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I’m working on a fairly complex spreadsheet in Excel for OSX. Being a Mac user puts me in the minority of Microsoft’s Excel users (I’m guessing) and means things are always a bit different than in the Windows version. So, as I was working along, I got to a point where I wanted to add a few simple form controls. I needed to look up how to do that because I’ve never done it before. A Google search brought me to Microsoft’s documentation without much trouble; it was the second result, not bad.

Google search for checkboxes in excel

But, because I’m a Mac user, the instructions to enable the feature were wrong. Here’s the docs page:

Microsoft Documentation Screenshot for Checkboxes in Excell

OK, so, technically there is a little disclaimer that informs me as to which versions are covered in this topic, and my version of Excel isn’t on the list. Listing the supported versions is slightly better than nothing, but it’s still a terrible user experience. It’s the digital equivalent of hanging a sign that reads “not this way” on a dead end. When you have multiple versions of your product in the marketplace, your docs need to support that, especially considering that this is Microsoft we’re talking about. They have nearly unlimited resources. I expect a good documentation experience, especially since it’s not that hard or expensive in today’s world if you have the right tools and content strategy.

Getting back to my form controls problem, it turns out the correct steps for me were:

Click Excel > Preferences > Ribbon & Toolbar > Select the Developer check box, and click Save.

This is significantly different than either of the options presented, so it took me a few minutes to figure it out. The overall experience was frustrating, and strongly reinforced my opinion that Microsoft doesn’t care about me as a user because I’m a Mac owner, whether or not that’s actually true.

The correct experience here would have been to ask me which version of Excel I’m using (and store that information as a cookie on my computer so I’m only asked once) then display an article that relates specifically to my version. This can be a pop up when I enter the site, or simply a drop down at the top of the article.

This isn’t an extraordinary expectation. We do this on our documentation site:

easyDITA Portal Documentation

I’ll leave you with a shameless plug. If you want a documentation site that works better than Microsoft’s and tells your users that you care, give us a call.

A better way to manage technical documents
Patrick is a co-founder of Jorsek Inc. makers of easyDITA. Since beginning with Jorsek Inc. in 2005 Patrick, has worked on a wide range of projects all focused on improving authoring, production, and distribution of content. Most recently, his primary focus has been empowering the users of easyDITA and generally advancing the product documentation industry.

Patrick is a software industry professional specializing in developing, productizing, and solving problems with product content software. He is a highly skilled developer, thoughtful manager, passionate customer advocate.
Patrick Bosek