Office 365: More Frequent Builds, More Frequent Bugsby
Historically, major changes to Microsoft Excel would arrive every three years or so, but since then everyone using it would say Excel 2007, 2010, or 2013 has all had the same features and functionality across a given version year.
Improvements were sometimes added by way of infrequent service packs. For instance, Service Pack 1 for Office 2007 finally added the ability to save documents as PDF files. Most updates to Excel, especially those delivered in the form of service packs, applied behind-the-scenes tweaks or bug fixes. That is until Excel 2016 arrived.
With Excel 2016, Microsoft has carved Excel users into two separate classes: subscribers and perpetual license holders. If you’re a subscriber, then you’re paying some amount of money monthly or annually to license Microsoft’s products.
This also entitles you to frequent improvements in the software, such as the new persistent clipboard that no longer throws data you’ve copied away at the blink of an eye. Subscribers are also able to use a handful of new worksheet functions that perpetual license holders of Excel 2016 cannot. In short, Excel 2016, as well as the Microsoft Office applications, are evolving at a pace we haven’t previously seen.
Unless you state otherwise, these updates appear automatically and unannounced on your computer. You’ll periodically encounter a new prompt that brings the latest improvements to your attention; however, a recent build caused a menu in Excel to lose hundreds of commands, as shown in Figure 1.
I accessed this screen in Excel 2016 by first choosing File and then Options. From there:
- Choose Quick Access Toolbar.
- Choose Commands Not in the Ribbon.
- A couple of hundred menu commands should appear in the list.
Figure 1: A recent update to Excel 2016 caused hundreds of menu commands to vanish.
I’ve written about some of the hidden gems on this list:
- Creating one-click access to the Full Screen command in Excel 2013 and later
- Unearthing the Form command that vanished in Excel 2007 and onward
- Restoring classic Print Preview in Excel 2010 and onward
- Creating easier keyboard shortcuts for Paste Special
Suffice it to say, I bounce in and out of this part of Excel frequently, and unfortunately noticed the missing commands while teaching a live training class. It turns out that there was an easy fix:
- Choose Excel’s File menu.
- Choose the Account command.
- Click the Update Options button.
- Choose Update Now.
Figure 2 shows a section with a build number. The “bad build” that sparked the bug shown above was Build 1706. The problem was corrected in Build 1707.
As of this writing, my version of Excel 2016 has already updated to Build 1708. Of course, I am signed up for the Office Insider program, and I requested fast updates, meaning my version of Excel changes more frequently than most users. Thus, some of my experience is self-inflicted, but questionable Build 1706 was pushed out to a broader audience recently, as evidenced by others reporting the same issue.
If your version of Excel 2016 doesn’t include the words Subscription Product, as shown in Figure 2, then you have a perpetually licensed version of Excel that isn’t receiving these frequent updates. Your experience is more like the previously staid versions of Excel.
However, holding onto an old version of Excel isn’t necessarily a respite either. In March 2017, Microsoft pushed out security patch MS17-014, also referred to as KB3178690, that triggered lots of inexplicable crashes in Excel. A fix, KB3191855, was pushed out to solve the Excel 2010 problem, but only after causing significant frustration and lost work.
Figure 2: You can manually check for updates from the Account menu.
It’s not all doom and gloom here, though. As I noted, many of the new builds are helping Excel evolve much faster than ever, but there’s a numbers aspect to this. More builds, more potential for bugs. If you’d rather sit on the sidelines, you can disable these automatic updates in Excel 2016:
- Choose File.
- Choose Account.
- Click Update Options.
- Choose Disable Updates.
Keep in mind that some updates are security patches, so disabling updates can solve one perceived problem and expose you to others. If you do get a bad build of Excel, and a new build isn’t available, users with some technical savvy can roll their version of Excel back.
David H. Ringstrom, CPA, is an author and nationally recognized instructor who teaches scores of webinars each year. His Excel courses are based on over 25 years of consulting and teaching experience. His mantra is “Either you work Excel, or it works you.” David offers spreadsheet and database consulting services nationwide.