Windows 7 Previewing Issue Angers Microsoft Customers

Some Microsoft customers are becoming increasingly irate about a long-running Windows 7 previewing issue which affects Excel and Word.

Microsoft told ZDNet UK on Monday that the issue is due to an incompatibility in the Excel and Word preview functions, but that any software fixes it could implement have side effects.

A number of Windows 7 Office 2007 and 2010 users with have complained on the Microsoft Answers forum over a previewing error in in the Microsoft Office Excel previewer. Customers can preview Excel files using Word, and vice versa, but cannot preview the programs from within.

The queries on the Microsoft Answers forum began in February, but in the past months have become increasingly strident in tone.

"This is now getting absolutely ridiculous," said user Mike Linham on September 6. "I've decided to have a look at OpenOffice and see if it is better and more reliable."

Forum user PineP said: "Sick to think that this problem already existed in Office 2007, carried forward to Office 2010 and still after months no solution from MS. Do MS not feel this is a serious problem? Do they not care for their customers?"

Microsoft told ZDNet UK on Monday that the problem is that the Excel and Word preview functions won't work while the programs are running. The preview dialog box needs to be open to preview Excel and Word from within the programs, but the programs are waiting for the preview dialog box to be closed before attempting to show the preview.

"The issue of being unable to preview Excel files while within the File/Open dialog inside Excel is a known issue and one that our engineering teams are continuing to look at remedies for," said Microsoft in a statement. "The issue stems from the fact that the Windows 7 File Dialog calls back into Excel to generate the preview, but Excel is waiting for the user to close the dialog before it can be responsive to the Windows request."

ZDNet UK reader Brian Smith, who alerted ZDNet UK to the issue, said in an email exchange that preview was "vitally useful" for completing tenders.

"[The problem] is a real pain in the proverbial," said Smith, who is sales manager for Sophco systems, a London-based SMB software house. "I hardly use Excel but am totally dependent on Word; can barely function without it. It's not really practical to have to use Excel to preview Word documents or, alternatively, Windows Explorer (where the Preview function sometimes works OK and other times doesn't)."

"One of my major Word tasks is using it to complete tenders and the Preview function is vitally useful for finding previous answers I can cut and paste into the reply at hand," Smith added.

Microsoft said that all of the fixes its engineers had looked at had side effects, and that as a workaround customers should save thumbnails of documents to preview.

"There are many possible fixes, which our engineers have been considering since the issue was first brought to our attention with Office 2007," said Microsoft. "Each of the possible fixes have side effects and must therefore be carefully considered. While we continue to investigate this issue we recommend that users save Thumbnail preview images with their documents to allow for a quick preview directly within the file list. There is a checkbox at the bottom of the Save dialog to save a thumbnail with your Excel file - checking that will allow users to have a quick preview of that file while within Excel."

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