by Allen Wyatt
(last updated December 22, 2018)
Jim noticed something frustrating when he was wrapping up a session with Excel. When he opens a workbook, everything is fine and works great. When he closes the workbook by clicking the close button at the upper-right of the program window, the workbook closes but Excel remains open. There is no workbook open at this point; only a blank Excel program window. He has to close it explicitly, which means an extra step when closing down Excel. He wonders if there is a way to make Excel close completely when he closes the last workbook on which he is working.
Before getting into theories and workarounds, it is good to review a bit about close buttons. Actually, in Excel 2007 and Excel 2010 there are two close buttons near the upper-right corner of the screen. One is red; if you hover the mouse over it, the ToolTip simply says "Close." This is the close button for Excel itself. The other is not red; if you hover the mouse over it, the ToolTip says, "Close Window." This is the close button to dismiss the document window.
In Excel 2013 and later versions this changed. There is now a single close button at the upper-right of the screen. Hover over it with the mouse and the ToolTip says "Close." In other words, Microsoft has done away with the "Close Window" button in later versions of Excel. Interestingly enough, the problem that Jim describes has also been done away with; it only exists in Excel 2007 and Excel 2010, and then only on some systems. (I verified this on several systems; the problem occurs when you click the Close button—the red one. On the last workbook, on some systems, it closes the workbook window, but leaves the program window open.)
The prevailing theory as to why this occurs in Excel 2007 and Excel 2010 is that Microsoft changed the way the Personal workbook was handled. As the story goes, since the Personal workbook is always open (even when it is hidden), the Excel program window stays open because Excel senses that a workbook (the Personal workbook) is still open.
Nonetheless, it is still frustrating. There is a way around it, but it involves changing how you close workbooks and the program. Instead of clicking on the close icon (the red X in the upper-right of the screen), use the following shortcut keys:
It is this second shortcut that is the handiest for shutting down Excel. It is interesting to note that in Excel 2013 and later versions these keys do essentially the same thing—they close one Excel workbook at a time. Even though both shortcuts close one Excel workbook at a time, Ctrl +F4 leaves Excel open while Alt+F4 closes Excel after the last workbook is closed. This is a completely different behavior than in earlier versions of Excel.
You could also try a modification on your red-X-clicking routine: Hold down the Shift key as you click. This modification has the same result as pressing Alt+F4, closing Excel and all open document windows.
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