Microsoft Excel Error: "There was a problem sending the command to the program."

For the last three years or more, I’ve been living with a little annoyance with Microsoft Excel.  It’s one of those things that’s just not quite annoying enough to get to the bottom of, and I figured it was some obscure registry setting I’d never find and must be something odd about my laptop setup only.  Sure, I tried a few times to fix it, but I never got anywhere.

Well, today as I was moving from the laptop I’ve been using through the last three years to my brand spanking new HP Envy 15 (more about this bad boy later), I got the dreaded “There was a problem sending the command to the program.” error on the new machine.  Ok, now it was personal.

The error occurred anytime I tried to open an Excel file from outside Excel by clicking on it in Windows Explorer or an email.  It can look like either of these two examples:



The bottom line is that while the Excel application opens just fine, it doesn’t open the file, showing the error instead. (“Was this information helpful?” No, not so much.)

Off to the Interwebs, and I finally found a post in some obscure forum (three or four reboots later, I have no idea where it was) that gave me a clue about the cause.  There’s a setting in Excel 2007 which prevents it from opening files if the request comes via Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE), and it is enabled by default.  Go to the Office Button / Excel Options / Advanced, and scroll all the way down to the General section.  There you will see the “Ignore other applications that use Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE)” setting checked.  Uncheck the box, click OK to apply, and you’re good to go.  Never mind that those very applications that want to use DDE may be other Office apps!

Office Button in Office 2007

<UPDATE dateTime=”2011-07-21T16:48″>If you’re using Office 2007, the Office Button is the big circle with the logo in the upper left of the screen shown above. If you’re using Office 2010, there’s no longer a button, but what’s called “backstage”, shown below.</UPDATE>

Office 2010 Backstage



Quick Tip: Testing SharePoint Calculated Column Formulas

I usually test my formulas in Excel. The syntax is the same; if it works in Excel, it’s going to work in SharePoint. (There may be exceptions to this, but I haven’t run into them.)

Simply set up some cells with the values you need and then work out your formula. Once you’ve got it working the way you want it, copy it over to your calculated column and replace the cell references with column names (in brackets).

“Cannot get the list schema column property from the SharePoint list” Error with Excel 2003

This seems to be a fairly widespread issue with no clear solution.  It occurs when the user chooses the ‘Export to Spreadsheet’ Action and the SharePoint list view has a Date/Time column displayed.  With Excel 2007, the data is exported to Excel just fine, but with Excel 2003, the above error is shown in a popup.

I’ve seen several suggested workarounds:

  • Change the Date/Time column to a ‘Single line of text’ column, download, and then switch it back. (This may destroy the Time value.)
  • Remove the Date/Time column from the view.
  • etc.

None of these workarounds are perfect, but at least they can get the data downloaded for you.  The ideal solution seems to be to upgrade to Excel 2007, which is much more SharePoint (and especially MOSS) aware.