One stealthy arrival to Excel recently is a Workbook Links button in the Data tab to replace the old Edit Links. Clicking it now unveils a pane to manage links to external data sources, such as other Excel workbooks. Previously, this was housed in a dialog box; however, the new and improved version has a few extra bells and whistles.
There’s now a ‘Refresh all’ button — a one-click solution to ensure you’re pulling in the latest data. Additionally, ‘Break all’ solves the hassle of removing each external link one by one.
Interestingly, Microsoft hasn’t muttered a word about this change. It hasn’t featured in any of the monthly ‘What’s New in Excel’ blog posts or elsewhere.
I’ve just noticed that Recommended PivotTables has also moved to the pane. However, Recommended Charts hasn’t — for now.
It has got me thinking, though: is the plan to move almost everything to the pane? Conditional Formatting? Name Manager? Data Validation?
I see advantages. Dialog boxes do get in the way sometimes, which is necessary where immediate attention is needed, such as error messages and saving, but not for other types.
Furthermore, Excel’s dialog boxes have always been modal, meaning they prohibit the user from interacting with the worksheet or ribbon while the window is open. It’s not clear why this is, as those of you familiar with VBA will know you can make a UserForm modal or modeless.
I’ve often thought it would be useful to be able to make quick changes to the worksheet whilst a window is open, without having to close it.
Thankfully, one of the key benefits of moving features over to the pane is it mimics the behaviour of modeless dialog boxes, letting you click anywhere. You can also switch between pane features thanks to the vertical tile stack that stores your previously opened ones.
Having everything cast off to the side of the screen will ensure an unobstructed view of the active worksheet, so it may well improve our workflows slightly. However, some of you may object and favour the more traditional style.
So, are you pro-pane or pro-dialog box?