Beware of Excel and Complex PDFs


Warnings on Using Adobe Acrobat
I’ve only written 26 technical/business books and done performance consulting for 30+ years so you’d think I’d know better by now to do more extensive testing before writing about something. But in “Balanced Scorecards and Operational Dashboards with Microsoft Excel” I wrote about using Adobe Acrobat to use PDF files to package a series of Microsoft Excel charts. This enables you to produce a single encrypted package of charts and reports instead of having everyone access Excel. Well, it works, but there are cautions!

What I and others have discovered, to our frustration, is that Adobe Acrobat is very inconsistent in its behavior with Excel. Every combination of different versions of Acrobat and Excel produces a different set of issues with hyperlinks, range names, or bookmarks. In short, you may get it to work with your versions of Acrobat and Excel, but then when you upgrade or send it to a user who has different versions your well-crafted system falls apart.

So what are the alternatives?

  • Create simple PDF files from Excel charts and tables that users can page through rather than depend upon hyperlinks and named ranges.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that allows users to view a read-only Excel file with appropriate cell and sheet protection and complex data sheets hidden.
  • Use PowerPoint as a production and delivery media while testing to make sure that you do not run into PowerPoint 2007 linking issues across your network. (Documented in Microsoft’s technical database.)