How to open Excel files in separate windows and multiple instances

This post describes the easiest ways to open two or more Excel files in separate windows or new instances without messing with the registry.

Having spreadsheets in two different windows makes many Excel tasks easier. One of the possible solutions is viewing workbooks side by side, but this eats a lot of space and isn't always the best option. Opening an Excel document in a new instance is something more than just the ability to compare or view sheets next to each other. It's like having a few different applications running at the same time - while Excel is busy recalculating one of your workbooks, you can continue working on another.

Open Excel files in separate windows in Office 2010 and 2007

Excel 2010 and earlier versions had the Multiple Document Interface (MDI). In this interface type, multiple child windows reside under a single parent window, and only the parent window has a toolbar or menu bar. Therefore, in these Excel versions, all workbooks are opened in the same application window and share a common ribbon UI (toolbar in Excel 2003 and earlier).

In Excel 2010 and older versions, there are 3 ways to open files in multiple windows that actually work. Each window is, in fact, a new instance of Excel.

Excel icon on the taskbar

To open Excel documents in separate windows, this is what you need to do:

  1. Open your first file as you normally would.
  2. To open another file in a different window, use one of the following techniques:
    • Right-click the Excel icon on the taskbar and pick Microsoft Excel 2010 or Microsoft Excel 2007. Then navigate to File> Open and browse for your second workbook.
      Open an Excel 2010 file in a different window using the taskbar icon

    • Press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard and click the Excel icon on the taskbar. Then open your second file from the new instance.
    • If your mouse has a wheel, click on the Excel taskbar icon with the scroll wheel.
    • In Windows 7 or an earlier version, you can also go to Start menu > All Programs > Microsoft Office > Excel, or simply enter Excel in the search box, and then click on the program icon. This will open a new instance of the program.
      Start a new Excel instance from the Start menu

Excel shortcut

Another quick way to open Excel workbooks in different windows is this:

  1. Open the folder where your Office is installed. The default path for Excel 2010 is C:/Program Files/Microsoft Office/Office 14. If you have Excel 2007, the name of the last folder is Office 12.
  2. Find the Excel.exe application and right-click on it.
  3. Choose the option to Create shortcut and send it to your desktop.
    Create a shortcut to Excel

Whenever you need to open a new instance of Excel, double-click this desktop shortcut.

Excel option in the Send To menu

If you often have to open multiple Excel windows simultaneously, see this advanced shortcut solution. It is actually easier than it may seem, just try it:

  1. Follow the steps above for creating an Excel shortcut.
  2. Open this folder on your computer:
    C:/Users/UserName/AppData/Roaming/Microsoft/Windows/SendTo

    Note. AppData folder is hidden. To make it visible, go to Folder options in Control Panel, switch to View tab and select Show hidden files, folders, or drives.
  3. Paste the shortcut into the SendTo folder.

Add Excel as an option in the Send To menu.

Now, you can avoid opening additional files from within Excel. Instead, you can right-click the files in Windows Explorer, and choose Send to > Excel.

Other suggestions that may work for you

There are two other solutions that work for many people. One of them is selecting the "Ignore other applications that use Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE)" option in Advanced Excel Options. The other one involves registry changes.

Open Excel files in multiple windows in Office 2013 and later

Beginning with Office 2013, each Excel workbook is displayed in a separate window by default, even though it is the same Excel instance. The reason is that Excel 2013 started to use the Single Document Interface (SDI), in which each document is opened in its own window and handled separately. Meaning, in Excel 2013 and later versions, each application window can only contain one workbook that has its own ribbon UI.

So, what do I do to open files in different windows in modern Excel versions? Nothing special :) Just use the Open command in Excel or double-click a file in Windows Explorer. To open a file in a new Excel instance, follow these instructions.

How to open Excel sheets in separate windows

To get multiple sheets of the same workbook to open in different windows, carry out these steps:

  1. Open the file of interest.
  2. On the View tab, in the Window group, click New Window. This will open another window of the same workbook.
  3. Switch to the new window and click the desired sheet tab.
    Open Excel spreadsheets in different windows.

Tip. To switch between different windows displaying different spreadsheets, use the Ctrl + F6 shortcut.

How to open multiple instances of Excel

When opening multiple files in Excel 2013 and later, each workbook is displayed in a separate window. However, they all open in the same Excel instance by default. In most cases, that works just fine. But if you execute a long VBA code or recalculate complex formulas in one workbook, other workbooks within the same instance may become irresponsive. Opening each document in a new instance solves the problem - while Excel performs a resource-consuming operation in one instance, you can work in a different workbook in another instance.

Here are a few typical situations when it makes sense to open each workbook in a new instance:

  • You are working with really large files that contain lots of complex formulas.
  • You plan to perform resource-intensive tasks.
  • You wish to undo actions only in the active workbook.

Below, you will find 3 quick ways to create multiple instances of Excel 2013 and higher. In earlier versions, please use the techniques described in the first part of this tutorial.

Create a new Excel instance using the taskbar

The fastest way to open a new instance of Excel is this:

  1. Right-click the Excel icon on the taskbar.
  2. Hold down the Alt key and left-click Excel in the menu.
    Left-click Excel while holding down the Alt key.

  3. Hold down the Alt key until the confirmation dialog box appears.
  4. Click Yes to get directly to a new Excel instance.
    Open a new Excel instance.

This can also be done by using the mouse wheel: while holding the Alt key, click the Excel icon in the taskbar, and then click on the scroll wheel. Hold Alt until the pop-up window appears just like shown above.

Open Excel file in a separate instance from Windows Explorer

Opening a specific workbook is more convenient from File Explorer (aka Windows Explorer). As with the previous method, it's the Alt key that does the trick:

  1. In File Explorer, browse for the target file.
  2. Double click the file (as you normally do to open it) and immediately after that press and hold the Alt key.
  3. Keep holding Alt until the new instance dialog box pops up.
  4. Click Yes to confirm that you want to start a new instance. Done!

Create a custom Excel shortcut

In case you need to start new instances time and again, a custom Excel shortcut will make the job easier. To create a shortcut starting a new instance, this is what you need to do:

  1. Get the target of your shortcut. For this, right-click the Excel icon in the taskbar, right-click on the Excel menu item, and click Properties.
  2. In the Excel Properties window, on the Shortcut tab, copy the path from the Target field (including the quotation marks). In case of Excel 365, it's:

    "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\EXCEL.EXE"
    Get the target of your Excel shortcut.

  3. Right click your desktop, and then click New > Shortcut.
  4. In the item's location box, paste the target you've just copied, then press the Space bar, and type /x. The resulting string should look like this:

    "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\EXCEL.EXE" /x

    When done, press Next.
    Creating a custom Excel shortcut that starts a new instance.

  5. Give your shortcut a name and click Finish.

Now, opening a new instance of Excel takes just one mouse click.

How do I know which Excel files are in which instance?

To check how many Excel instances you have running, open the Task Manager (the fastest way is to press the Ctrl + Shift + Esc keys together). To view the details, expand each instance and see which files are nested there.
See which Excel files are in which instance.

That's how to open two Excel sheets in separate windows and different instances. That was pretty easy, wasn't it? I thank you for reading and look forward to seeing you on our blog next week!

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