Options, Options, And More Options
Excel is a very flexible program, and it provides the user with many options to control how it looks and works. But the problem is finding those options.
Most users are familiar with Excel's Options dialog box, which is displayed when you select Tools - Options. This dialog box, shown below, has 13 (yes, count 'em) tabs.
The Options dialog box is essentially Excel's junk drawer. With every new upgrade, the developers cram more options into this dialog box. This dialog box is a prime candidate for the cover of of the Journal of Bad User Interface Design.
I've been using Excel for more than a decade, and I still can't remember which tab to use. Typically, it will take two or three tab clicks to locate the desired option.
But the main problem with the Options dialog box is inconsistency. Some of the options affect only the active sheet, and others affect Excel as a whole -- and they are scattered all over the place, with no clear indication.
The Chart tab is a completely different animal. This is where you go to modify attributes of the active chart. Why these chart-related options are not accessible from the Chart menu remains a complete mystery to me.
To make matters worse, the Options dialog box contains a number of buttons that, when clicked, display other dialog boxes which contain even more options. Dig around in Excel 2002's Options dialog box and you'll find buttons that display these dialogs:
- Advanced Encryption
- Digital Signature
- Macro Security
- AutoCorrect Options
- Modify Colors
- Web Options
Some (but not all) of these dialogs are accessible via other menu options.
But wait! There's more. Don't forget about the Customize dialog box (Tools - Customize). Here you'll find still more options, which are not accessible for the Options dialog box.
I'm not finished yet. When you save a workbook, the Save As dialog box leads to even more options, hidden away on the Save Options dialog box, accessible via Tools menu. I'm sure most Excel users could never find this dialog box even if they knew what they were looking for.
We old-timers have grown accustomed to this user interface nightmare, and we tend to take it in stride. But I have deep and sincere pity for the new user who simply wants to change a few things -- and ends up on an unexpected adventure that may or may not be successful.
Every new release of Excel provides Microsoft with an opportunity to clean up this confusing mess, and they most certainly have the resources to do so. But, for some reason, they just keep cramming more stuff into the junk drawer.
Excel is a complex program, and has been around for a long time. Consequently, it has many obscure nooks and crannies to discover. Some of them are described here.
Keep in mind that some versions of Excel are odder than others. In other words, the things described here may not apply to all versions of Excel.
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