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Open Excel workbooks in separate windows and view them side by side

 This week we continue exploring new features in Excel 2013. This post is brought to you by Chad Rothschiller, a Program Manager in the Excel Team.

View Excel workbooks side by side“How do I open my workbooks in separate windows?” This has been a common inquiry from many of our customers who want to look at their workbooks side by side, or spread them across more than one monitor.

Good news: starting with Excel 2013, each of your workbooks opens in its own window, similar to Word and PowerPoint today. That means that each workbook has its own ribbon and top-level window frame that you can move and resize independent from your other open workbooks. This functionality can improve multitasking, visibility, and analysis across workbooks.

In computing terminology, this is called Single Document Interface (SDI). Versions of Excel before the 2013 release used Multiple Document Interface (MDI), where all workbook windows were contained within a top-level “master” container window.

Here’s an example of four new workbooks. Note that each one has its own window and ribbon:

How to arrange your windows

Now that you have multiple windows, how should you arrange them? Well, there are plenty of options and below are some favorites:

Smart Snapping: Grab the top of the window, and drag it to the top, left, or right edge of your screen, then let go. The window automatically resize:

  • Drag Left: Position on the left half of the screen
  • Drag Right: Position on the right half of the screen
  • Drag Top: Fills the entire screen

Windows Taskbar: If you hold down the Shift Key and then right click the Excel icon on the Windows Task Bar you will see options for arranging your open windows. The cool thing about these options is that if you have multiple monitors, Windows remembers each workbook’s monitor and arranges workbooks displayed within the same monitor.

Excel Ribbon: Click on View the Arrange All to see more options for arranging your workbooks:

Note that you can still create new windows (or multiple windows) showing the same workbook. Similarly, the “View Side by Side” and “Synchronous Scrolling” features work just like they used to.

Tell us what you think

Thanks for learning more about this new feature in Excel 2013. I hope you all get wonderful benefits from being able to arrange workbooks on your screens!  In a future post, we’ll go into a couple more advanced topics such as “Merging Instances and Long Running Operations” and how they work with pre-existing add-ins. In the meantime, let us know in the comments how you’re planning to use this new feature or anything else you’d like to see in future versions.

Chad Rothschiller, Excel Program Manager

Join the conversation

27 comments
  1. hi chad.

    haven’t seen you lately. glad to see your post.

  2. That’s all well and good, but can I reference a cell in another workbook that way? That is the benefit of having workbooks open in the same Excel instance currently and the disadvantage of having workbooks open in separate instances. I’m assuming that the answer is "Yes", because otherwise that would be a crippling issue with Excel 2013.

    • Hi Zachary – yes, you can still reference cells in other workbooks running in the same instance. The beauty is that you have multiple top level windows, but all in the same/single Excel instance. We’ve also made it a bit harder to get two instances running accidentally (which was a related problem with the older MDI interface).

      Note that if you *do* get two separate instances running, you’ll run into the same issues that have always been there with separate instances (copy/paste behaves differently, referencing cells, etc)

  3. In Office 2010, we can open two different instances by running excel from ‘Run’.
    Good to know that we can now open different instances easily.

    -ashish jain

  4. This is the absolute worst feature of Excel 2013 and the #1 reason (out of many) that I won’t use it. There should at least be an option for those of us who prefer the SDI interface.

    If you had multiple workbooks open in previous versions you could CTRL-Tab and flip through all of them. You can still do that in 2013 as long as you never click out of Excel into another program. I guess you could rearrange your windows with one of the above options but what a PITA.

    Along with the horrible interface, giant buttons and worksheet tabs, slowness (especially compared to 2010), invisible window bug and frequent crashes, Excel 2013 is probably the worst Excel "upgrade" in history.

    I tried the preview for two months ad the RTM version for about a week. Horrible. Excel 2010 is the best version of Excel … fast & stable.

    • Hi there, I’m sorry you’re having a hard time with Excel 2013. CTRL + TAB works as long as you’ve got one of the Excel windows activated – - nothing is different there. If you don’t have Excel activated (maybe you have Word or some other application active), of course CTRL + TAB isn’t going to do anything with your Excel windows, but that’s no different than in the past either.

      Regarding the invisible window bug & crashes, you might try looking for an answer at the Microsoft Office Answers Forum for Excel, here: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/offi­ce/forum/excel

      If nothing seems to match, can you please send us an email with the steps on how to reproduce each these issues? We would be happy to take a look and see if they can be fixed. Send to xlfiles@microsoft.com . Thanks!

      Incidentally, I worked a bunch on performance and stability for Excel 2010, glad you like it!

  5. That should say, "… for those of us who prefer the MDI interface."

  6. looks great; I missed this in 2010
    when will 2013 be available?
    Bob NL

  7. This is the feature I’ve missed in previous versions of Excel.

  8. chad:

    why did you remove the "open recent file" ribbon control? it wasn’t hurting anything being in there.

    and add an option to add a place on the local pc. I shouldn’t have to go to computer, then browse for a location. the only options are sharepoint and skydrive . not everybody uses skydrive.

    put the recent places back next to the recent workbooks like it used to be in 2010. you’re wasting half of the screen, anyway, with nothing to the right of the recent documents. have to click all over the place to get to file locations

    • hey just wanted to jump in since he wasn’t responding – the recent files or "Recent Workbooks" is still there… it’s in a more intuitive place File > Open…. it’s all listed on the right side.

    • Hi Gary – thanks for the feedback, and thaman04 for a quick response. Yes, recent files is still there, but in what we think is a more intuitive place. I’ll get the rest of this feedback over to the folks who own this part of the Office user interface.

    • If you are talking about adding it to the Quick Access Toolbar or the Ribbon, yes they removed it from Excel 2013. You can get it back by saving and importing your Ribbon from Excel 2010. There is also a way to manually edit the save file but I do not have time to look how I did it right now.

  9. Hello
    I use excel 2013 for a short period of time now. In my opinion a dangerous feature of the new handling of different instances is the fact that the instances are not really truely independent. So when excel crashes which happens sometimes unfortunately (at least until now), excel forces to close all excel instances. With older versions, only the one which had the problem was closed.
    In thic context, is there a possiblilty to open different excel instances so that they are truely independent ?

    • Hi there – I *think* what you are seeing is just 1 instance, but it is handling several different workbook windows. In that case, when 1 of the workbooks becomes unresponsive (sorry about that), all of them will, because it’s just the single Excel.exe servicing them.

      In order to truly get 2 different instances running, do this:
      1. boot the first instance of Excel
      2. hold down ALT + X, and boot another instance of Excel
      >>In Windows 7, you could right-click on the Excel icon on the task bar, and choose "Excel 2013" from the pop up
      >>Be sure you continue holding down those 2 keyboard keys (ALT and X) until you get a dialog
      3. When you see the dialog asking "Do you want to start a new instance of Excel?", choose "Yes"

      I will write more about these more advanced aspects of SDI in an upcoming post. Thanks!

      • Hello Chad
        Thanks for the quick response.
        Awesome, exactly what I was looking for. By pressing ALT+x when opening Excel, it even tells you that this would be a new instance.
        Many thanks

  10. I see that Devasheesh asked an off-topic question and it was not blocked, whereas mine was. So beit. There are MANY places I can discuss the issue I posted, if that is your wish.

  11. Hi there,

    I am curently NOT using excel 2013. I prefer keeping my worbooks in manual calculation mode. Can anyone tell me that in Excel 2013, if i am calculating a workbook (which is in manual calculation mode) by pressing F9 (OR Ctrl + Alt + F9) – it will calculate the active workbook OR all the opened workbooks.

    FYI – In excel 2010, it calculates all the open workbooks.

    • Hi Devasheesh –

      Manual calculation shortcuts should work the same way in Excel 2013. There are a few options:
      • F9: Calculates all worksheets in all open workbooks.
      • Shift+F9: Calculates the active worksheet.
      • Ctrl+Alt+F9: Calculates all worksheets in all open workbooks, regardless of whether they have changed since the last calculation.
      • Ctrl+Alt+Shift+F9: Rechecks dependent formulas, and then calculates all cells in all open workbooks, including cells not marked as needing to be calculated.

      Hope this helps!

      Carlos Otero | Program Manager | Excel Team

  12. Well honestly, for me, I can not see how you can *compare* spreadsheets in any detailed way in separate monitors. Sure, it’s great if you want to have two unrelated spreadsheets visible — perhaps 2 separate projects you’re going back and forth between — but for comparison the spreadsheets really have to be in the same monitor, where you can see the data simultaneously, with the sheets resized so that the relevant columns are very close. Separate monitors invite errors and a lot of eye strain. It’s not an improvement for comparison purposes. Ask any proofreader. You have to have the 2 items in the same visual field, with as little eye movement as possible, and certainly no head movement.

    Also, in the test version of Office 2013, I can’t seem to get side by side to actually work side by side. It only works horizontally (I’d call it top-to-bottom), and it has 2 full office ribbons, one of them right in the middle just where you might want the rows very close to each other. It leaves, oh, only about 15 lines visible in each spreadsheet — which is bad enough, because scrolling while proofing is very inefficient — but they are so far apart that comparison is really hard. And besides, I can’t find a vertical option, which is how I use side-by-side about 98% of the time. So synchronous scrolling becomes more or less unusable.

    This single document interface renders real side by side — using the Arrange Windows function — more difficult than at present. If you have 3 spreadsheets side by side, each ribbon is massively compressed, and each quick access toolbar (so very important now that the ribbon is so sprawling) is also abbreviated. I have so many important functions and macros linked on the QAT.

    Finally, I often have 12-15 programs open at once, often including 2 distinct instances of Excel (I need to keep text-to-column with space as a delimiter separate from instances with tab as a delimiter). I easily have 6-12 spreadsheets open at any given time, sometime more.

    Windows’ Alt-tab currently works very well because I keep all documents in all programs in MDI mode (except for Outlook emails, where I don’t have a choice). Alt-tab will now become unusuable when it’s full of individual spreadsheets and Word docs too.

    So, Excel 2013 demolishes Alt-tab, it makes side-by-side only vaguely useful and only for really general comparisons, and it diminishes the great productivity enhancer, the QAT.

    Can you not develop an Excel Light for light-to-moderate users, and keep an expert version of Excel for the folks who have to use it hour after hour every day? Adobe does Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. With each iteration of Excel I actually find new productivity roadblocks in the interface, sometimes small, sometimes not. The Big Grid is great, and there are few other tweaks I find useful. But for the most part I feel like the interface designers don’t realize how much they are slowing down the expert users with these new directions.

    • Hi David, thank you for your thoughts. It’s really helpful for us to hear how people use Excel, what’s useful, and what’s not so useful. You brought up several points, so I’ll try to address each one.
      1. Compare Across Monitors, really? I’m with you. Multiple monitors is probably more for dashboarding multiple different workbooks rather than comparing across them. However, I don’t think that point detracts from the value of SDI though.
      2. “Side by Side” with synchronous scrolling doesn’t seem to work. While the default is to stack them top to bottom (admittedly an awkward behavior for a feature called “side by side”), there is a way to get it working truly side by side. After you click “View side by side”, you can click “Arrange All” (on the same tab), and choose “Vertical” – - and the synchronous scrolling still works.
      3. Ribbon takes up too much space: This was one of the more difficult trade-off decisions we had to make when implementing SDI. On the one hand, each ribbon takes up more space. Conversely, there are “local” ribbons (one per workbook window), forcing your mouse to travel less distance, which is especially nice in those dashboard/multi-monitor scenarios. But then there’s the problem of having less horizontal space to spread things out (as you point out, the QAT width is dramatically narrower. Again, a trade off we had to think hard about. One work around for taking up too much space in general would be to collapse the ribbons when working like this. We considered doing this by automatically when you compare workbooks, but we felt that this would be too jarring of an experience.
      4. MDI mode with ALT + TAB: I think what you’re referring to is the setting that essentially collapses all your Excel windows into a single window icon in the ALT + TAB list. This isn’t the default setting, and isn’t very commonly used. While I feel your pain and I know there are others who work this way, I do believe the vast majority of people would be really confused if this became the default way things worked. One of our goals with SDI is to make Excel more approachable and understandable, by being more like Word and PowerPoint.
      5. Excel “Lite”: I appreciate your idea here. We’ve tried things like this in the past, and people end up being confused about why the functionality is limited / different. My general design approach is that if we absolutely nail the design, then it’ll be approachable for beginner users, yet not cumbersome for the advanced users. Sometimes our designs are constrained by technology that’s out of our hands, so we simply have to do our best, and hope to make the right decision within those constraints.
      Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, it’s valuable.

      –Chad

      • #4 is exactly how I use Excel 2010 and the reason I won’t be using 2013 anytime soon. I think you are about to discover just how many people use Excel this way … and want it back.

  13. Will we have the ability to open multiple excel files within an instance? For example, two instances open each with five files open in them? I do this currently by relaunching Excel and it works very well for the work I am doing.

    • Absolutely Mike. See some of my earlier comments (down below) on how to do that.

  14. Hi, I’ve been automating Microsoft Excel since 1997 using VB & VBA to create ‘Stand Alone’ Excel products which use the power of Excel but keep the user on a fixed path via tightly controlled menus/ribbons. The introduction of a SDI threw all of this away as the user can now ‘by-pass’ the menus and Simpy click one of the workbooks now showing on the Taskbar. (Some workbooks should not be accessed by the user)

    A workaround for this was for me to use the Windows("myWorkBook").visible = FALSE, great it hides the workbook from the Taskbar but unfortunately you can then not use the ACTIVEWORKBOOK object to refer to the hidden workbook.

    I had one simple request during beta to eliminate ALL programmers problems with a SDI – still have programmatic access to the Application.DisplayWindowsInTaskBar option just for the life of the Excel Instant.

    No-one obviously thought this through for those who have been championing Excel and developing full-blown application using the Excel Object.

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