Office 2007 - Can We Decide on a UI Document Model, Please?

I posted before about a few inconsistencies in the Office 2007 UI, and now I found that there’s not even a common UI document model underneath the various applications. I did some tests with PowerPoint, Word and Excel – what I want is really simple: I want to be able to open more than one document at once, and I want each document to appear in its own window. Of course each of those windows should have its own button in the task bar (it wouldn’t cross my mind to mention this specifically, but as I found out, this is apparently not a normal thing to expect). I have three screens attached to my computer, so I want to be able to view several documents of the same type next to each other, and I want to use Alt-Tab to switch between main windows, because my task bar is seldom where I need it and always so full that I can’t easily find the right button anyway. So here’s how the three applications behaved in my test.

Word

There’s an option called Show all windows in the Taskbar (Advanced/Display) in the options dialog. This effectively switches between an old-style MDI interface and a new-style interface that behaves exactly like I would expect (see above). Good! The drawback about MDI is that there’s no Windows menu anywhere to be seen, so the handling of a number of MDI windows is probably more difficult then it used to be.

Excel

Excel has a similar option (same name, but this time it in the Personalize/Top options for working with Excel section) as Word, but the result is different. After analyzing it for a while, I would say that Excel simply always works as an MDI container. When the option to show all windows in the task bar is switched on, there are two differences:

  1. The task bar shows one button for each open Excel workbook, although there’s always just one Excel main window.
  2. The close button for maximized MDI child windows vanishes. I can still close them if they are not maximized, though… I guess the reason for the disappearance of the close button is that I’m supposed to use the main window close button. In this mode, the main windows doesn’t close the main window, but instead the active child window. Ridiculous.

In my quest to make Excel behave the way I want it to, I tried to run multiple instances of the application, and I was surprised to see that this actually works! No matter what the button option is set to, it’s possible to run Excel more than once to get multiple main windows on screen.

PowerPoint

PowerPoint has, once again, a similar option, and this time it can be found in the same place as in Word. But the behaviour of the application itself is closer to what Excel does: it works as an MDI container always, and the option switches the number of buttons in the task bar. In contrast to Excel though, when the option is On, there are no MDI child window buttons at all. So the only way to switch between one child window and another is to use the Windows task bar. In contrast to Excel, it turned out to be impossible to run multiple instances of PowerPoint. Every time a new instance is run, a new document is created in the existing instance instead.

Summary

So we have at least three different UI document models in these three applications. All three of the applications can be used as MDI applications, but in absence of proper in-application window handling (no Windows menu!), this is not very useful. Switching off the MDI mode has three different results – multiple main windows in Word, no real effect at all in Excel and MDI without child window buttons in PowerPoint. The workaround of running multiple app instances is available in Excel, in PowerPoint the only way to see multiple presentations on screen at the same time is to use the broken MDI mode. Way to go, Microsoft!

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