An Open Letter to Microsoft Excel

Dear Microsoft Excel,

I hope this letter finds you well and that you had an enjoyable holiday season.

I wanted to take a moment to answer some of the questions you’ve been asking me, and also to ask you a few questions of my own.

First, no, I don’t care to use the List Wizard, but thank you for asking. Actually, please allow me to clarify: thank you for asking the first time. The last several hundred times you asked me were, frankly, rather annoying. I thought you would eventually get the message, but I may have misjudged your perception of the situation, Microsoft Excel. Again, just to be quite clear: I have neither the desire nor the intention to use the List Wizard. If, by some freak series of bizarre events beyond my control, I should decide to try the List Wizard, I will be certain to tell you; in fact, you will be the first to know. By the way, Microsoft Excel, please tell your friend Word that I also don’t need his help writing letters; I’ve been writing and formatting my own letters for several decades, and I do hold a BSE in English Education from Millersville University, so it’s not as if I’m new to this whole “letter writing” thing.

Secondly, I am well aware that saving a as tab-delimited text will prevent me from using some of your special features. To put it bluntly, I don’t really care. I don’t use most of your features anyway, Microsoft Excel. You seem quite anxious to make sure all of my documents in your own proprietary format, almost obnoxiously so. Are you insecure about something? Are you afraid that if I store my spreadsheets as plain text, that I’ll switch to doing all my spreadsheet-related tasks in a text editor or in something like FileMaker Pro? Really, Microsoft Excel, the insecurity is growing tiresome. Please grow up and try to play nice with the other applications on my computer.

Which leads me to my first question for you. Why is it that when I do manage to save a file as tab-delimited text, you act as though I never saved it when I close the document. I mean, I just saved it, and I haven’t made changes since, so why do you prompt me to save changes? It’s rude, Microsoft Excel. It’s another example of you being pushy and trying to have everything your way. Well, guess what, Microsoft Excel? I’m the user. You will do it my way. I hate to be dogmatic about it, but that’s the cold, hard truth of the matter.

My second question is this: why do you insist on modifying the contents of my clipboard? Again, not to be dogmatic, but it’s my clipboard, and it’s sacred. When I put something there, I expect it to stay there until I replace it with something else, Microsoft Excel. If I highlight three columns and copy them, I expect to be able to paste them repeatedly. I don’t expect to have to select and copy them again. Quite frankly, Microsoft Excel, that ticks me off. I don’t mess with your resource fork, so keep your filthy hands off my clipboard. My clipboard, not yours.

And speaking of the clipboard, why do you feel the need to make sure I meant to copy that much data? If I grab a couple thousand rows and copy them with the intention of pasting them into another spreadsheet, or heaven forbid, another kind of document, like a SQL statement, why do you get all weird when I try to close the source document? I mean, I copied what I need onto the clipboard, so I don’t need the document to be open anymore. So why do you have to warn me that I have a lot on the clipboard? I know what’s on the clipboard, Microsoft Excel. I’m the one that put it there. It’s my clipboard, after all. And your offer to clear the clipboard when I close the document is, quite honestly, overstepping your bounds. You don’t always know what’s best, Microsoft Excel.

While we’re on the subject of you not knowing what’s best, leave my zeros alone. If I type “001” into a cell, it’s because those zeros mean something to me. If I wanted a “1” only, that’s what I would have typed. But since you insist on stripping out zeros that you consider to be insignificant, I have to create a new column, write a formula to format the numbers the way I want them, copy that new column, choose Paste Special from the Edit Menu, choose Values, then delete the original column. Do you have any idea how annoying that is, Microsoft Excel? Do you? Do you have any idea how much time I wasted in 2005 going through that very process? Let’s try to do better in 2006, shall we?

Another way you waste my time is by abandoning perfectly good keyboard shortcuts. I used to be able to press Command-D to fill down, but I can’t do that anymore. Why did you take that away from me, Microsoft Excel? Why? It worked so well. Now I have to take my hands off the keyboard and reach for the mouse. That slows me down, Microsoft Excel, and I’m a busy man.

I eagerly await your answers, Microsoft Excel.

In the meantime, despite my frustrations, I do not wish to end our relationship at this time. Even with all of your, shall we say, personality quirks, you are a valuable asset, and I can’t imagine doing my job without you.

Brad Rhine

PS: Quit pretending to be a database. We both know it’s a lie, and sooner or later, you’ll be found out.

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