You know I’ve been a big fan of Excel for ages, but I often disparage Office 365’s version of Excel. On my previous Mac, every single time I opened a spreadsheet (even an empty one), after 2 or 3 minutes I would get a spinning pizza wheel for 10 seconds. I don’t think it happens on my newer Mac, which is inexplicable since they were both clean installs.
When I first started begrudgingly using Office 365, I hated the animations when you move cells and such but I figured out how to turn them off and I was a bit happier. I was excited to get Excel on my iPad, but it’s soooo limited I pretty much hate using it. Even simple things like changing the format of numbers is extremely limited. This week I was recording fan rotation in RPM, clock speed in GHz and temperature in degrees Fahrenheit and I wanted to do custom formatting so the numbers recorded would remain numbers, but of course Excel for iPad couldn’t do it.
And have I mentioned how much I hate OneDrive? So I tried to save a file from Excel on iPad to Excel in iCloud Drive so I could fix the formatting using my Mac, but it moved the file and somehow it doesn’t sync back to Excel on iPad.
But none of that is the subject of this article. This is a story of awesome support from Microsoft. But first, there has to be a reason for me to contact Microsoft.
You may remember item 28 of the 36 tech things that went wrong in a single day for me, but for those who didn’t memorize the list, I’ll refresh your memory. Item 28 was that the format painter wasn’t working in Excel. This is a fantastic little tool and I’ve used it for at least a decade. The problem it solves is when you have one cell (or a range of cells) formatted just the way you want them, but you have another cell (or another range of cells) that you want formatted just like the first. You simply select the source cell, tap the little paintbrush in the Excel ribbon, and then tap on the destination cell and boom, all of your formatting has been copied and pasted. Font, font size, font color, background color, borders, you name it, you can paint it. You can even double click the paintbrush after selecting a source, and then paint many times on all different cells to spread the joy.
Sadly for me, mine was broken. I would select the source, tap the paintbrush, and I’d see the expected marquee (or marching ants as they’re sometimes playfully called) going around where the format had been copied, but before I could tap a destination cell, the ants would quit dancing indicating the copy was gone from the clipboard, and sure enough, selecting a destination cell would do nothing at all.
Excel Help is usually surprisingly good, but on that fateful tech failure counting day, Excel help was a blank window with a spinning wheel. I really should have counted that as an extra failure but I had enough comedy of errors to make my point. No amount of the Googles would shed any light on the problem.
I put up with the lack of format painter for weeks and weeks, but then I thought, “Hey, I’m paying these jokers a hundred dollars a year for this software, maybe I should make Microsoft help me directly.” To my surprise, on the support pages for Office 365, there’s a phone number! One of the best things about being retired is that you actually have time to waste on the phone with support.
Microsoft Support Rocks
I got a pretty quick callback (within a day) from my little friend Abayomi from Microsoft, At first, he took the classic path of speaking to me as though I was a normal user, that is to say, someone not very technical. But fairly rapidly he caught on to the fact that I wanted to go much more quickly. He asked to see my screen, which is exactly what I wanted him to do.
He explained that they use LogMeIn, which is now owned by Microsoft. He was clearly a Mac guy, not a Windows guy who was begrudgingly working on the Mac team. He kept up with me as I gave LogMeIn the appropriate permissions to record my screen, as required by macOS Catalina. LogMeIn asks not only for him to be able to watch but also for him to be allowed to control my computer. I explained to Abayomi that I would prefer to drive myself and not let him take control and he immediately agreed. I can see other people thinking they had to be able to take control but he gave me no grief at all about it.
Another thing I appreciated about Abayomi was that on the few occasions where I needed to get a password out of 1Password, he immediately paused the LogMeIn session and asked me to verify that I could see that it was paused before I revealed any sensitive information. I appreciated the care and respect he showed.
I opened up an Excel file I’d pre-created with some dramatically formatted cells and some unformatted cells. I demonstrated how I could engage the format painter, but how the marquee went away quite quickly and no formatting changes were made. I also explained to him that I had tested the format painter on Steve’s iMac, which is also running macOS Catalina 10.15.2 and it works as expected. While I was demonstrating the problem on my Mac, I told him that it looked as though the clipboard was successfully picking up the formatting but then somehow forgetting it.
His diagnostic process was pretty much what you would expect, it was a matter of deleting plists from the user Library. I’m as comfortable as anyone in deleting plists, but the trick is to know which ones and all of the places they’re buried. He had me delete plists and such from ~/Library/Containers and ~/Library/Group Containers and reboot but that didn’t fix the problem.
Next, he had me do a full uninstall of Excel which was more complicated than you would think. You have to download their license removal tool to truly strip Office 365 from your computer, and he had me remove the plists as well and of course trash the application. By the way, he didn’t give me a hard time for only having Excel on my Mac, not Word or Outlook or, heaven forbid, Powerpoint. But this process didn’t fix the problem.
Abayomi’s next step was to run the uninstall steps again and this time to download an older version of Excel (15.41) and the problem was fixed! From within 15.41 I was able to upgrade to Excel 16.15 and it still worked. But we tried going all the way up to the current version, 16.33 and it failed again. So we did the dance and went backward. He was ready to keep working on it but I had to go so he said he’d call me back the next day at the same time.
And guess what? He DID call me back the next day at the same time! I know that shouldn’t be an amazing thing to report, but how often does it happen for you these days?
We started working through some ideas, none of which worked. Then he said that he’d been talking to some higher-level folks he knew and one had a new idea. He asked me whether by any chance I was using a clipboard manager. Why yes, I am!!! You all know I’m a huge convert to clipboard managers, and specifically Copy’em Paste. I disabled Copy’em Paste and boom, problem fixed.
Now if you were listening closely, I gave myself the clue very early on that should have pointed me at my clipboard manager. I said that the way the ants would begin to march and then stop suggested that the format painter was successfully picking up the format but the clipboard was losing it.
Rather than give me a hard time for the fact that this was never a Microsoft problem in the first place, Abayomi did audio high fives with me that we’d finally cracked the code on the problem. I commended him for his terrific support and signed off.
Copy’em Paste Support Rocks
While I was delighted that Abayomi found the root cause of my problem with Excel, I was worried about my beloved Copy’em Paste. I wrote to the developer of Copy’em Paste with trepidation because I was afraid I was revealing some terribly complicated problem with his software or at the very least giving him a very difficult task to root out the bug. I shouldn’t have worried. Hoi answered me almost immediately pointing out that Copy’em Paste was working exactly as I had configured it!
I’m sure you remember every single detail of my review of Copy’em Paste and my video for ScreenCastsOnline about it, so you’re probably yelling the answer at your devices by now (and maybe have been since the very beginning of this article!)
There are two places in Copy’em Paste where I had actively caused the problem. In the main window down at the bottom is a T. If you tap the T, it turns blue and it makes anything you paste, paste as plain text! I like having plain text pasting everywhere so I had intentionally set it this way. Excel was following my express instructions!
Hoi went on to explain that if the Paste Images as Files of Type transformation (under the vertical ‘…’ button) is enabled, the marquee around copied cells will disappear as a result too. I never would have suspected that one. The good news is that you can turn off transformations easily in Copy’em Paste. I think I’ll keep them on but the next time I need the format painter, I’ll know to toggle that feature off in Copy’em Paste.
The bottom line is that Microsoft Office 365 support rocks, and so does Hoi from Copy’em Paste.