As a developer and analyst, I heavily rely on the powerful features and flexibility that Microsoft Excel provides for various tasks. This was especially true when I was supporting enterprise level accounting systems. I would often be working with two or more workbooks at a time, and loved having the ability to view two worksheets at the same time using dual monitors.

With the release of Excel 2007/2010, this ability to open two separate instances of Excel is no longer as easy as double-clicking on an Excel Shortcut anymore. Microsoft has forced users to one MDI container for all their Excel windows. As far as I can tell, the primary benefit of being constrained to one MDI container is less memory usage and features specific to DDE. Due to the nature of Excel and the numerous ways people use it, I think Microsoft was smart to make this the default behavior. However, their neglect in making this behavior optional, thereby forcing it on users, is unacceptable.

The popular way to get around this problem is to disable DDE in Excel, allowing you to once again open new windows in separate instances of Excel. Unfortunately, this breaks some essential DDE specific features, such as being able to copy formulas between separate instances of Excel.

Therefore, the best solution (for me) is to make opening a separate instance an option. Instead of double-left-clicking on the spreadsheet files, you will just use right-click and ‘Open in New Window’ whenever you wish to open a document in a completely new Excel instance.

To accomplish this, you will be creating a new Action like ‘Open in New Window’ on your popup action menu (right click), and this action can be set to ignore DDE. This will allow you independently control how Excel opens supported files (XLS, XLSX, CSV, etc).

The easiest way to do implement this is by following the instructions below:

Note: I have only verified that these instructions work on Windows XP and Office 2007/2010. If you try with different software, your results *may* vary.

1.      In Windows Explorer, go to Tools > Folder Options > File Types

2.      Scroll down to the XLS extension and click [Advanced]

3.      Click on “Open” in the list to highlight it and then click [Edit]

4.      Copy [CTRL-C] the Application Path contents to clipboard (or notepad)

  • Example: “C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office14\EXCEL.EXE” /dde

5.      Click [Cancel] button to close the window

6.      Now, click [New] (to create a new Action)

7.      Give the action a name (like ‘Open in &New Window’)

8.      Paste [CTRL-V] the path from clipboard (or notepad)

9.      Now add the following to the end of the path you just pasted: <space>”%1″

  • Example: “C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office14\EXCEL.EXE” /dde “%1”

10.    Verify that “Use DDE” is unchecked

11.    Click [OK] to save changes

12.    Rinse and Repeat (from step 2) for XLSX, XLSM and CSV extensions

DONE!

You should now be able to right-click on an excel file and click on ‘Open in New Window’ (or whatever name you entered for Step 7), and Excel will open that file in a completely new instance.

Finally, as Step 12 implies, if there are other extensions that Excel supports which you would like to open in a separate instance, just repeat steps 2 through 11 for each extension.

I hope you find this regained freedom as beneficial as I have!

Charles Peri is a programmer analyst with 20+ years of programming and database development experience.