companies breaks. Backwards compatibility is why MS stuff is great.


  • sockdevs

    VBA first appeared in 1993; are you seriously saying that, in 22 years, no-one's bothered to figure out a fix?



  • No I'm saying having two files with the same name open changes how VBA works (you can grab from another open file using file name), thus breaking things.


  • sockdevs

    But again, 22 years they've had to fix that. Twenty-two years. Yet it's still broken.



  • OK, we are talking passed each other. How would you fix having two files with the same name open and referring to one of them from a third by it's file name? Which of the two do you pull from? You can't ask the user because they may not be there (automated systems using excel).


  • sockdevs

    Word has VBA, and doesn't have this stupid filename clash issue


  • sockdevs

    @RaceProUK said:

    you still can't open two workbooks with the same filename.

    because Excell allows you to write formiulas that reference other cells in other workbooks by file name and if you have two files by the same name open at the same time it breaks that cross workbook formulas.....

    of course what percent of workbooks actually use that feature? about 0%......


  • sockdevs

    Blah blah blah 22 years yadda yadda yadda :stuck_out_tongue:


  • sockdevs

    all because some beancounter in microsoft who is the only person ever to use that feature would throw a wobbler if they broke that feature to allow you to open two workbooks with the same name


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @RaceProUK said:

    Blah blah blah 22 years yadda yadda yadda

    Ok, the shot clock's running. Let us know when you have a solution, and what it is, so everyone can explain all the myriad ways you're wrong, just like Microsoft experiences every day. :smile:


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @accalia said:

    all because some beancounter in microsoft who is the only person ever to use that feature

    You obviously don't know that many people who use Excel.

    Excel is, apparently, the glue that binds anything that's too big to be a small business together, and people aren't all that clever. I bet this would break like a hundred thousand peoples' workflows.


  • sockdevs

    ... as far as i'm concerned belgium them.

    they're also the kind of person who resists upgrading as long as possible because they know how the old version works and don't want to learn the new version. give them an excuse to never upgrade beyond office 2015. they'd be more happy than upset (of course they would still complain because they do like to complain anyway)

    </hyperbole>


  • @accalia said:

    of course what percent of workbooks actually use that feature? about 0%......

    uh...
    sadly....

    I've been on the receiving end of one of these workbooks - it was a company sectional rankings report that I was tasked with turning into a formal automated report. They emailed me a copy of what they send around, and when I first opened it, I noticed that it threw a "re-calculation error" or some shit. After digging through everything, I found that the calculations for the final results on the front tab to show the users from the workbook formulas were all adding to a base that referenced this single magical file named something like allthenumber-Q2-2010.xls. Too bad it was Q4 of 2012.

    Needless to say, my final report was nowhere even close to matching the values in the spreadsheet they were emailing around. After I sent back what I was coming up with and showed them why it didn't match what they'd been passing around for almost 2 years, the whole report just magically disappeared and was never spoken of again - both the old report AND the new one.

    The kicker was that the report was part of a mega-series of reports, of which they had to approve everything else... so my version of this thing got promoted with the rest to our live production servers. At the time I hadn't known that it was doomed to vanish into thin air, so I just set the email to go to me only until they gave me a distribution list for it like the rest. To this day it still emails me at the end of every month with the correct version of the company sectional rankings.



  • @FrostCat said:

    Yes. I think that's because the file chooser doesn't give you back the file name if you cancel. I half-assed quick test program seems to confirm that.

    Well, yeah, except you are not cancelling the file chooser, you're cancelling the save. Your point about the error when closing the window (or just doing a straight save) is a case in point: it asks, whether you are doing simple save or using the file chooser.

    Bottom line is that I think it throws away your nice new name and goes back to the old name when it re-displays the file chooser again.

    @FrostCat said:

    But he was so cute.

    Well, I don't remember in detail, but I think "cute" (gag) may have had something to do with his being discarded after 3 seconds.

    @Yamikuronue said:

    Only the one?

    Oh, yes, there are multiple paths. But having a new file name--that you just typed--lost is the path that most annoys me.

    @locallunatic said:

    If they fix it then the VBA junk that runs companies breaks. Backwards compatibility is why MS stuff is great.

    There was some discussion in another thread about changes to languages (and applications of course) that are changed to break older code. Mostly that happens when the original foundation was amazingly brain-dead to begin with.



  • @CoyneTheDup said:

    Mostly that happens when the original foundation was amazingly brain-dead to begin with.

    We are talking about VB for Applications, right? A wonky foundation seems a certainty.


  • sockdevs

    @darkmatter said:

    uh...sadly....

    well i didn't say no one used it, just that the percentage or excel users that use it is aproximately zero.

    with a large enough user base that's still a fair few users

    i was also going for hyperbole. ;-)


  • sockdevs

    @FrostCat said:

    Ok, the shot clock's running. Let us know when you have a solution, and what it is, so everyone can explain all the myriad ways you're wrong, just like Microsoft experiences every day. :smile:

    My solution: GUIDs.

    Each workbook would have a GUID that's generated by Excel when the file is first created; when referencing another workbook, the link is done on the GUID. To make it easier to use, that GUID can be wrapped in an interfacing object.



  • @kilroo said:

    I personally would prefer that if I've selected "Excel Add-In" and click save, it show me a prompt saying "Hey, those only work if you put them over here. Would you like me to switch to that directory and let you review and click save again, or are you sure you want this where you told me?"

    I'd prefer that as well. Or at least put a nice bold message with a warning icon near the file type selector (i.e. near where the user is already looking) so that they know something else has changed as a result of their selection.

    @kilroo said:

    However, I already know my preferences about UX are sometimes pretty unusual (heck, most people I know seem perfectly happy with their start bars at the bottom of the primary monitor, so clearly I'm not the usual sort there), so...

    Wait, you mean I'm not the only person who puts the start bar at the top? Do you also auto-hide it?


  • mod

    Jesus christ, Excel!

    THAT IS NOT A CSV

    No shit? then WHY DID YOU SAVE IT LIKE THAT.



  • [quote=that file]worksheets/sheet1.xml[/quote]

    If I can detect an MS Office file from a screenshot of ASCII file contents, Excel should be able to figure it out from the file itself.


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