Managing Excel Add-Ins
By David H. Ringstrom, CPA
Add-ins are programs that plug-in into Microsoft Excel to add additional functionality. Some add-ins expand Excel's core functionality, while others allow third-party products to add features to Excel's environment. In this article I'll discuss how to enable some of Excel's hidden features, as well as give you some pointers on what to do when third-party add-ins vanish from Excel.
Excel ships with several add-ins that you can manually enable. Some of these include:
- Analysis TookPak
- Conditional Sum Wizard
- Euro Currency Tools
- Lookup Wizard
- Solver Add-In
It's easy to enable these add-ins:
- Excel 2007: Click the Office button, choose Excel Options, and then click Add-Ins. Choose Excel Add-Ins from the Manage section at the bottom of the Add-Ins window as shown in Figure 1, and then click Go. As shown in Figure 2, select any add-ins that you wish to include.
Figure 1: Use the Manage section to work with Add-ins in Excel 2007.
Figure 2: You're just a few mouse clicks away from enabling several hidden Excel features.
- Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Tools, Add-Ins, and then select any add-ins you wish to enable, as shown in Figure 2.
In other cases, third-party applications may automatically install add-ins in Excel. For instance, Adobe Acrobat often adds a custom menu or toolbar in Excel. Some of my clients work in the financial industry and rely on add-ins from Bloomberg or Reuters that enable users to return prices and other data on financial products directly into an Excel spreadsheet. Most add-ins are well-behaved, and you may tend to take them for granted — until the day that you launch Excel and find that your add-in functionality has vanished. Much like a mother bear with cubs, Excel is very protective of its operating environment. If Excel determines — rightly or wrongly — that an add-in has caused an Excel crash, the add-in is benched and put on the disabled list. Excel will generally warn you in such cases, but in the case of a shared or public computer, someone else may choose to disable the add-in without you knowing. In such cases, the menu or toolbar that the add-in provides simply vanishes. Fortunately, it's easy to re-enable the add-ins if you know where to look:
- Excel 2007: Click the Office button, choose Excel Options, and then click Add-Ins. Choose Disabled Add-Ins from the Manage section at the bottom of the Add-Ins window (shown in Figure 1), and then click Go. As shown in Figure 3, any disabled add-ins will appear on the Disabled Items list. You can enable such items one at a time, and then click Close.
Figure 3: Use this window to re-enable disabled Excel add-ins.
- Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Help, and then About Microsoft Office Excel. Click the Disabled Items button shown in Figure 4 to display the Disabled Items window shown in Figure 3.
Figure 4: The Disabled Items button is fairly well hidden in Excel 2003 and earlier.
Excel 2007 tip: Although most add-ins have a .XLA extension, others are known as COM add-ins, and don't appear in the Add-Ins list shown in Figure 2. Excel 2007 users can easily disable unwanted COM add-ins: Click the Office button, choose Excel Options, and then click Add-Ins. Choose COM Add-Ins from the Manage section at the bottom of the Add-Ins window as shown in Figure 1, and then click Go. As shown in Figure 5, you can then add or remove COM add-ins as desired. Users of earlier versions of Excel can use the free OfficeIns tool  to manage add-ins.
Figure 5: Excel 2007 makes it easy to manage COM add-ins like Google DeskTop Office.
David Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm. Contact David at email@example.com .