Excel 2008: Fails to preserve cell formatting from Excel 2004 properly

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
January 21st, 2008 • 4:42 pm

Thankfully, I am only an occasional user of Microsoft Excel 2004. With Numbers now available as part of iWork, I definitely plan to phase out my use of Excel in the near future. I just haven’t had time to complete the transition yet.

So I still have to open documents that I created with Excel 2004 in Excel 2008 and work with them. And I knew I could always count on Microsoft to screw up even the most basic things.

In experience, Excel 2008 just does a terrible job when it comes to handling cell formatting defined in Excel 2004. Here’s an example to illustrate the problem.

In Excel 2004, I created a very simply spreadsheet with two columns, one with a currency value and one with a text value:

Cell formatting in Excel 2004

In order to apply the cell formatting, I selected the column heading (the “A” and “B” at the top of the table). So supposedly the same formatting was applied to all cells in the column, ad infinitum. I used my default “Currency” option for the number format for the first column, which means that I only have to type a number (with a comma as the decimal separator, since I am using the Canada French number formats in Mac OS X’s system preferences) and Excel automatically adds the currency symbol and handles the spacing and alignment.

The only thing I did after that was to alter the formatting for the first row in the table, since it is a heading row and needs specific formatting options.

Then I opened this very same file in Excel 2008:

Cell formatting in Excel 2008

Apparently everything was fine. But here’s what happened when I entered a new value in the first column:

Formatting not preserved

What happened here? The entire “A” column was formatted with the same “Currency” option in Excel 2004, so all cells in that column should have the exact same number format in Excel 2008. But this is obviously not the case. For some reason the number in my first column is now centered and has no currency symbol.

If I look under “Format > Cell…,” it tells me that the cell is formatted using the “General” option, not the “Currency” option I selected when I was in Excel 2004.

How could this happen? Because Microsoft developers are slightly incompetent, maybe?

And this is not something that is happening with one sample file. It is happening with all my files. And it doesn’t just concern the number format. In some files it also affects alignment settings. Text that is supposed to be centered in the cell is left-aligned. Basically all my files are affected one way or the other, and I have to restore the cell formatting all over the place manually.

This is just awful. What else can you say about Microsoft? They just don’t know how to design decent, reliable software. Even the most basic functions are not immune. I mean, columns of formatted data… this is what Excel is for. It does not get much more basic than that.

And the beautiful irony of it all is that, if I open the same Excel 2004 test file in Apple’s Numbers, all the formatting options used in Excel 2004 are perfectly preserved, of course.


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