Every Excel grandmaster needs to start somewhere. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to create a basic spreadsheet. First, you’ll find out how to move around Excel’s grid of cells, typing in numbers and text as you go. Next, you’ll take a quick tour of the Excel ribbon, the tabbed toolbar of commands that sits above your spreadsheet. You’ll learn how to trigger the ribbon with a keyboard shortcut, and collapse it out of the way when you don’t need it. Finally, you’ll go to Excel’s backstage view, the file-management hub where you can save your work for posterity, open recent files, and tweak Excel options.
When you first fire up Excel, you’ll see a welcome page where you can choose to open an existing Excel spreadsheet or create a new one (Figure 1-1).
Figure 1-1. Excel’s welcome page lets you create a new, blank worksheet or a ready-made workbook from a template. For now, click the “Blank workbook” picture to create a new spreadsheet with no formatting or data.
Excel fills most of the welcome page with templates, spreadsheet files preconfigured for a specific type of data. For example, if you want to create an expense report, you might choose Excel’s “Travel expense report” template as a starting point. You’ll learn lots more about templates in Chapter 16, but for now, just click “Blank workbook” to start with a brand-spanking-new spreadsheet with no information in it.
Workbook is Excel lingo for “spreadsheet.” Excel uses this term to emphasize the fact that a single workbook can contain multiple worksheets, each with its own grid of data. You’ll learn about this feature in Chapter 4, but for now, each workbook you create will have just a single worksheet of information.
You don’t get to name your workbook when you first create it. That happens later, when you save your workbook (Saving Files). For now, you start with a blank canvas that’s ready to receive your numerical insights.
When you click “Blank workbook,” Excel closes the welcome page and opens a new, blank worksheet, as shown in Figure 1-2. A worksheet is a grid of cells where you type in information and formulas. This grid takes up most of the Excel window. It’s where you’ll perform all your work, such as entering data, writing formulas, and reviewing the results.
Figure 1-2. The largest part of the Excel window is the worksheet grid, where you type in your information.
The grid divides your worksheet into rows and columns. Excel names columns using letters (A, B, C…), and labels rows using numbers (1, 2, 3…).
The smallest unit in your worksheet is the cell. Excel uniquely identifies each cell by column letter and row number. For example, C6 is the address of a cell in column C (the third column) and row 6 (the sixth row). Figure 1-3 shows this cell, which looks like a rectangular box. Incidentally, an Excel cell can hold approximately 32,000 characters.
A worksheet can span an eye-popping 16,000 columns and 1 million rows. In the unlikely case that you want to go beyond those limits—say, if you’re tracking blades of grass on the White House lawn—you’ll need to create a new worksheet. Every spreadsheet file can hold a virtually unlimited number of worksheets, as you’ll learn in Chapter 4.
When you enter information, enter it one cell at a time. However, you don’t have to follow any set order. For example, you can start by typing information into cell A40 without worrying about filling any data in the cells that appear in the earlier rows.
Obviously, once you go beyond 26 columns, you run out of letters. Excel handles this by doubling up (and then tripling up) letters. For example, after column Z is column AA, then AB, then AC, all the way to AZ and then BA, BB, BC—you get the picture. And if you create a ridiculously large worksheet, you’ll find that column ZZ is followed by AAA, AAB, AAC, and so on.
Figure 1-3. In this spreadsheet, the active cell is C6. You can recognize an active (or current) cell by its heavy black border. You’ll also notice that Excel highlights the corresponding column letter (C) and row number (6) at the edges of the worksheet. Just above the worksheet, on the left side of the window, the formula bar gives you the active cell’s address.
The best way to get a feel for Excel is to dive right in and start putting together a worksheet. The following sections cover each step that goes into assembling a simple worksheet. This one tracks household expenses, but you can use the same approach with any basic worksheet.
Excel lets you arrange information in whatever way you like. There’s nothing to stop you from scattering numbers left and right, across as many cells as you want. However, one of the most common (and most useful) ways to arrange information is in a table, with headings for each column.
It’s important to remember that with even the simplest worksheet, the decisions you make about what’s going to go in each column can have a big effect on how easy it is to manipulate your information. For example, in a worksheet that stores a mailing list, you could have two columns: one for names and another for addresses. But if you create more than two columns, your life will probably be easier because you can separate first names from street addresses from ZIP codes, and so on. Figure 1-4 shows the difference.
Figure 1-4. Top: If you enter both first and last names in a single column, you can sort the column only by first name. And if you clump the addresses and ZIP codes together, you have no way to count the number of people in a certain town or neighborhood. Bottom: The benefit of a six-column table is significant: It lets you break down (and therefore analyze) information granularly, For example, you can sort your list according to people’s last names or where they live. This arrangement also lets you filter out individual bits of information when you start using functions later in this book.
The first step in creating a worksheet is to add your headings in the row of cells at the top of the sheet (row 1). Technically, you don’t need to start right in the first row, but unless you want to add more information before your table—like a title for the chart or today’s date—there’s no point in wasting space. Adding information is easy—just click the cell you want and start typing. When you finish, hit Tab to complete your entry and move to the cell to the right, or click Enter to head to the cell just underneath.
The information you put in an Excel worksheet doesn’t need to be in neat, ordered columns. Nothing stops you from scattering numbers and text in random cells. However, most Excel worksheets resemble some sort of table, because that’s the easiest and most effective way to manage large amounts of structured information.
For a simple expense worksheet designed to keep a record of your most prudent and extravagant purchases, try the following three headings:
Right away, you face your first glitch: awkwardly crowded text. Figure 1-5 shows how to adjust the column width for proper breathing room.
Figure 1-5. Top: The standard width of an Excel column is 8.43 characters, which hardly allows you to get a word in edgewise. Here’s how to give yourself some more room. First, position your mouse on the right border of the column header you want to expand so that the mouse pointer changes to the resize icon (it looks like a double-headed arrow). Now drag the column border to the right as far as you want. As you drag, a tooltip appears, telling you the character size and pixel width of the column. Both of these pieces of information play the same role—they tell you how wide the column is. Only the unit of measurement changes. Bottom: When you release the mouse, Excel resizes the entire column of cells to the new width.
A column’s character width doesn’t really reflect how many characters (or letters) fit in a cell. Excel uses proportional fonts, in which different letters take up different amounts of room. For example, the letter W is typically much wider than the letter I. All this means is that the character width Excel shows you isn’t a real indication of how many letters can fit in the column, but it’s a useful way to compare column widths.
You can now begin adding your data: Simply fill in the rows under the column titles. Each row in the expense worksheet represents a separate purchase. (If you’re familiar with databases, you can think of each row as a separate record.)
As Figure 1-6 shows, the first column is for dates, the second stores text, and the third holds numbers. Keep in mind that Excel doesn’t impose any rules on what you type, so you’re free to put text in the Price column. But if you don’t keep a consistent kind of data in each column, you won’t be able to easily analyze (or understand) your information later.
Figure 1-6. This rudimentary expense list has three items in it (in rows 2, 3, and 4). By default, Excel aligns the items in a column according to their data type. It aligns numbers and dates on the right, and text on the left.
Every time you start typing in a cell, Excel erases any existing content in that cell. (You can also quickly remove the contents of a cell by moving to the cell and pressing Delete, which clears its contents.)
If you want to edit cell data instead of replacing it, you need to put the cell in edit mode, like this:
Move to the cell you want to edit.
Use the mouse or the arrow keys to get to the correct cell.
Put the cell in edit mode by pressing F2 or by double-clicking inside it.
Edit mode looks like ordinary text-entry mode, but you can use the arrow keys to position your cursor in the text you’re editing. (When you aren’t in edit mode, pressing these keys just moves you to another cell.)
Complete your edit.
Once you modify the cell content, press Enter to confirm your changes or Esc to cancel your edit and leave the old value in the cell. Alternatively, you can click on another cell to accept the current value and go somewhere else. But while you’re in edit mode, you can’t use the arrow keys to move out of the cell.
If you start typing new information into a cell and you decide you want to move to an earlier position in your entry (to make an alteration, for instance), just press F2. The cell box still looks the same, but now you’re in edit mode, which means that you can use the arrow keys to move within the cell (instead of going from cell to cell). Press F2 again to return to data entry mode, where you can use the arrow keys to move to other cells.
As you enter data, you may discover the Bigtime Excel Display Problem (known to aficionados as BEDP): Cells in adjacent columns can overlap one another. Figure 1-7 illustrates the problem. One way to fix BEDP is to manually resize the column, as shown in Figure 1-5. Another option is to turn on text wrapping so you can fit multiple lines of text in a single cell, as described on Alignment and Orientation.
Figure 1-7. Overlapping cells can create big headaches. For example, if you type a large amount of text into A1 and then you type some text into B1, you see only part of A1’s data in your worksheet (as shown here). The rest is hidden from view. But if, say, A3 contains a large amount of text and B3 is empty, Excel displays the content in A3 over both columns, and you don’t have a problem.
Just above the worksheet grid but under the ribbon is an indispensable editing tool called the formula bar (Figure 1-8). It displays the address of the active cell (like A1) on the left edge, and it shows you the current cell’s contents.
Figure 1-8. The formula bar (just above the grid) displays information about the active cell. In this example, you can see that the current cell is B4 and it contains the number 592. Instead of editing this value in the cell, you can click anywhere in the formula bar and make your changes there.
You can use the formula bar to enter and edit data instead of editing directly in your worksheet. This is particularly useful when a cell contains a formula or a large amount of information. That’s because the formula bar gives you more work room than a typical cell. Just as with in-cell edits, you press Enter to confirm formula bar edits or Esc to cancel them. Or you can use the mouse: When you start typing in the formula bar, a checkmark and an “X” icon appear just to the left of the box where you’re typing. Click the checkmark to confirm your entry or “X” to roll it back.
Ordinarily, the formula bar is a single line. If you have a really long entry in a cell (like a paragraph’s worth of text), you need to scroll from one side to the other. However, there’s another option—you can resize the formula bar so that it fits more information, as shown in Figure 1-9.
Figure 1-9. To enlarge the formula bar, click the bottom edge and pull down. You can make it two, three, four, or many more lines large. Best of all, once you get the size you want, you can use the expand/collapse button to the right of the formula bar to quickly expand it to your preferred size and collapse it back to the single-line view.
The focal point of the Excel window is the worksheet grid. It’s where you enter and edit information, whether that’s an amortization table for a business loan or a catalog of your rare Spider-Man comics. However, it won’t be long before you need to direct your attention upwards, to the super-toolbar that sits at the top of the Excel window. This is the ribbon, and it ensures that even the geekiest Excel features are only a click or two away.
Everything you’ll ever want to do in Excel—from picking a fancy background color to pulling information out of a database—is packed into the ribbon. To accommodate all these buttons without becoming an over-stuffed turkey, the ribbon uses tabs. You start out with seven tabs. When you click one, you see a whole new collection of buttons (Figure 1-10).
Figure 1-10. When you launch Excel, you start at the Home tab. But here’s what happens when you click the Page Layout tab. Now, you have a slew of options for tasks like adjusting paper size and making a decent printout. Excel groups the buttons within a tab into smaller sections for clearer organization.
The ribbon makes it easy to find features because Excel groups related features under the same tab. Even better, once you find the button you need, you can often find other, associated commands by looking at the other buttons in the tab. In other words, the ribbon isn’t just a convenient tool, it’s also a great way to explore Excel.
The ribbon is full of craftsman-like detail. For example, when you hover over a button, you don’t see a paltry two- or three-word description in a yellow rectangle. Instead, you see a friendly pop-up box with a mini-description of the feature and (often) a shortcut that lets you trigger the command from the keyboard. Another nice detail is the way you can jump from one tab to another at high velocity by positioning your mouse pointer over the ribbon and rolling the scroll wheel (if your mouse has a scroll wheel). And you’re sure to notice the way the ribbon rearranges its buttons when you change the size of the Excel window (see Figure 1-11).
Figure 1-11. Top: A large Excel window gives you plenty of room to play. The ribbon uses the space effectively, making the most important buttons bigger. Bottom: When you shrink the Excel window, the ribbon shrinks some buttons or hides their text to make room. Shrink small enough, and Excel starts to replace cramped sections with a single button, like the Alignment, Cells, and Editing sections shown here. Click the button and the missing commands appear in a drop-down panel.
File isn’t really a toolbar tab, even though it appears first in the list. Instead, it’s your gateway to Excel’s backstage view, as described on Going Backstage.
Data lets you get information from an outside data source (like a heavy-duty database) so you can analyze it in Excel. It also includes tools for dealing with large amounts of information, like sorting, filtering, and subgrouping data.
View lets you switch on and off a variety of viewing options. It also lets you pull off a few fancy tricks if you want to view several separate Excel spreadsheet files at the same time; see Viewing Multiple Workbooks at Once.
In some circumstances, you may see tabs that aren’t in this list. Macro programmers and other highly technical types use the Developer tab. (You’ll learn how to reveal this tab on Attaching a Macro to a Button Inside a Worksheet.) The Add-Ins tab appears when you open workbooks created in previous versions of Excel that use custom toolbars. And finally, you can create a tab of your own if you’re ambitious enough to customize the ribbon, as explained in the Appendix.
Most people are happy to have the ribbon sit at the top of the Excel window, with all its buttons on hand. But serious number-crunchers demand maximum space for their data—they’d rather look at another row of numbers than a pumped-up toolbar. If this describes you, then you’ll be happy to find out that you can collapse the ribbon, which shrinks it down to a single row of tab titles, as shown in Figure 1-12. To collapse it, just double-click the current tab title. (Or click the tiny up-pointing icon in the top-right corner of the ribbon, right next to the help icon.)
Figure 1-12. Do you want to use every square inch of screen space for your cells? You can collapse the ribbon (as shown here) by double-clicking any tab. Click a tab to pop it open temporarily, or double-click a tab to bring the ribbon back for good. And if you want to perform the same trick without lifting your fingers from the keyboard, use the shortcut Ctrl+F1.
Even if you collapse the ribbon, you can still use all its features. All you need to do is click a tab. For example, if you click Home, the Home tab pops open over your worksheet. As soon as you click the button you want in the Home tab (or click a cell in your worksheet), the ribbon collapses again. The same trick works if you trigger a command in the ribbon using the keyboard, as described in the next section.
If you use the ribbon only occasionally, or if you prefer to use keyboard shortcuts, it makes sense to collapse the ribbon. Even then, you can still use the ribbon commands—it just takes an extra click to open the tab. On the other hand, if you make frequent trips to the ribbon or you’re learning about Excel and like to browse the ribbon to see what features are available, don’t bother collapsing it. The two or three spreadsheet rows you’ll lose are well worth it.
If you’re an unredeemed keyboard lover, you’ll be happy to hear that you can trigger ribbon commands with the keyboard. The trick is using keyboard accelerators, a series of keystrokes that starts with the Alt key (the same key you used to use to get to a menu). When you use a keyboard accelerator, you don’t hold down all the keys at the same time. (As you’ll soon see, some of these keystrokes contain so many letters that you’d be playing Finger Twister if you tried.) Instead, you hit the keys one after the other.
The trick to keyboard accelerators is understanding that once you hit the Alt key, there are two things you do, in this order:
Pick the ribbon tab you want.
Choose a command in that tab.
Before you can trigger a specific command, you must select the correct tab (even if it’s already selected). Every accelerator requires at least two key presses after you hit the Alt key. You need to press even more keys to dig through submenus.
Fortunately, Excel is ready to help you out with a feature called KeyTips. Here’s how it works: When you press Alt, letters magically appear over every tab in the ribbon. Once you hit the corresponding key to pick a tab, letters appear over every button in that tab (Figure 1-13). Once again, you press the corresponding key to trigger the command (Figure 1-14).
Figure 1-13. When you press Alt, Excel displays KeyTips next to every tab, over the File menu, and over the buttons in the Quick Access toolbar. If you follow up with M (for the Formulas tab), you’ll see letters next to every command in that tab, as shown in Figure 1-11.
Figure 1-14. You can now follow up with F to trigger the Insert Function button, U to get to the AutoSum feature, and so on. Don’t bother trying to match letters with tab or button names—there are so many features packed into the ribbon that in many cases the letters don’t mean anything at all.
Sometimes, a command might have two letters, in which case you need to press both keys, one after the other. (For example, the Find & Select button on the Home tab has the letters FD. To trigger it, press Alt, then H, then F, and then D.)
You can go back one step in KeyTips mode by pressing Esc. Or, you can stop cold without triggering a command by pressing Alt again.
Excel gives you other shortcut keys that don’t use the ribbon. These are key combinations that start with the Ctrl key. For example, Ctrl+C copies highlighted text, and Ctrl+S saves your work. Usually, you find out about a shortcut key by hovering over a command with your mouse. For example, hover over the Paste button in the ribbon’s Home tab, and you see a tooltip that tells you its timesaving shortcut key, Ctrl+V. And if you worked with a previous version of Excel, you’ll find that Excel 2013 uses almost all the same shortcut keys.
Figure 1-15. When you press Alt+E in Excel 2013, you trigger the “imaginary” Edit menu originally in Excel 2003 and earlier. You can’t actually see the menu, because it doesn’t exist in Excel 2013, but the tooltip lets you know that Excel is paying attention. You can now complete your action by pressing the next key for the menu command you’re nostalgic for.
Keen eyes will have noticed the tiny bit of screen real estate just above the ribbon. It holds a series of tiny icons, like the toolbars in older versions of Excel (Figure 1-16). This is the Quick Access toolbar (or QAT, to Excel nerds).
Figure 1-16. The Quick Access toolbar puts the Save, Undo, and Redo commands right at your fingertips. Excel provides easy access to these commands because most people use them more frequently than any others. But as you’ll learn in the Appendix, you can add any commands you want here.
If the Quick Access toolbar were nothing but a specialized shortcut for three commands, it wouldn’t be worth the bother. But it has one other notable attribute: You can customize it. In other words, you can remove commands you don’t use and add your own favorites. The Appendix of this book (Creating Custom Functions) shows you how.
Microsoft has deliberately kept the Quick Access toolbar very small. It’s designed to provide a carefully controlled outlet for those customization urges. Even if you go wild stocking the Quick Access toolbar with your own commands, the rest of the ribbon remains unchanged. (And that means a co-worker or spouse can still use Excel, no matter how dramatically you change the QAT.)
Though people often overlook it, Excel’s status bar (Figure 1-17) is a good way to monitor the program’s current state. For example, if you save or print a document, the status bar shows the progress of the save operation or print job. If your task is simple, the progress indicator may disappear before you even have a chance to notice it. But if you’re performing a time-consuming operation—say, printing an 87-page table of the hotel silverware you happen to own—you can look to the status bar to see how things are coming along.
Figure 1-17. In the status bar, you can see the basic status text (which just says “Ready” in this example), the view buttons (useful as you prepare a spreadsheet for printing), and the zoom slider (which lets you enlarge or shrink the current worksheet).
Ready means that Excel isn’t doing anything much at the moment, other than waiting to execute a command.
Enter appears when you start typing a new value into a cell.
Edit means you currently have the cell in edit mode, and pressing the left and right arrow keys moves through the data within a cell, instead of moving from cell to cell. You can place a cell in edit mode or take it out of edit mode by pressing F2.
Farther to the right of the status bar are the view buttons, which let you switch to Page Layout view or Page Break Preview. These help you see what your worksheet will look like when you print it. They’re covered in Chapter 7.
The zoom slider is next to the view buttons, at the far right edge of the status bar. You can slide it to the left to zoom out (which fits more information into your Excel window) or slide it to the right to zoom in (and take a closer look at fewer cells). You can learn more about zooming on Zooming.
In addition, the status bar displays other miscellaneous indicators. If you press the Scroll Lock key, for example, a Scroll Lock indicator appears in the status bar (next to the “Ready” text). This indicator tells you that you’re in scroll mode, where the arrow keys don’t move you from one cell to another, but scroll the entire worksheet up, down, or to the side. Scroll mode is a great way to check out another part of your spreadsheet without leaving your current position.
You can control what indicators appear in the status bar by configuring it. To see the list of possibilities, right-click the status bar (Figure 1-8). Table 1-2 describes the options.
Table 1-1. Status bar indicators
Shows Ready, Edit, or Enter depending on the state of the current cell.
Shows the number of cells that were skipped (left blank) and the number of cells that were filled after a Flash Fill operation (Flash Fill).
Displays information about the rights and restrictions of the current spreadsheet. These features come into play only if you use a SharePoint server to share spreadsheets among groups of people (usually in a corporate environment).
Indicates whether Num Lock mode is on. When it is, you can use the numeric keypad (typically on the right side of your keyboard) to type in numbers more quickly. When this sign’s off, the numeric keypad controls cell navigation instead. To turn Num Lock on or off, press Num Lock.
Indicates whether Scroll Lock mode is on. When it’s on, you can use the arrow keys to scroll through a worksheet without changing the active cell. (In other words, you can control your scrollbars by just using your keyboard.) This feature lets you look at all the information in your worksheet without losing track of the cell you’re currently in. You can turn Scroll Lock mode on or off by pressing Scroll Lock.
Indicates when Fixed Decimal mode is on. When it is, Excel automatically adds a set number of decimal places to the values you enter in any cell. For example, if you tell Excel to use two fixed decimal places and you type the number 5 into a cell, Excel actually enters 0.05. This seldom-used featured is handy for speed typists who need to enter reams of data in a fixed format. You can turn this feature on or off by selecting File→Options, choosing the Advanced section, and then looking under “Editing options” to find the “Automatically insert a decimal point” setting. Once you turn this checkbox on, you can choose the number of decimal places displayed (the standard option is 2).
Indicates when you have Overwrite mode turned on. Overwrite mode changes how cell edits work. When you edit a cell with Overwrite mode on, the new characters that you type overwrite existing characters (rather than displacing them). You can turn Overwrite mode on or off by pressing Insert.
Indicates that you’ve pressed End, which is the first key in many two-key combinations; the next key determines what happens. For example, hit End and then Home to move to the bottom-right cell in your worksheet.
Macros are automated routines that perform some task in an Excel spreadsheet. The Macro Recording indicator shows a record button (which looks like a red circle superimposed on a worksheet) that lets you start recording a new macro. You’ll learn more about macros in Chapter 29.
Indicates the current Selection mode. You have two options: normal mode and extended selection. When you press the arrows keys with Extended selection on, Excel automatically selects all the rows and columns you cross as you move around the spreadsheet. Extended selection is a useful keyboard alternative to dragging your mouse to select swaths of the grid. To turn Extended selection on or off, press F8. You’ll learn more about selecting cells and moving them around in Chapter 3.
Show the result of a calculation on selected cells. For example, the Sum indicator totals the value of all the numeric cells selected. You’ll take a closer look at this handy trick on Making Continuous Range Selections.
Does nothing (that we know of). Excel does show a handy indicator in the status bar when you’re uploading files to the Web, as you’ll learn in Chapter 26. However, Excel always displays the upload status when needed, and this setting doesn’t seem to have any effect.
Shows the three view buttons that let you switch between Normal view, Page Layout view, and Page Break Preview.
Shows the current zoom percentage (like 100 percent for a normal-sized spreadsheet, and 200 percent for a spreadsheet that’s blown up to twice the magnification).
Lets you zoom in (by moving the slider to the right) or out (by moving it to the left) to see more information at once.
Figure 1-18. Every item that has a checkmark appears in the status bar when you need it. For example, if you choose Caps Lock, the text “Caps Lock” appears in the status bar whenever you hit the Caps Lock key. The text that appears on the right side of the list tells you the current value of the indicator. In this example, Caps Lock mode is currently off and the Cell Mode text says “Ready.”
Your data is the star of the show. That’s why the creators of Excel refer to your worksheet as being “on stage.” The auditorium is the Excel main window, which—as you’ve just seen—includes the handy ribbon, formula bar, and status bar. Sure, it’s a strange metaphor. But once you understand it, you’ll realize the rationale for Excel’s backstage view, which temporarily takes you away from your worksheet and lets you concentrate on other tasks that don’t involve entering or editing data. These tasks include saving your spreadsheet, opening more spreadsheets, printing your work, and changing Excel’s settings.
To switch to backstage view, click the File button to the left of the Home ribbon tab. Excel temporarily tucks your worksheet out of sight (although it’s still open and waiting for you). This gives Excel the space it needs to display information related to the task at hand, as shown in Figure 1-19. For example, if you plan to print your spreadsheet, Excel’s backstage view previews the printout. Or if you want to open an existing spreadsheet, Excel can display a detailed list of files you recently worked on.
Figure 1-19. When you first switch to backstage view, Excel shows the Info page, which provides basic information about your workbook file, its size, when it was last edited, who edited it, and so on (see the column on the far right). The Info page also provides the gateway to three important features: document protection (Chapter 21), compatibility checking (page 31), and AutoRecover backups (page 38). To go to another section, click a different command in the column on the far left.
To get out of backstage view and return to your worksheet, press Esc or click the arrow-in-a-circle icon in the top-right corner of backstage view.
The key to using backstage view is the menu of commands that runs in a strip along the left side of the window. You click a command to get to the page for the task you want to perform. For example, to create a new spreadsheet (in addition to the one you’re currently working on), you begin by clicking the New command, as shown in Figure 1-20.
You don’t need to go to backstage view to create a new, blank spreadsheet. Instead, hit the shortcut key Ctrl+N while you’re in the worksheet grid. Excel will launch a new window, with a new, blank worksheet at the ready.
Figure 1-20. When you click New, you see a page resembling the welcome page that greets you when you start Excel. To create a new, empty workbook, click “Blank workbook.” Excel opens the workbook in a new window, so that it’s separate from your current workbook, which Excel leaves untouched.
Work with files (create, open, close, and save them) with the help of the New, Open, Save, and Save As commands. You’ll spend the rest of this chapter learning the fastest and most effective ways to save and open Excel files.
Prepare a workbook you want to share with others. For example, you can check its compatibility with older versions of Excel (Chapter 1) and lock your document to prevent other people from changing numbers (Chapter 24). You find these options under the Info command.
Configure your Office account—that’s the email address and password you use to access Microsoft’s SkyDrive service for storing spreadsheets online (Introducing SkyDrive) or for your Office 365 account (if you’re a subscriber; see page xvii). To do this, click the Account command.
As everyone who’s been alive for at least three days knows, you should save your work early and often. Excel is no exception. To save a file for the first time, choose File→Save or File→Save As. Either way, you end up at the Save As page in backstage view (Figure 1-21).
Figure 1-21. The first time you save your spreadsheet, you need to choose where to put it. Usually, you’ll pick a location on your hard drive (click Computer in the Places list), but you can upload it to a corporate SharePoint service or to Microsoft’s SkyDrive for online sharing almost as easily.
Computer. Choose this to store your spreadsheet somewhere on your computer’s hard drive. This is the most common option. When you click Computer, Excel lists the folders where you recently saved or opened files (see Figure 1-21, on the right). To save a file to one of these locations, select the folder. Or, click the big Browse button at the bottom to find a new location. Either way, Excel opens the familiar Save As window, where you type in a name for your file (Figure 1-22).
SkyDrive. When you set up Excel, you can supply the email address and password you use for Microsoft services like Hotmail, Messenger, and SkyDrive, Microsoft’s online file-storage system. Excel features some nifty SkyDrive integration features. For example, you can upload a spreadsheet straight to the Web by clicking your personalized SkyDrive item in the Places list, and then choosing one of your SkyDrive folders.
The advantage of putting a file on SkyDrive is that you can open and edit it from another Excel-equipped computer, without needing to worry about copying or emailing the file. The other advantage is that other people can edit your file with the Excel Web App. You’ll learn more about SkyDrive and the Excel Web App in Chapter 23.
SharePoint. If you’re running a computer on a company network, you may be able to store your work on a SharePoint server. Doing so not only lets you share your work with everyone else on your team, it lets you tap into SharePoint’s excellent workflow features. (For example, your organization could have a process set up where you save expense reports to a SharePoint server, and they’re automatically passed on to your boss for approval and then accounting for payment.) A SharePoint server won’t necessarily have the word “SharePoint” in its place name, but it will have the globe-and-server icon to let you know it’s a web location.
After you save a spreadsheet once, you can quickly save it again by choosing File→Save, or by pressing Ctrl+S. Or look up at the top of the Excel window in the Quick Access toolbar for the tiny Save button, which looks like an old-style diskette. To save your spreadsheet with a new name or in a new place, select File→Save As, or press F12.
Saving a spreadsheet is an almost instantaneous operation, and you should get used to doing it regularly. After you make any significant change to a sheet, hit Ctrl+S to store the latest version of your data.
Ordinarily, you’ll save your spreadsheets in the modern .xlsx format, which is described in the next section. However, sometimes you’ll need to convert your spreadsheet to a different type of file—for example, if you want to pass them along to someone using a very old version of Excel, or a different type of spreadsheet program. There are two ways you can do this:
Choose File→Save As and pick a location. Then, in the Save As window (Figure 1-22), click “Save as type” and then pick the format you want from the long drop-down list.
Choose File→Export, and then click Change File Type. You’ll see a list of the 10 most popular formats. Click one to open a Save As window with that format selected. Or, if you don’t see the format you want, click the big Save As button underneath to open a Save As window, and then pick the format yourself from the “Save as type” drop-down list.
Excel lets you save your spreadsheet in a variety of formats, including the classic Excel 95 format from more than a decade ago. If you want to look at your spreadsheet using a mystery program, use the CSV file type, which produces a comma-delimited text file that almost all spreadsheet programs can read (comma-delimited means that commas separate the information in each cell). And in the following sections, you’ll learn more about sharing your work with old versions of Excel (Sharing Your Spreadsheet with Older Versions of Excel) or putting it in PDF form so anyone can view and print it (Saving Your Spreadsheet As a PDF). But first, you need to take a closer look at Excel’s standard file format.
Modern versions of Excel, including Excel 2013, use the .xlsx file format (which means your saved spreadsheet will have a name like HotelSilverware.xlsx). Microsoft introduced this format in Excel 2007, and it comes with significant advantages:
It’s compact. The .xlsx format uses ZIP file compression, so spreadsheet files are smaller—as much as 75 percent smaller than Excel 2003 files. And even though the average hard drive is already large enough to swallow millions of old-fashioned Excel files, a more compact format is easier to share online and via email.
It’s less error-prone. The .xlsx format carefully separates ordinary content, pictures, and macro code into separate sections. That means that if a part of your Excel file is damaged (due to a faulty hard drive, for example), there’s a good chance that you can still retrieve the rest of the information. (You’ll learn about Excel disaster recovery on Disaster Recovery.)
It’s extensible. The .xlsx format uses XML (the eXtensible Markup Language), which is a standardized way to store information. (You’ll learn more about XML in Chapter 28.) XML storage doesn’t benefit the average person, but it’s sure to earn a lot of love from companies that use custom software in addition to Excel. As long as you store the Excel documents in XML format, these companies can create automated programs that pull the information they need straight out of the spreadsheet, without going through Excel itself. These programs can also generate made-to-measure Excel documents on their own.
For all these reasons, .xlsx is the format of choice for Excel 2013. However, Microsoft prefers to give people all the choices they could ever need (rather than make life really simple), and Excel file formats are no exception. In fact, the .xlsx file format actually comes in two additional flavors.
First, there’s the closely related .xlsm, which lets you store macro code with your spreadsheet data. If you add macros to a spreadsheet, Excel prompts you to use this file type when you save your work. (You’ll learn about macros in Chapter 29.)
Second, there’s the optimized .xlsb format, which is a specialized option that might be a bit faster when opening and saving gargantuan spreadsheets. The .xlsb format has the same automatic compression and error-resistance as .xlsx, but it doesn’t use XML. Instead, it stores information in raw binary form (good ol’ ones and zeros), which is speedier in some situations. To use the .xlsb format, choose File→Export, click Change File Type, and then choose “Binary Workbook (.xlsb)” from the drop-down list.
Most of the time, you don’t need to think about Excel’s file format. You can just create your spreadsheets, save them, and let Excel take care of the rest. The only time you need to stop and think twice is when you share your work with other, less fortunate people who have older versions of Excel, such as Excel 2003. You’ll learn how to deal with this challenge in the following sections.
Don’t use the .xlsb format unless you try it out and find that it really does give you better performance. Usually, .xlsx and .xlsb are just as fast. And remember, the only time you’ll see any improvement is when you load or save a file. Once you open your spreadsheet in Excel, everything else (like scrolling around and performing calculations) happens at the same speed.
As you just learned, Excel 2013 uses the same .xlsx file format as Excel 2010 and Excel 2007. That means that an Excel 2013 fan can exchange files with an Excel 2010 devotee, and there won’t be any technical problems.
However, a few issues can still trip you up when you share spreadsheets between different versions of Excel. For example, Excel 2013 introduces a few new formula functions, such as BASE (BASE() and DECIMAL(): Converting Numbers to Different Bases). If you write a calculation in Excel 2013 that uses BASE(), the calculation won’t work in Excel 2010. Instead of seeing the numeric result you want, your recipient will see an error code mixed in with the rest of the spreadsheet data.
To avoid this sort of problem, you need the help of an Excel tool called the Compatibility Checker. It scans your spreadsheet for features and formulas that will cause problems in Excel 2010 or Excel 2007.
To use the Compatibility Checker, follow these steps:
Excel switches into backstage view.
Click the Check for Issues button, and choose Check Compatibility.
The Compatibility Checker scans your spreadsheet, looking for signs of trouble. It reports problems to you (Figure 1-24).
Optionally, you can choose to hide compatibility problems that don’t affect you.
The Compatibility Checker reports on three types of problems:
You don’t necessarily need to worry about all these versions of Excel. For example, if you plan to share your files with Excel 2010 users but not with people using Excel 2007 or older, you don’t need to pay attention to the first two categories, because they don’t affect your peeps.
To choose what errors the Compatibility Checker reports on, click the “Select versions to show” button and turn off the checkboxes next to the versions of Excel you don’t want to consider. For example, you can turn off “Excel 97-2003” if you don’t want to catch problems that affect only these versions of Excel.
Review the problems.
You can ignore the Compatibility Checker issues, click Find to hunt each one down, or click Help to figure out the exact problem. You can also click “Copy to New Sheet” to insert a full compatibility report into your spreadsheet as a separate worksheet. This way, you can print it up and review it in the comfort of your cubicle. (To get back to the worksheet with your data, click the Sheet1 tab at the bottom of the window. Chapter 4 has more about how to use and manage multiple worksheets.)
The problems that the Compatibility Checker finds won’t cause serious errors, like crashing your computer or corrupting your data. That’s because Excel is designed to degrade gracefully. That means you can still open a spreadsheet that uses newer, unsupported features in an old version of Excel. However, you may receive a warning message and part of the spreadsheet may seem broken—that is, it won’t work as you intended.
Optionally, you can set the Compatibility Checker to run automatically for this workbook.
Once your work passes through the Compatibility Checker, you’re ready to save it. Because Excel 2013, Excel 2010, and Excel 2007 all share the same file format, you don’t need to perform any sort of conversion—just save your file normally. But if you want to share your spreadsheet with Excel 2003, follow the instructions in the next section.
There are two ways to resolve this problem:
Save your spreadsheet in the old format. You can save a copy of your spreadsheet in the traditional .xls standard Microsoft has supported since Excel 97. To do so, choose File→Export, click Change File Type, and choose “Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls)” from the list of file types.
Use a free add-in for older versions of Excel. People stuck with Excel 2000, Excel 2002, or Excel 2003 can read your Excel 2013 files—they just need a free add-in from Microsoft. This is a good solution because it doesn’t require you to do extra work, like saving both a current and a backward-compatible version of the spreadsheet. People with past-its-prime versions of Excel can find the add-in by surfing to www.microsoft.com/downloads and searching for “compatibility pack file formats” (or use the secret shortcut URL tinyurl.com/y5w78r). However, you should still run the Compatibility Checker to find out if your spreadsheet uses features that Excel 2003 doesn’t support.
If you save your Excel spreadsheet in the Excel 2003 format, make sure to keep a copy in the standard .xlsx format. Why? Because the old format isn’t guaranteed to retain all your information, particularly if you use newer chart features or data visualization.
As you already know, each version of Excel introduces a small set of new features. Older versions don’t support these features. The differences between Excel 2010 and Excel 2013 are small, but the differences between Excel 2003 and Excel 2013 are more significant.
Excel tries to help you out in two ways. First, whenever you save a file in .xls format, Excel automatically runs the Compatibility Checker to check for problems. Second, whenever you open a spreadsheet in the old .xls file format, Excel switches into compatibility mode. While the Compatibility Checker points out potential problems after the fact, compatibility mode is designed to prevent you from using unsupported features in the first place. For example, in compatibility mode you’ll face these restrictions:
Excel limits you to a smaller grid of cells (65,536 rows instead of 1,048,576).
Excel prevents you from using really long or deeply nested formulas.
Excel doesn’t let you use some pivot table features.
In compatibility mode, these missing features aren’t anywhere to be found. In fact, compatibility mode is so seamless that you might not even notice its limitations. The only clear indication that you’re in Compatibility Mode appears at the title bar at the top of the Excel window. Instead of seeing something like CateringList.xlsx, you’ll see “CateringList.xls [Compatibility Mode].”
When you save an Excel workbook in .xls format, Excel won’t switch into compatibility mode right away. Instead, you need to close the workbook and reopen it.
If you decide at some point that you’re ready to move into the modern world and convert your file to the .xlsx format favored by Excel 2013, you can use the trusty File→Save As command. However, there’s an even quicker shortcut. Just choose File→Info and click the Convert button. This saves an Excel 2013 version of your file with the same name but with the extension .xlsx, and reloads the file so you get out of compatibility mode. It’s up to you to delete your old .xls original if you don’t need it anymore.
Sometimes you want to save a copy of your spreadsheet so that people can read it even if they don’t have Excel (and even if they’re running a different operating system, like Linux or Apple’s OS X). One way to solve this problem is to save your spreadsheet as a PDF file. This gives you the best of both worlds—you keep all the rich formatting (for when you print your workbook), and you let people who don’t have Excel (and possibly don’t even have Windows) see your work. The disadvantage is that PDFs are for viewing only—there’s no way for you to open a PDF in Excel and start editing it.
To save your spreadsheet as a PDF, select File→Export, click Create PDF/XPS Document (in the “File Types” section), and then click the Create PDF/XPS button. Excel opens a modified version of the Save As window that has a few additional options (Figure 1-25).
Figure 1-25. You can save PDF files at different resolutions and quality settings (which mostly affect graphics in your workbook, like pictures and charts). Normally, you use higher-quality settings if you want to print your PDF file, because printers use higher resolutions than computers.
The “Publish as PDF” window gives you some control over the quality of your printout using the “Optimize for” options. If you’re just saving a PDF copy so other people can view your workbook, choose “Minimum size (publishing online)” to cut down on the storage space required. On the other hand, if people reading your PDF might want to print it out, choose “Standard (publishing online and printing)” to save a slightly larger PDF that makes for a better printout.
You can switch on the “Open file after publishing” setting to tell Excel to open the PDF file in Adobe Reader (assuming you have it installed) after it saves the file. That way, you can check the result.
Finally, if you want to publish only a portion of your spreadsheet as a PDF file, click the Options button to open a window with even more settings. You can publish just a fixed number of pages, just selected cells, and so on. These options mirror the choices you see when you print a spreadsheet (Printing). You also see a few more cryptic options, most of which you can safely ignore (they’re intended for PDF nerds). One exception is the “Document properties” option—turn this off if you don’t want the PDF to keep track of certain information that identifies you, like your name. (Excel document properties are discussed in more detail on Document Properties.)
Occasionally, you might want to add confidential information to a spreadsheet—a list of the hotels from which you’ve stolen spoons, for example. If your computer is on a network, the solution may be as simple as storing your file in the correct, protected location. But if you’re afraid you might email the spreadsheet to the wrong people (say, executives at Four Seasons), or if you’re about to expose systematic accounting irregularities in your company’s year-end statements, you’ll be happy to know that Excel provides a tighter degree of security. It lets you password-protect your spreadsheets, which means that anyone who wants to open them has to know the password you set.
Excel actually has two layers of password protection you can apply to a spreadsheet:
You can prevent others from opening your spreadsheet unless they know the password. This level of security, which scrambles your data for anyone without the password (a process known as encryption), is the strongest.
You can let others read but not modify the sheet unless they know the password.
To apply one or both of these restrictions to your spreadsheet, follow these steps:
Choose File→Save As, and then choose a location.
The Save As window opens.
From the Tools drop-down menu, pick General Options.
The Tools drop-down menu sits in the bottom-right corner of the Save As window, just to the left of the Save button.
The General Options window appears.
Type a password next to the security level you want to turn on (as shown in Figure 1-26), and then click OK.
The General Options window also gives you a couple of other unrelated options:
Turn on the “Always create backup” checkbox if you want a copy of your file in case something goes wrong with the first one (think of it as insurance). Excel creates a backup with the file extension .xlk. For example, if you save a workbook named SimpleExpenses.xlsx with the “Always create backup” option on, Excel creates a file named “Backup of SimpleExpenses.xlk” every time you save your spreadsheet. You can open the .xlk file in Excel just as you would an ordinary Excel file. When you do, you see that it is an exact copy of your work.
Turn on the “Read-only recommended” checkbox to prevent other people from accidentally making changes to your spreadsheet. With this option, Excel displays a message every time you (or anyone else) opens the file. It politely suggests that you open the spreadsheet in read-only mode, which means that Excel won’t let you make any changes to the file. Of course, it’s entirely up to the person opening the file whether to accept this recommendation.
If you use a password to restrict people from opening the spreadsheet, Excel prompts you to supply the “password to open” the next time you open the file (Figure 1-27, top).
If you use a password to restrict people from modifying the spreadsheet, the next time you open this file, Excel gives you the choice, shown in Figure 1-27 bottom, to open it in read-only mode (which requires no password) or to open it in full edit mode (in which case you’ll need to supply the “password to modify”).
Figure 1-27. Top: You can give a spreadsheet two layers of protection. Assign a “password to open,” and you’ll see this window when you open the file. Bottom: If you assign a “password to modify,” you’ll see the choices in this window. If you use both passwords, you’ll see both windows, one after the other.
The corollary to the edict “Save your data early and often” is the truism “Sometimes things fall apart quickly…before you even had a chance to back up.” Fortunately, Excel includes an invaluable safety net called AutoRecover.
AutoRecover periodically saves backup copies of your spreadsheet while you work. If you suffer a system crash, you can retrieve the last backup even if you never managed to save the file yourself. Of course, even the AutoRecover backup won’t necessarily have all the information you entered in your spreadsheet before the problem occurred. But if AutoRecover saves a backup every 10 minutes (the standard), at most you’ll lose 10 minutes’ worth of work.
If your computer does crash, when you get it running again, you can easily retrieve your last AutoRecover backup. In fact, the next time you launch Excel, it automatically checks the backup folder and, if it finds a backup, it adds a link named Show Recovered Files to Excel’s welcome page (Figure 1-28). Click that link, and Excel adds a panel named Document Recovery to the left side of the Excel window (Figure 1-29).
Figure 1-29. You can save or open an AutoRecover backup just as you would an ordinary Excel file; simply click the item in the list. Once you deal with all the backup files, close the Document Recovery window by clicking the Close button. If you haven’t saved the backup, Excel asks you whether you want to save it permanently or delete it.
If your computer crashes mid-edit, the next time you open Excel you may see the same file listed twice in the Document Recovery window, as shown in Figure 1-29. The difference is in the status: “[Autosaved]” indicates the most recent backup Excel created, while “[Original]” means the last version of the file you saved (which is safely stored on your hard drive, right where you expect it).
To open a file in the Document Recovery window, just click it. You can also use a drop-down menu with additional options (Figure 1-29). If you find a file you want to keep permanently, make sure to save it. If you don’t, the next time you close Excel it asks if it should throw the backups away.
If you attempt to open a backup file that’s somehow been scrambled (technically known as corrupted), Excel attempts to repair it. You can choose Show Repairs to display a list of any changes Excel made to recover the file.
AutoRecover comes switched on when you install Excel, but you can tweak its settings. Choose File→Options, and then choose the Save section. Under the “Save workbooks” section, make sure you have “Save AutoRecover information” turned on.
You can make a few other changes to AutoRecover:
You can adjust the backup frequency in minutes. (See Figure 1-30 for tips on timing.)
You can control whether Excel keeps a backup if you create a new spreadsheet, work on it for at least 10 minutes, and then close it without saving your work. This sort of AutoRecover backup is called a draft, and it’s discussed in more detail on AutoRecover. Ordinarily, the setting “Keep the last Auto Recovered file if I exit without saving” is switched on, and Excel keeps drafts. (To find all the drafts that Excel has saved for you, choose File→Open, and scroll to the end of the list of recently opened workbooks, until you see the Recover Unsaved Workbooks button. Click it.)
Figure 1-30. You can configure how often AutoRecover backs up your files. There’s really no danger in being too frequent. Unless you work with extremely complex or large spreadsheets—which might suck up a lot of computing power and take a long time to save—you can set Excel to save a document every 5 minutes with no appreciable slowdown in performance.
You can choose where you want Excel to save backup files. The standard folder works fine for most people, but feel free to pick some other place. Unfortunately, there’s no handy Browse button to help you locate the folder, so you need to find the folder in advance (using a tool like Windows Explorer), write it down somewhere, and then copy the full folder path into this window.
Under the “AutoRecover exceptions” heading, you can tell Excel not to bother saving a backup of a specific spreadsheet. Pick the spreadsheet name from the list (which shows all the currently open spreadsheet files), and then turn on the “Disable AutoRecover for this workbook only” setting. This setting is exceedingly uncommon, but you might use it if you have a gargantuan spreadsheet full of data that doesn’t need to be backed up. For example, this spreadsheet might hold records you pulled out of a central database so you can take a closer look. In such a case, you don’t need to create a backup because your spreadsheet is just a copy of the data in the database. (If you’re interested in learning more about this scenario, check out Chapter 27.)
To open files in Excel, you begin by choosing File→Open (or using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+O). This takes you to the Open page in Excel’s backstage view. The left side of the page includes the Places list, which matches the list in the Save As page with one addition: Recent Workbooks. Click this, and you’ll see up to 25 of the most recent spreadsheet files you worked on. If you find the file you want, click it to open it.
When you open a file, Excel loads it into a new window. If you already have a workbook on the go, that workbook remains open in a separate Excel window.
The best part about the Recent Documents list is the way you can pin a document so it stays there forever, as shown in Figure 1-31.
Figure 1-31. To keep a spreadsheet on the Recent Documents list, click the thumbtack on the right. Excel moves your workbook to the top of the list and pins it in place. That means it won’t ever leave the list, no matter how many documents you open. If you decide to stop working with the file later on, just click the thumbtack again to release it. Pinning is a great way to keep your most important files at your fingertips.
Do you want to hide your recent editing work? You can remove any file from the recent document list by right-clicking it and choosing “Remove from list.” And if the clutter is keeping you from finding the workbooks you want, pin the important files, then right-click any file and choose “Clear unpinned workbooks.” This action removes every file that isn’t pinned down.
If you don’t see the file you want in the list of recent workbooks, you can choose one of the other locations in the Places list. Choose Computer to see a list of locations on your hard drive.
As with recently opened workbooks, you can pin your favorite locations so they remain on this list permanently. To open a file in one of these locations, click the folder (or click the Browse button underneath to look somewhere else). Either way, Excel opens the familiar Open window, where you can pick the file you want.
The Open window also lets you open several spreadsheets in one step, as long as they’re all in the same folder. To use this trick, hold down the Ctrl key and click to select each file. When you click Open, Excel puts each one in a separate window, just as if you’d opened them one after the other.
Excel can open many file types other than its native .xlsx format. To open files in another format, begin by choosing File→Open, and then pick a location. When the Open window appears, pick the type of format you want from the “Files of type” list at the bottom.
If you want to open a file but don’t know what format it’s in, try using the first option in the list, “All Files.” Once you choose a file, Excel scans the beginning of the file and informs you about the type of conversion it will attempt (based on the type of file Excel thinks it is).
Depending on your computer settings, Windows might hide file extensions. That means that instead of seeing the Excel spreadsheet file MyCoalMiningFortune.xlsx, you’ll just see the name MyCoalMiningFortune (without the .xlsx part on the end). In this case, you can still tell what type of file it is by looking at the icon. If you see a small Excel icon next to the file name, that means Windows recognizes the file as an Excel spreadsheet. If you see something else (like a tiny paint palette, for example), you need to make a logical guess as to what type of file it is.
Even something that seems as innocent as an Excel file can’t always be trusted. Protected view is an Excel security feature that aims to keep you safe. It opens potentially risky Excel files in a specially limited Excel window. You’ll know you’re in protected view because Excel doesn’t let you edit any of the data in the workbook, and it displays a message bar at the top of the window (Figure 1-32).
Excel automatically uses protected view when you download a spreadsheet from the Web or open it from your email inbox. This is actually a huge convenience, because Excel doesn’t need to hassle you with questions when you try to view the file (such as “Are you sure you want to open this file?”). Because Excel’s protected view has bullet-proof security, it’s a safe way to view even the most suspicious spreadsheet.
Figure 1-32. Currently, this file is in protected view. If you decide that it’s safe and you need to edit its content, click the Enable Editing button to open the file in the normal Excel window with no security safeguards.
At this point, you’re probably wondering about the risks of rogue spreadsheets. Truthfully, they’re quite small. The most obvious danger is macro code: miniature programs stored in a spreadsheet file that perform Excel tasks. Poorly written or malicious macro code can tamper with your Excel settings, lock up the program, and even scramble your data. But before you panic, consider this: Excel macro viruses are very rare, and the .xlsx file format doesn’t even allow macro code. Instead, macro-containing files must be saved as .xlsm or .xlsb files.
The more subtle danger here is that crafty hackers could create corrupted Excel files that might exploit tiny security holes in the program. One of these files could scramble Excel’s brains in a dangerous way, possibly causing it to execute a scrap of malicious computer code that could do almost anything. Once again, this sort of attack is extremely rare. It might not even be possible with the up-to-date .xlsx file format. But protected view completely removes any chance of an attack, which helps corporate bigwigs sleep at night.
The Open window harbors a few tricks. To see these hidden secrets, first select the file you want to use (by clicking it once, not twice), and then click the drop-down arrow on the right-side of the Open button. A menu with several options appears, as shown in Figure 1-33.
Here’s what these different choices do:
Open opens the file in the normal way.
Open Read-Only opens the file, but won’t let you save changes. This option is great if you want to make sure you don’t accidentally overwrite an existing file. (For example, if you’re using last month’s sales invoice as a starting point for this month’s invoice, you might use Open Read-Only to make sure you can’t accidentally wipe out the existing file.) If you open a document in read-only mode, you can still make changes—you just have to save the file with a new file name (choose File→Save As).
Open as Copy creates a copy of the spreadsheet in the same folder. If you named your file Book1.xlsx, the copy will be named Copy of Book1.xlsx. This feature comes in handy if you’re about to start editing a spreadsheet and want to be able to look at the last version you saved. Excel won’t let you open the same file twice, but you can load the previous version by selecting the same file and using “Open as Copy.” (Of course, this technique works only when you have changes you haven’t saved yet. Once you save the current version of a file, Excel overwrites the older version and it’s lost forever.)
Open in Browser is only available when you select an HTML file. This option lets you open the HTML file in your computer’s web browser. It’s part of an old Excel feature that allows you to save spreadsheets as web pages, which has now been replaced by Excel’s Web App (Putting Your Files Online).
Open in Protected View prevents a potentially dangerous file from running any code. However, you’ll also be restrained from editing the file, as explained on Opening Files in Other Formats.
Open and Repair is useful if you need to open a file that’s corrupted. If you try to open a corrupted file by just clicking Open, Excel warns you that the file has problems and refuses to open it. To get around this, you can open the file using the “Open and Repair” option, which prompts Excel to make the necessary corrections, display them for you in a list, and then open the document. Depending on the type of problem, you might not lose any information at all.
As you open multiple spreadsheets, Excel creates a new window for each one. Although this helps keep your work separated, it can cause a bit of clutter and make it harder to track down the window you really want. Fortunately, Excel provides a few shortcuts that are indispensable when dealing with several spreadsheets at a time:
To jump from one spreadsheet to another, find the window in the View→Window→Switch Windows list, which includes the file name of all the currently open spreadsheets (Figure 1-34).
To move to the next spreadsheet, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Tab or Ctrl+F6.
To move to the previous spreadsheet, use the shortcut key Ctrl+Shift+Tab or Ctrl+Shift+F6.
One of the weirdest limitations in Excel occurs if you try to open more than one file with the same name. No matter what steps you take, you can’t coax Excel to open both of them at once. It doesn’t matter if the files have different content or if they’re in different folders or even on different drives. When you try to open a file that has the same name as a file that’s already open, Excel displays an error message and refuses to go any further. Sadly, the only solution is to open the files one at a time, or rename one of them.