Microsoft Excel save dialog… what on earth?!

Every time I have to save a document in Microsoft Excel and I’m presented with this drop-down list of available file types I cry a little inside.

I often use Excel to create files of events to bulk import into Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar or The Events Calendar (WordPress plugin). And each time I need to convert from the default Excel Workbook (*.xlsx) format to CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) format I cringe when I see this mess of a list.

Excel save dialog showing file types not in alphabetical order
Whose idea was this listing?!

I find it hard to believe that this order has been the result of extensive user-testing.

Would it be too much to ask for an alphabetical list?

I mean, sure, put the default Excel format at the top, but then list everything else alphabetically. That would work for me, and I’m sure lots of other users too.

Current list

This is the list as it currently looks. I can appreciate that the most commonly used formats are near the top (Excel, old Excel and XML) but after that… where is the logic?

Try quickly finding CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) in this list.

  • Excel Workbook (*.xslx)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (*.xlsm)
  • Excel Binary Workbook (*.xlsb)
  • Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls)
  • XML Data (*.xml)
  • Single File Web Page (*.mht, *.mhtml)
  • Web Page (*.htm, *.html)
  • Excel Template (*.xltx)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Template (*.xltm)
  • Excel 97-2003 Template (*.xlt)
  • Text (Tab delimited) (*.txt)
  • Unicode Text (*.txt)
  • XML Spreadsheet 2003 (*.xml)
  • Microsoft Excel 5.0/95 Workbook (*.xls)
  • CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv)
  • Formatted text (Space delimited) (*.prn)
  • Text (Macintosh) (*.txt)
  • Text (MS-DOS) (*.txt)
  • CSV (Macintosh) (*.csv)
  • CSV (MS-DOS) (*.csv)
  • DIF (Data Interchange Format) (*.diff)
  • SYLK (Symbolic Link) (*slk)
  • Excel Add-in (*xlam)
  • Excel 97-2003 Add-in (*.xla)
  • PDF (*.pdf)
  • XPS Document (*.xps)
  • Strict Open XML Spreadsheet (*.xlsx)
  • OpenDocument Spreadsheet (*.ods)

More user-friendly list

This order would make much more sense to my mind. The default Excel format is at the top, to make it easier to find, but after that everything else is in alphabetical order. I’ve also removed the “Microsoft” prefix from Excel 5.0/95 as it’s the only Excel format that includes it.

Now try finding CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) in this list.

  • Excel Workbook (*.xslx)
  • CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv)
  • CSV (MS-DOS) (*.csv)
  • CSV (Macintosh) (*.csv)
  • DIF (Data Interchange Format) (*.diff)
  • Excel 5.0/95 Workbook (*.xls)
  • Excel 97-2003 Add-in (*.xla)
  • Excel 97-2003 Template (*.xlt)
  • Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls)
  • Excel Add-in (*xlam)
  • Excel Binary Workbook (*.xlsb)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Template (*.xltm)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (*.xlsm)
  • Excel Template (*.xltx)
  • Formatted text (Space delimited) (*.prn)
  • OpenDocument Spreadsheet (*.ods)
  • PDF (*.pdf)
  • SYLK (Symbolic Link) (*slk)
  • Single File Web Page (*.mht, *.mhtml)
  • Strict Open XML Spreadsheet (*.xlsx)
  • Text (MS-DOS) (*.txt)
  • Text (Macintosh) (*.txt)
  • Text (Tab delimited) (*.txt)
  • Unicode Text (*.txt)
  • Web Page (*.htm, *.html)
  • XML Data (*.xml)
  • XML Spreadsheet 2003 (*.xml)
  • XPS Document (*.xps)

Now, isn’t that easier to use? Microsoft… please make this a thing.

Check for WinZip update… regardless of what I say

The other day when I tried to open a zip file WinZip popped up with the following dialog box.

WinZip update dialog offers six options
Options, options, options…

How many options?!

I shared it with my colleagues, via Slack. Most laughed. Particularly the final option: “Setup proxy server settings”. (And it wasn’t because they had used a noun rather than a verb: see ‘setup’ vs ‘set up’.)

Anyway, I clicked “Don’t check, but ask me again in a week”.

Pause.

Your version of WinZip is up to date
Your version of WinZip is up to date

Wait a minute?! Did it… Did it just…?!

Did it just check? I definitely clicked on “Don’t check…”

It’s maybe time to go looking for a new zip application, WinZip is getting unnecessarily bloated and slow. And now it doesn’t even listen to what I want it to do.

Would you like me to check for the availability of an alternative?

Any suggestions, folks? I’m running Windows 8.1 Pro.

Google Chrome 42’s awful new bookmark manager (and how to switch it off)

UPDATE: Friday 29 December 2017

Google have again updated the bookmark manager and this time it’s really rather good. It has the Material design but it now works the way I expect it to.

I’ve updated the blog title to make it clear that this post was referring specifically to Chrome 42.


UPDATE: Monday 22 June 2017

Google is ripping out Chrome’s awful new bookmark manager

Great news! Google have listened and the new bookmark manager that sparked so much panic and upset is being removed from future versions of Chrome.

For those who did like it, you can use the Bookmark Manager plugin.


ORIGINAL POST: Yesterday my copy of Google Chrome updated at work. It rolled over from version 41 to version 42. No big deal, I thought. Until I went to reorganise my bookmarks…

Google Chrome's new bookmarks manager
Google Chrome’s new bookmarks manager

What the…?!

To my surprise, Google Bookmarks had gone all Material.

My initial response was positive. It looks pretty. The thumbnails look like they could be useful. And I’m generally in favour of Google’s aim to standardise the look and feel of their web applications (whether Chrome OS, web-based, or Android).

But then I tried to reorganise my bookmarks.

It was a nightmare.

As silly as it sounds, I genuinely began to panic. And then started my out-loud commentary to the rest of the office about just how awful an experience it was.

My workflow

Whenever I spot something useful I quickly bookmark it to a folder called “Check out”.

Then every day or two I sort the bookmarks (A–Z) so that the sub-folders move to the top, and I can find the bookmarked page titles more easily.

Then I organise these bookmarks into 3 sub-folders:

  1. Action
  2. Keep track on…
  3. Watch or listen

I often bulk-select items with shift + click.

Truly awful user experience

But with the new, redesigned bookmarks manager this was virtually impossible to do:

  • The sort alphabetically option was missing.
  • I couldn’t bulk select a group of bookmarks: I would have to click each bookmark separately.
  • I couldn’t drag and drop bookmarks. I had to use some awful and clunky, dynamic drop-down-style interface to select which folder to move them to.

This was without a doubt the worst user experience I have encountered in a long time. It was awful. Utterly, utterly awful.

After about five minutes I gave up. Of the 40 or so bookmarks in “Check out” I had moved maybe six or seven. I didn’t have forty minutes to spare just to move bookmarks. Life is too short.

“This redesign has killed my productivity,” I complained to no-one in particular.

After seriously considering moving to another browser, I went looking for a fix… but not before writing some strongly worded feedback to Google.

This isn’t a new complaint

Negative feedback about this new, card-style design isn’t new. It goes as far back as December.

Computer World reported it on 1 December 2014 in an article entitled, Card-style display displeases users who see it pop up in their beta builds. The article notes that

when Google asked for feedback, it got a thumbs down from most users.

How to fix it

My first port of call was the Google Chrome flags page (chrome://flags). This hidden section contains settings that control experimental features of Chrome.

Sure enough, it was there, so I disabled it. Restarted Chrome and sanity was restored.

Enable Enhanced Bookmarks now set to Disabled.
Enable Enhanced Bookmarks now set to Disabled.
  1. In your address bar type: chrome://flags/#enhanced-bookmarks-experiment and hit Enter. (Or right-click that link and select Copy link address.)
  2. Change the drop down to Disabled.
  3. Restart Google Chrome.
  4. Your bookmarks manager should now be the familiar, sortable, draggable version.

Why Google? Why?!

What I can’t understand though is why—even after all that negative feedback in December during the beta phase—Google still pushed out this car crash of a design to the stable channel.

In the Google Material guidelines it says,

At Google we say, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” We embrace that principle in our design by seeking to build experiences that surprise and enlighten our users in equal measure.

Well, that certainly surprised me. But it certainly didn’t address any of my user stories—it didn’t allow me to work productively. In fact, it did the opposite: it slowed me down, the interface got in the way of what I wanted to do.

I’m not unilaterally against a Material-style design of the bookmarks manager. But it needs to work more efficiently. Something along the lines of how files may be ordered in Google Drive would be a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, I’m sorry Google—I don’t often complain about your stuff—but in this case, after only five minutes I stopped your experiment and returned to sanity.

Great-looking interface on Mover.io

The Mover add credit dialog is styled like a till receipt

While using Mover earlier this week—an online service for transferring files from one cloud storage host to another—I investigated how much it would cost to buy extra bandwidth (the first 10 GB is free).

The answer was US $1.00 per GB, after a minimum of 10 GB.

How did I know that? Check out their user interface. I love it! It’s been styled like a store till receipt: a perfect example of using a real-world example in an online environment to immediately communicate meaning.

I love their attention to detail too, right down to the crinkled paper effect in the top left corner. Good work Mover team!

Wunderlist — UI peculiarities

Wunderlist—a beautiful and simple to-do list
Wunderlist—a beautiful and simple to-do list

As part of a money-saving exercise, at the moment I’m looking to move away from using a hosted Microsoft Exchange account for my email, calendar, contacts, notes and tasks. I know that I won’t get one application that will cover all five elements, but I’m okay with that.

My two main criteria are that the applications I choose should be:

  • Free
  • Able to synchronize between PC, Android and the web

For tasks I’m now beginning to trial the free version of Wunderlist, a to-do list application for iPhoneiPadAndroidWindowsMac and Web. It’s really rather good.

Being involved in web design professionally, and often called on to assist with web application user-interface (UI) designs I frequently find myself analysing other people’s application interfaces and asking myself why certain elements have been laid out in a particular way.

I found myself considering these things when using Wunderlist for the PC this morning. I wanted to change where new list items were added, from the bottom of the list to the top.

Curiously, on the application menu I selected “Preferences” (4th item down):

wunderlist-preferences

But it opened a dialog window called “Settings”. Why not keep the two terms consistent?

Wunderlist settings: add new items
Wunderlist settings: add new items

On the first panel, which is open by default, I found the option I wanted: where to add new items. However, I was a little surprised by the order.

Why is “Bottom of List” at the top of that two option list, and “Top of List” at the bottom?

I would have thought it would be more intuitive to users—in a Steve Krug ‘don’t make the think’ kind of way—to list them in the order that the words themselves suggest:

  • Top of list
  • Bottom of list

What do you think?