Help – IE Keeps opening my spreadsheet. I want to save the darn thing…

I received an email yesterday from a user using Internet Explorer to attempt to download Excel Spreadsheets (.xls extension). They couldn't see an obvious way of stopping Internet Explorer from automatically opening the spreadsheet embedded in the browser, rather than ("as they seemed to recall") being prompted whether to open or save the document.

This is a surprisingly common question - the answer is another of those "easy if you know how", but impossible to find if you don't. Half the reason for this is that the answer doesn't lie in Internet Explorer, it's actually Windows Explorer or Folder Options on the control panel (at least from a GUI perspective - a different story under the covers as to how this actually works). Now why on earth file types were ever put in the control panel under folder options is another one of those mysteries!

When you originally install Microsoft Office, the file associates are setup in Windows. Certain file types are considered dangerous (may be that's a bit strong), but worthy of asking users what they would like to do if you encounter a file with that extension on the Internet or Intranet. Unfortunately, and I personally consider this a bad thing, the dialog box which asks you has a checkbox "Always ask before opening this type of file".

The bad thing isn't so much the checkbox - that's good. It's that fact that it gives users absolutely no clue as to how to get the dialog back should you choose to not be asked again. The answer is straightforward though. Either

- Choose Folder Options from the Control Panel,   or
- Open Windows Explorer and choose Tools/Folder Options.

From the dialog which opens, select the third tab, "File Types". Scan down the left hand column until you get to XLS as shown below (note this solution applies to many other file types).

Click the Advanced button at the bottom to show the following dialog.

Notice the checkbox "Confirm open after download" is not currently checked. Check the box, click OK and OK again. The problem will be solved.

But, a quick word of warning. Be very careful playing with file associations and other options in the above screens unless you are very certain of the consequences. If in doubt, don't do it, or try it on a test machine or Virtual Machine.

Comments (3)

  1. Jerry Ham says:

    Everything in the post is correct, and I use that same option to make sure my powerpoint files open outside the browser- but, wouldn’t it be simpler to have them right-click the link and choose "Save target as"?

  2. Hi Jerry – yes, in _most_ circumstances this is true. However, there are situations (as in fact was the website I was using for getting the screenshot above), where the download is through a button on a form doing an HTTP POST back to the web server. The response is the appropriate MIME time which triggers Excel. In those circumstances, you don’t get the right-click save as option…..



  3. Adrian Skeates says:

    This solution works perfectly for all my other file types (well, those I’ve tried!) but not Excel. 🙁

    I cannot change any of the Advanced attributes for XL* file types.

    I have Win2K Pro, Office 2000 and IE6 with all the latest updates and security fixes installed.

    Removed and re-installed Excel to no effect … any clues?

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