O'Reilly logo

Excel 2010: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

Saving Files

As everyone who's been alive for at least three days knows, you should save your work early and often. Excel is no exception. You have three choices for saving a spreadsheet file:

  • Save. This action updates the spreadsheet file with your most recent changes. If you use Save on a new file that hasn't been saved before Excel prompts you to choose a folder and file name. To use Save, select File→Save, or press 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.

    Tip

    Resaving a spreadsheet is an almost instantaneous operation, and you should get used to doing it regularly. After you've made any significant change, just hit Ctrl+S to make sure you've stored the latest version of your data.

  • Save As. This choice allows you to save your spreadsheet file with a new name. You can use Save As the first time you save a new spreadsheet, or you can use it to save a copy of your current spreadsheet with a new name, in a new folder, or as a different file type. To use Save As, select File→Save As, or press F12.

  • Save & Send. The File→Save & Send page in Excel's backstage view provides several of the same options you get from the Save As dialog box. The difference is that it makes them a bit more obvious and a bit more convenient. Figure 1-16 shows what to look for.

Using File→Save & Send, you can email a copy of your workbook (page 723), transfer it to the Excel Web App (Chapter 26), or upload it to SharePoint (page 746). But ignore these options for now and focus on the "File Types" section underneath, which gives you shortcuts for saving your work in alternative file formats. If you click Change File Type, you get a list with the most common file formats (on the right). Double-click an entry to open the Save As dialog box with that selection. Or click Create PDF/XPS Document to create a print-ready PDF document, as described on page 44.

Figure 1-16. Using File→Save & Send, you can email a copy of your workbook (page 723), transfer it to the Excel Web App (Chapter 26), or upload it to SharePoint (page 746). But ignore these options for now and focus on the "File Types" section underneath, which gives you shortcuts for saving your work in alternative file formats. If you click Change File Type, you get a list with the most common file formats (on the right). Double-click an entry to open the Save As dialog box with that selection. Or click Create PDF/XPS Document to create a print-ready PDF document, as described on page 44.

The Excel File Format

Since time immemorial, Excel fans have been saving their lovingly crafted spreadsheets in .xls files (as in AirlineSilverware.xls). But when Excel 2007 hit the streets, it introduced a completely new file format, with the extension .xlsx (as in AirlineSilverware.xlsx). Excel 2010 keeps the .xlsx revamped format, without introducing any more changes.

As an Excel user, you need to decide whether you want to save your spreadsheets in the latest and greatest .xlsx format or in the older .xls format. But before you make that decision, it helps to know a bit more about the advantages of the .xlsx format:

  • It's compact. The .xlsx format uses ZIP file compression, so spreadsheet files are smaller—way smaller (as much as 75 percent smaller than their original sizes). And even though the average hard drive is already large enough to swallow thousands of old-fashioned Excel files, the new compact format is easier to email around.

  • It's less error-prone. The .xlsx format carefully separates ordinary content, pictures, and macro code into separate sections. Microsoft claims that this change makes for tougher files. Now, if a part of your Excel file is damaged (for example, due to a faulty hard drive), there's a much better 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 23.) XML storage doesn't benefit the average person, but it's sure to earn a lot of love from companies that plan to build custom software that uses Excel documents. As long as Excel documents are stored in XML, these companies can create automated programs that pull the information they need straight out of a spreadsheet, without going through Excel. These programs can also generate made-to-measure Excel documents all on their own.

For all these reasons, .xlsx is the format of choice for Excel 2010. 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 has two additional flavors.

First, there's the closely related .xlsm cousin, which adds the ability to store macro code. If you've added any macros to your spreadsheet, Excel prompts you to use this file type when you save your spreadsheet. (You'll learn about macros in Chapter 28.)

Second, there's the optimized .xlsb format, which is a specialized option that just might be faster when you're 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 zeroes), which is speedier in some situations. To use the .xlsb format, choose File→Save As, and then, from the "Save as type" list, choose Excel Binary Workbook (.xlsb).

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 need to 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.

Inside every .xlsx file lurks a number of compressed files, each with different information. For example, separate files store printer settings, styles, the name of the person who created the document, the composition of your workbook, and each individual worksheet.

Figure 1-17. Inside every .xlsx file lurks a number of compressed files, each with different information. For example, separate files store printer settings, styles, the name of the person who created the document, the composition of your workbook, and each individual worksheet.

Tip

Don't use the .xlsb format unless you've tried it out and find it really does give better performance for one of your spreadsheets. Usually, .xlsx and .xlsb are just as fast. And remember, the only time you'll see any improvement is when you're loading or saving a file. Once your spreadsheet is open in Excel, everything else (like scrolling around and performing calculations) happens at the same speed.

Sharing Your Spreadsheet with Excel 2007

As you've just learned, Excel 2007 uses the same .xlsx file format as Excel 2010. That means that an Excel 2010 fan can exchange files with an Excel 2007 devotee, and there won't be any technical problems.

However, there are still a few issues that can trip you up when sharing spreadsheets between Excel 2010 and Excel 2007. For example, Excel 2010 introduces a few new formula functions, such as RANK.AVG (LARGE(), SMALL(), and RANK(): Ranking Numbers). If you write a calculation that uses this function in Excel 2010, it won't work when someone else opens the spreadsheet in Excel 2007. Instead of seeing the numeric result that you saw, they'll 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. The Compatibility Checker scans your spreadsheet to find features and formulas that will cause a problem in Excel 2007.

To use the Compatibility Checker, follow these steps:

  1. Choose File→Info.

    Excel switches into backstage view.

  2. Click the Check for Issues button, and choose Check Compatibility.

    The Compatibility Checker scans your spreadsheet, looking for signs of trouble. It then reports any problems back to you (Figure 1-18).

  3. Optionally, you can hide problems that don't affect Excel 2007.

    The Compatibility Checker reports on two types of problems. The first type of problems affect anyone who doesn't have Excel 2010. These problems appear with the text "Excel 97-2003" and "Excel 2007" in the column on the right. The second problems affect Excel 2003 users but not Excel 2007 users. These problems appear with the text "Excel 97-2003" in the right column.

    If you plan to share your spreadsheet file with Excel 2007 only, there's no need to worry about Excel 2003 compatibility. You can hide these messages from the list by clicking the "Select versions to show" button and turning off Excel 97-2003.

    In this example, the Compatibility Checker has found two potential problems. One will affect only Excel 2003 users, while the other will affect both Excel 2007 and Excel 2003 users.

    Figure 1-18. In this example, the Compatibility Checker has found two potential problems. One will affect only Excel 2003 users, while the other will affect both Excel 2007 and Excel 2003 users.

  4. Review the problems.

    You can choose to 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.)

    Note

    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.

  5. Optionally, you can set the Compatibility Checker to run automatically for this workbook.

    Turn on the "Check compatibility when saving this workbook" checkbox. Now, the Compatibility Checker will run each time you save your spreadsheet, just before the file is updated.

Saving Your Spreadsheet for Excel 2003

If you want to share your workbook with people who are using Excel 2003, the process is a bit more involved, because Excel 2003 uses the older .xls format instead of .xlsx.

When you find yourself in this situation, you have two choices:

  • Save your spreadsheet in the old format. You can save a copy of your spreadsheet in the traditional .xls Excel standard that's been supported since Excel 97. To do so, choose File→Save As, and then, from the "Save as type" list, choose Excel 97-2003 Workbook.

  • Use a free add-in for older versions of Excel. People who are stuck with Excel 2000, Excel 2002, or Excel 2003 can read your Excel 2010 files—they just need a free add-in that's provided by Microsoft. This is a good solution because it's doesn't require any work on your part. People with past-its-prime versions of Excel can find the add-in they need by surfing to www.microsoft.com/downloads and searching for "compatibility pack file formats" (or use the secret shortcut URL http://tinyurl.com/y5w78r). However, you should still run the Compatibility Checker to find out if your spreadsheet uses features that aren't supported in Excel 2003.

Tip

When you save your Excel spreadsheet in another format, make sure to keep a copy in the standard .xlsx format. Why bother? Because other formats aren't guaranteed to retain all your information, particularly if you choose a format that doesn't support some of Excel's newer features.

As you already know, each version of Excel introduces a small set of new features. Older versions of Excel don't support these features. The differences between Excel 2007 and Excel 2010 are small. But the differences between Excel 2003 and Excel 2010 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 review your spreadsheet and detect compatibility issues. Second, whenever you open a spreadsheet that's 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 you're being limited. The only clear indication is the title bar at the top of the Excel window. Instead of seeing something like CateringList.xlsx, you'll see CateringList.xls [Compatibility Mode].

Note

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 2010, 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 2010 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.

Saving a Spreadsheet in Other Formats

Some eccentric individuals have even older or stranger spreadsheet software on their computers. If you want to save a copy of your spreadsheet in a more exotic file type, you can choose File→Save As, and then find the desired format in the "Save as type" drop-down list (Figure 1-19). Alternatively, you can get quick access to the most popular file formats by choosing File→Save & Send and then clicking Change File Type. Double-click one of the file types that's shown here to open the Save As dialog box with your choice already filled in the "Save as type" box.

Excel lets you save your spreadsheet using a variety of different formats, including the classic Excel 95 format from more than a decade ago. If you're looking to view your spreadsheet using a mystery program, use the CSV file type, which produces a comma-delimited text file that almost all spreadsheet applications on any operating system can read (comma-delimited means the information has commas separating each cell).

Saving Your Spreadsheet As a PDF

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). In this situation, you have several choices:

  • Use the Excel Viewer. Even if you don't have Excel, you can install a separate tool called the Excel Viewer, which is available from Microsoft's website (search for "Excel Viewer" at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads). However, few people have the viewer, and even though it's free, few want to bother installing it. And it doesn't work on non-Windows computers.

  • Save your workbook as an HTML web page. That way, all you need to view the workbook is a web browser (and who doesn't have one of those?). The only disadvantage is that you could lose complex formatting. Some worksheets may make the transition to HTML gracefully, while others don't look very good when they're squashed into a browser window. And if you're planning to let other people print the exported worksheet, the results might be unsatisfactory. The next section has more about saving your worksheet as a web page.

    Excel offers a few useful file type options in the "Save as type" list. CSV format is the best choice for compatibility with truly old software (or when nothing else seems to work). The four most commonly used formats—regular workbooks, macro-enabled workbooks, binary workbooks, and old-style Excel 2003 workbooks—sit at the top of the list.

    Figure 1-19. Excel offers a few useful file type options in the "Save as type" list. CSV format is the best choice for compatibility with truly old software (or when nothing else seems to work). The four most commonly used formats—regular workbooks, macro-enabled workbooks, binary workbooks, and old-style Excel 2003 workbooks—sit at the top of the list.

  • Save your workbook as a PDF file. This gets you the best of both worlds—you keep all the rich formatting (so your workbook can be printed), and you let people who don't have Excel (and possibly don't even have Windows) view your work. Excel 2007 introduced the Save As PDF feature, but it forced Excel fans to download an add-in to get it. Excel 2010 has no such limitation. To save your spreadsheet as a PDF, you simply select File→Save As, and then pick PDF from the "Save as type" list. Or choose File→Save & Send, click Create PDF/XPS Document (in the "File Types" section), and then click the Create PDF/XPS button.

It doesn't matter whether you use the File→Save As or the File→Save & Send approach. Either way, you end up at a modified version of the Save As dialog box that has a few additional options (Figure 1-20).

The "Publish as PDF" dialog box gives you some control over the quality settings with the "Optimize for" options. If you're just saving a PDF copy so other people can view the information in your workbook, choose "Minimum size (publishing online)" to save some space. On the other hand, if there's a possibility that the 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.

PDF files can be saved with different resolution and quality settings (which mostly affect any graphical objects like pictures and charts that you've placed in your workbook). Normally, you use higher quality settings if you're planning to print your PDF file, because printers use higher resolutions than computer monitors.

Figure 1-20. PDF files can be saved with different resolution and quality settings (which mostly affect any graphical objects like pictures and charts that you've placed in your workbook). Normally, you use higher quality settings if you're planning to print your PDF file, because printers use higher resolutions than computer monitors.

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 the publishing process is complete, so 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 dialog box with even more settings. You can choose to publish just a fixed number of pages, just the selected cells, and so on. These options mirror the choices you get when sending a spreadsheet to the printer (How to Print an Excel File). 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.)

Saving Your Spreadsheet As an HTML File

HTML (short for Hypertext Markup Language) is the language of the Web. Web authors use it to craft pages with text, links, and graphics.

In the early days of the Web, most programs had export-to-HTML features that weren't worth a second glance. They distorted formatting, mangled text, and generated HTML so ugly that professional web developers fainted at the sight of it. Fortunately, the situation has improved. Though Excel's HTML exporting might never match the graphical flair of the most talented web artists, it's still downright impressive. Best of all, you can have your data ready for web surfers in a matter of minutes. Here's what to do:

  1. Choose File→Save As.

    This action opens the Save As dialog box.

  2. From the "Save as type" list, choose Web Page.

    When you do, the Save As dialog box changes a little bit, as shown in Figure 1-21.

  3. Choose which portion of your workbook you want to export to HTML.

    If you want to export every worksheet, select Entire Workbook. If you just want to export the current worksheet, then select Selection: Sheet. (Every Excel workbook begins with three worksheets, and so far you've only used the first one. You'll learn how to use the others—and add more—in Chapter 4.)

    Tip

    If you export the entire workbook, then Excel creates a web page that includes worksheet tab buttons, which you can use to switch from one worksheet to another. Generally, it's simpler to just export a single worksheet—that makes more sense to web surfers.

    When you're saving a spreadsheet as a web page, the Save As dialog box gets a couple of new buttons. Use Change Title to set the web page's title. You can also choose to save either the entire workbook or just the current selection.

    Figure 1-21. When you're saving a spreadsheet as a web page, the Save As dialog box gets a couple of new buttons. Use Change Title to set the web page's title. You can also choose to save either the entire workbook or just the current selection.

    If you select a group of cells before you choose File→Save, then you won't see the Selection: Sheet option. Instead, you'll see an option for the range of cells you chose, like "Selection: $A$2:$B$5." (This means "the box of cells stretching from cell A2 in the top-left to cell B5 in the bottom-right.") Choose this to create a web page that includes just that section of content.

  4. If you want to add a title, click the Change Title button. When the Set Page Title dialog box appears, type in a title for your web page, and then click OK.

    If you add a descriptive title, it appears in large bold font centered over the rest of your content. Titles don't have any restrictions, so feel free to use something clear and descriptive like "Blue Skies Budget Report" or "Bankruptcy Projections for 2011." This title also appears in the title bar of the web browser window. (Without the title information, most web browsers simply show the web page file name in their title bar.)

  5. Browse to the location where you want to save the web page.

    This location can be any of the places where you normally save files.

  6. In the "File name" box, enter the name of the HTML file you want to create.

    Depending on the content in your worksheet, Excel may create more than one file. If your worksheet contains embedded graphics or charts, or if you're printing the entire workbook, Excel creates additional files. Excel puts these files in a newly created folder that has the same name as your file, plus the text "_files."

    If you save the web page BudgetReport.htm, Excel creates a folder named BudgetReport_files to hold the extra files. You need to keep the HTML file and this folder together at all times, because the folder contains some information that the HTML file uses. (The box on A Convenient Web Page Package has more about these folders.)

  7. You now have a choice to either save or publish your web page.

    If you want to perform a direct save of your file, effectively converting your current workbook into the HTML format, click the Save button. The original copy of your workbook remains in an .xlsx file, but Excel won't update it again unless you choose File Menu→Save As and explicitly select it.

    If you want to publish your file, which creates a copy of your data in the HTML format, click Publish. This launches the "Publish as Web Page" dialog box, which gives you a last-minute chance to select the portion of the workbook you want to publish and change the file name or web page title. You've already set all the options you need, so just click Publish to save your HTML file. Your workbook remains in the .xlsx format, but Excel makes an HTML copy suitable for viewing in your browser.

Note

When you use the "Publish as Web Page" dialog box, you can select "AutoRepublish every time this workbook is saved" to tell Excel to save the HTML copy of your workbook every time you save the .xlsx workbook file.

The exported copy of your worksheet is amazingly faithful. Excel preserves the formatting, layout, and content of your original worksheet. If your worksheet contains pictures or charts, Excel saves a separate graphic file for each object and displays it in the same web page using the linking power of HTML. Figure 1-22 shows an exported worksheet that includes a chart.

Note

It goes without saying that while other people can view an Excel-created web page, they can't edit it. However, Excel 2010 blows the lid off this limitation with the Excel Web App—a simplified version of Excel that runs right in the browser. This tool is entirely free to use, even for people who don't have the desktop version of Excel. Chapter 26 covers the Excel Web App in detail.

The HTML version of a spreadsheet, as displayed in Internet Explorer (top), mimics its appearance in Excel (bottom) with surprising accuracy. You need to get used to a few minor changes—like the fact that the HTML version doesn't show any gridlines and can't display nonstandard fonts. The solution? Stick to commonly supported Web fonts, like Arial, Courier New, Times New Roman, and Verdana (to name the most popular).

Figure 1-22. The HTML version of a spreadsheet, as displayed in Internet Explorer (top), mimics its appearance in Excel (bottom) with surprising accuracy. You need to get used to a few minor changes—like the fact that the HTML version doesn't show any gridlines and can't display nonstandard fonts. The solution? Stick to commonly supported Web fonts, like Arial, Courier New, Times New Roman, and Verdana (to name the most popular).

Saving Your Spreadsheet with a Password

Occasionally, you might want to add confidential information to a spreadsheet—for example, a list of the airlines from which you've stolen spoons. 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 that you might inadvertently email the spreadsheet to the wrong people (say, executives at American Airlines), 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 allows you to password-protect your spreadsheets, which means anyone who wants to open them has to know the password you've set.

Excel actually has two layers of password protection that you can apply to a spreadsheet:

  • You can prevent others from opening your spreadsheet unless they know the correct 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 a spreadsheet, but you can prevent them from modifying it unless they know the correct password.

You can apply one or both of these restrictions to a spreadsheet. Applying them is easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Choose File→Save As.

    The Save As dialog box appears.

  2. Click the Tools button, and then, from the pop-up menu, choose General Options.

    If you're using a Windows XP computer, you'll find the Tools button in the bottom-left corner of the Save As dialog box. But if you're running Windows Vista or Windows 7, it's at the bottom right, just next to the Save button.

    The General Options dialog box appears.

  3. Type a password next to the security level you want to turn on (as shown in Figure 1-23). Then click OK.

    The General Options dialog box also gives you a couple of other unrelated options:

    • Turn on the "Always create backup" checkbox if you want an extra copy of your file, just in case something goes wrong. (Think of it as insurance.) Excel creates a backup that has the file extension .xlk. For example, if you're saving a workbook named SimpleExpenses.xlsx and you use the "Always create backup" option, Excel creates a file named "Backup of SimpleExpenses.xlk" every time you save your spreadsheet. You can open the .xlk file in Excel just like an ordinary Excel file. When you do, you see that it has an exact copy of your work.

    • Turn on the "Read-only recommended" checkbox to prevent other people from accidentally making changes to your spreadsheet. When you use this option, Excel shows a message every time you (or anyone else) opens the file. This message politely suggests that you open the spreadsheet in read-only mode, in which case Excel won't allow any changes. Of course, it's entirely up to the person opening the file whether to accept this recommendation.

    You can use any sequence of letters and numbers as a password. Passwords are case-sensitive (which means that PanAm is different from panam), and they are masked (which means that all that appears in the window as you type is a series of asterisks).

    Figure 1-23. You can use any sequence of letters and numbers as a password. Passwords are case-sensitive (which means that PanAm is different from panam), and they are masked (which means that all that appears in the window as you type is a series of asterisks).

  4. Click Save to store the file.

    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 1-24, top).

If you use a password to restrict people from modifying the spreadsheet, the next time you open this file you'll be given the choice—shown in Figure 1-24, 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").

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 fileBottom: 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.

Figure 1-24. 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.

Disaster Recovery

The corollary to the edict "Save your data early and often" is the truism "Sometimes things fall apart quickly…before you've 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 AutoRecover 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 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 opens a Document Recovery panel on the left of the Excel window.

If your computer crashes mid-edit, the next time you open Excel you'll probably see the same file listed twice in the Document Recovery window, as shown in Figure 1-25. The difference is the status. The status [AutoSaved] indicates the most recent backup created by Excel. The status [Original] indicates the last version of the file that you saved (which is safely stored on your hard drive, right where you expect it).

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've dealt with all the backup files, close the Document Recovery window by clicking the Close button. If you haven't saved your backup, Excel asks you at this point whether you want to save it permanently or delete the backup.

Figure 1-25. 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've dealt with all the backup files, close the Document Recovery window by clicking the Close button. If you haven't saved your backup, Excel asks you at this point whether you want to save it permanently or delete the backup.

To open a file that's in the Document Recovery window, just click it. You can also use a drop-down menu with additional options (Figure 1-24). Make sure to save the file before you leave Excel. After all, it's just a temporary backup.

If you attempt to open a backup file that's somehow been scrambled (technically known as corrupted), Excel automatically attempts to repair it. You can choose Show Repairs to display a list of any changes Excel had to make to recover the file.

AutoRecover settings

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 that "Save AutoRecover information" is turned on.

You can also make a few other changes to AutoRecover settings:

  • You can adjust the backup frequency in minutes. (See Figure 1-26 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→Recent and click the Recover Unsaved Workbooks link at the bottom of the window.)

    You can configure how often AutoRecover saves backups. 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 the document every five minutes with no appreciable slowdown.

    Figure 1-26. You can configure how often AutoRecover saves backups. 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 the document every five minutes with no appreciable slowdown.

  • You can choose the folder where you'd like 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 find the folder, so you need to find the folder you want in advance (using a tool like Windows Explorer), write it down somewhere, and then copy the full folder path into this dialog box.

  • 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 that you've pulled out of a central database so you can take a closer look. In this case, there's no need to create a backup because your spreadsheet just has a copy of the data that's in the database. (If you're interested in learning more about this scenario, check out Chapter 23.)

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required