Random thoughts from an unusual company

Sometimes Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone Puts Things Into Perspective

Gabriella Davis  7 July 2009 22:28:13
I try and run in a MS free zone as much as possible, if only for my own sanity.  I have Exchange boxes here for testing and doing coexistence planning and Outlook clients for the same reason but everyone at Turtle moved away from MS Office several years ago.  Then IBM blind sided me, whilst doing some work on server loads I needed to perform analysis on the results and the IBM supplied spreadsheet required to consolidate the inpenetrable reported data was Excel only and worse, even though it opened in Numbers, Openoffice and Symphony, it was full of macros that would only run under Excel.  Oh and Excel on the Mac which I use because no other spreadsheet does "text to columns' couldn't run the macros either.

Reluctanly I launched my Windows VM and went to install Excel 2007.  It's not every day I get to be a complete 'newbie' but I honestly hadn't installed a version of Office in years.  Here are some highlights from my attempt to install Excel just so I could open and run an IBM xls spreadsheet full of Excel macros (and my apologies to those of you who do this all the time and to whom this is obvious).
  • The install is actually for the whole of Office 2007 and the install menu contained a ton of applications that MS assume you know about and can decide if you want with little to no explanation of what they are.  I"m sure not everyone knows what Onenote, Communicator or even Groove are and to make it even more confusing, different versions of office contain completely different software options
  • I chose Excel and then expanded it to choose from the many, many , many addins that equally had little to no explanation and appeared to be randomly selected.  Since I only wanted to install the minimal possible to just run my one simple spreadsheet, I tried deselecting as much as I could, then clicked install.
  • Then I waited.  and waited and waited.  I can only think that it attempts to install each product then checks to see if I wanted it then skips it if I didn't.  All I know is that eventually it completed - start to finish from inserting the CD through navigating the menus and completing the install was about 90 minutes!
  • Excitedly I opened the spreadsheet, or tried to.  Unfortunately I was told it was corrupt and would only open as read-only.  Weird.  I tried to open the same file in Excel on the Mac and in Numbers and OpenOffice and even Symphony, all opened fine as editable although none could run the macros obviously.  
  • Then I started snooping around the Excel menus.  Someone mentioned to me that Excel 2007 installs by default with a high level of security which means all macros are disabled by default.  Of course I wouldn't know that and it never told me that macros were disabled, or that the spreadsheet wasn't corrupt, or how I would find the menu option to drop the security level.  After several random menu choices and disabling of options I had confirmed that no matter what I did my perfectly good spreadsheet wouldn't open in Excel 2007 without claiming it was corrupt
  • Finally after an entire morning wasted attempting to open a single spreadsheet my level of shouting at the computer drew the attention of someone else in the office who offered to try opening the spreadsheet on their computer.  It's a sign of how successfully MS had broken my spirit by this point that I actually agreed to let them do that, so badly did I want to move past this point.  Sure enough, 2 minutes later they had sucessfully opened the exact same file and run the macro.

What did she do wrong you ask?  Well the mistake I made was installing the latest version of Excel.  My colleague didn't ask me which version of Excel he should try and use to open the file, he just used the version he had which was Excel 2003 and it worked.  So to summarise, a perfectly good xls file with macros that ran beautifully in Excel 2003 would only open as a corrupted read-only file in Excel 2007.  No warnings like "these macros aren't supported in this version of Excel" or "this is an Excel 2003 spreadsheet would you like to upgrade it" - no.. just "this file is corrupt opening in read mode".  

If I was feeling particularly mean I could point a tiny finger at IBM for not testing their own spreadsheet in Excel 2007 and not documenting that it only worked in Excel 2003 but honestly after the hell that was my morning in MS land I was very happy to get back to my Lotus world where
  • I've never shouted during a client install (maybe after but never during!)
  • I've never spent 90 minutes completing a client install
  • I've never had to navigate menu choices so long and incomprehensible they stretch off the page, full of add-on products I've never heard of
  • I've never had a database or document suddenly claim to be "corrupt" just because it was created in an earlier version

Sometimes you've got to step outside of this cosy Lotus world to see how ugly things can get .  I'm just sayin' :-)


1Bruce Elgort  07/07/2009 23:18:18  Sometimes Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone Puts Things Into Perspective

To one person it's beauty. To the other its ugly. Everybody wins.

2Gab Davis  07/07/2009 23:28:13  Sometimes Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone Puts Things Into Perspective

@Bruce.. that's very zen Bruce but I'm not sure when I win back the hours of my life lost ... now I'll give you "everybody has to suffer sometime" or even "everybody can find something good somewhere" but we're going to disagree on "everybody wins" :-)

3Frédéric Fanchamps  28/07/2009 13:24:14  Sometimes Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone Puts Things Into Perspective

Sorry Gab but you wanted to lose that time. Otherwise you had only install a default office without trying to unclick all options and read the file without problem. And your comment about incomprehensible options to select or not during the install is not at all specific to excel. Try to install any IBM product and you will see. The only 2 valid options, especially if you will use the product only once, if 'typical' or 'full' but don't try to play withother choices.

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