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PivotTables part 4: Task-oriented UI, or “improvements the Ribbon affords us”, and some bonus talk about dialogs

As I mentioned a few posts back, one of the key goals for PivotTables in Excel 12 was to use the Ribbon and new dialogs to expose PivotTables’ capabilities to a much broader range of users.  Today I want to take a closer look at the new user interface – especially the ribbon – and how we have tried to make commonly-used features and functions much more visible and available with very few clicks of the mouse.  I am also going to briefly cover some changes and additions to the PivotTable Options and Field Settings dialogs.

PivotTable tab I – the Options tab
When a PivotTable is active (meaning the active cell is inside a PivotTable), you will see two extra PivotTable tabs in the ribbon: Options and Styles. Here is what the PivotTable Options tab looks like in the beta build (note, there is a fair bit not done in this tab, so it is definitely not what you will see in the next beta or when we release Office 12). 


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This tab is designed to hold all the commands you would commonly use when working with a PivotTable.  In addition to giving us more room to expose all the functionality that already exists in Excel PivotTables, it also provides space to advertise new features we have added in Excel 12.  In our testing, we have found that it allows all users (both beginning and power users) to take advantage of a wider range of features than in previous versions of Excel.  We are pretty excited to see this sort of improvement.

Let’s walk through a few of the interesting “chunks†and controls on the Options tab (I will try and cover others as I put up more posts in the future).  The first one I would like to point out is the Change Data Source button.

Clicking this button opens a dialog which allows you to easily change either the source data range for PivotTables based on data inside Excel or to change the connection for PivotTables based on external data (which is something we hear customers ask about all the time).  An example of this would be switching from a test database to a production database. Here is a screenshot of the dialog illustrating how to change the data source of a PivotTable based on an OLAP data source.

Next, let’s take a look at the “Clear†drop down and the “Change Location†button.

Another thing we hear from PivotTable users all the time is that it is too difficult or slow to clear stuff off of a PivotTable.  The Clear drop down provides two new options that hopefully solve those problems.  The button applies clear operations to all fields, so users do not need to go to each field individually and remove it or clear the filters applied to it.  Specifically, here are what the two options do.

  • Clear All.  This is a fast, one-click way to remove all fields from the PivotTable and at the same time get rid of any manual formatting, custom captions, etc. that you (or someone else) might have applied.  After clicking Clear All, you are at the same state as when the PivotTable was originally created (as if you hadn’t added any fields yet).
  • Clear Filters. Clicking this button will remove/reset all filtering applied to any field.

The Change Location button allows you to easily move the active PivotTable to a different location. Selecting this button it brings up a dialog that lets you specify the new location.

PivotTable  tab I – the Styles tab
As mentioned above, there are two PivotTable-specific tabs when a PivotTable is active. The second tab is the Styles tab.  The Styles tab is designed to hold all the controls that you need to determine the layout and “look†of your PivotTable.  Here it is in the beta build.


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In addition to the Styles gallery and Layout Options (discussed in my previous post), the Styles tab has a number of controls that are designed to make it easy for users to toggle on and off parts of their PivotTables.  For example, we have added a “Subtotals†drop down that makes it very fast to turn on or off subtotals for all fields in the PivotTable (instead of going to every singe field to do it which is what is required today).  In Compact and Outline Form, you can also control whether to display the subtotals at the top or at the bottom.

This is another great illustration at how the Ribbon helps usability – we can provide a simple set of results-oriented, visual choices that is scoped to the user’s current activities.  We think people will really like this.

Similarly, you can use the Grand Totals drop down to turn on or off grand totals for rows and columns.  You can also toggle things like banding on and off for any particular style.

Field Settings and PivotTable Options dialogs
The goal of the ribbon is to provide all the functionality needed for most users.  More advanced options are available in the Field Settings dialog and the PivotTable Options dialog.  While both of these dialogs existed in previous versions of Excel, we have updated them to achieve two things.  First, to group the options more intuitively together, and second, to include settings for new features as well as some features previously only available through the object model.  We have used tabs to group options logically.  Let’s take a brief look.  (Note, this is more detailed than the rest of the post, but since I am feeling productive today, and since many of the changes we made were in direct response to places where we had received a bunch of customer feedback, I decided to walk through the dialogs and highlight some of the changes we made.)

Here is a screenshot of the first tab of the new Field Settings dialog for a field on rows or columns – this allows users to set a number of options on a field-by-field basis.


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On this tab there is a checkbox for “Display items from the next field in the same columnâ€. With this you can control on an individual field basis whether to display items of that field in the new compact form or not (see my previous post for an explanation of the three forms – Compact Form, Tabular Form and Outline Form).  And here is the second tab of the Field Settings dialog.


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The new “Include New Items in Filter†checkbox allows you to control whether new items appearing in the source data will automatically show up in the PivotTable when the field is manually filtered (“manually filtered” meaning not all items are checked in the filter UI).

Next, here are some screenshots of the PivotTable Options dialog – on each screenshot, I will try and point out something new to Excel 12 or that may be interesting to frequent PivotTable users … if folks have further questions, please post comments.

The first tab allows users to control layout and format options for the entire PivotTable. 


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The “Compact Row Axis indent†control allows you to control how the extent to which fields added to the rows area are indented when they are added to the PivotTable.

The next tab deals with options relating to totals and filtering.


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The “Use Custom Lists when sorting†checkbox allows you to control whether sorting items on rows or columns will take custom lists into account.  For example, if this checkbox is checked, we will sort labels that represent months in logical data order (Jan, Feb, Mar) as opposed to in alphabetical order (Feb, Jan, Mar).

The next tab contains options on displaying different components of PivotTables.


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“Show Drill Buttons†turns on and off the Expand/Collapse indicators in the PivotTable. This checkbox is similar to the “+/- buttons†button in the ribbon.

“Tooltips with member properties†controls whether member properties are displayed in tooltips when hovering over items on rows and columns (only applicable to PivotTables based on OLAP data sources).

“Tooltips on cells†controls whether tooltips are displayed when hovering over cells inside the PivotTable row, column and values areas. These tooltips contain information about the context (row, column and value information) to make it easier to interpret a large PivotTable where all the items and headers might be scrolled out of sight.

“When the “Classic PivotTable layout (enables drag/drop of fields in the grid)†checkbox is checked, we will display drop zones in the grid and you can drag/drop fields from the field list to these drop zones as well as move fields between them.

The “Show items with no data on rows†and “Show items with no data on columns†checkboxes only applies to PivotTables based on OLAP data sources. They control whether we use the NON EMPTY keywords when querying the OLAP server.  As an example, if you are looking at sales data by product groups, when these checkboxes are checked, the PivotTable will display a product group even if no sales were ever made for this product group.  By default these checkboxes are not checked and we do not show items with no data.  While this is available in the object model in current versions of Excel, we get a lot of customer requests to see this in the product, so we elevated it to mainline UI.

Here is the Printing tab.


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When the “Print drill buttons†checkbox is checked, the expand/collapse indicators in the PivotTable will be included when printing.

Finally, some choices around data in the PivotTable.


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The “Number of items to retain per field†textbox/drop down controls whether the PivotTable will “remember†items even when they no longer exists in the source data so that if they ever reappear, they will be treated like they were before they were deleted.  If you don’t want these “ghosted†items to be “rememberedâ€, just set this setting to “Noneâ€.  This setting was previously only exposed in the object model.  We got consistent feedback from many customers needing an easy way to turn this off so we added it to the PivotTable Options dialog.