Recently i opened a microsoft excel file by accident and tried closing it immediately but this pop up box appeared

enter image description here

I was asked if i wanted to save the changes although i made no changes , this made me think twice about pressing yes and i went to check the file to ensure that there were no changes before pressing yes ( I dont think theres a difference between yes and no in this case )

I am wondering what are the pros and cons between this design and a design where the file would close immediately if there were no changes . Which design is the preferred choice for the average user

  • 2
    For what it's worth, sometimes the changes are under the surface. For instance, opening an old PSD in a newer version of Photoshop will give a "save your document?" warning when you try closing it, even though you personally made no changes to the document. I've also seen text editors that get mixed up when you make a change and then completely undo it.
    – cimmanon
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 18:35

7 Answers 7


I would argue no - this triggers alarm bells as to: 'what have I actually done?' and is not common practices with most software products.

However Excel is a bit of a weird fish when it comes to this - it could be dependant upon the macros within the sheet, here is an interesting thread discussing the same issue.


Hope this helps.

  • I tend to concur with this answer most. Sometimes, it could be as simple as the Now() function in an excel cell that changes the date when opened causing this popup. This happens all the time on excel where I work.
    – Justin E
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 2:40
  • +1 Not only should you not be prompted to save, the "Save" option on the menu should be disabled if nothing has been modified. "Save as..." should of course still be available.
    – obelia
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 18:31

To answer the general case:

Without question - you do not prompt the user to save, if no changes were made.

In fact I believe that is the designed and intended behaviour for Excel - despite what you think you see.

As to whether the application thinks a change has been made that is a different thing - and a specific thing to the software in question. In particular, Excel can sometimes automatically update something when you open the document.


If no changes have been made to the document, it should close without dialog. This can be seen through a visual indicator that shows whether the current state is saved or not.

Visual indicator of current status

This does raise the question of which changes the dialog is referring to. An example of where a solution has been implemented is in Linux, it tells you when the last change was made.

enter image description here

This helps reduce confusion while closing the file.


No, as there's nothing to save.

Prompting to save would raise doubt in the user (why is it asking me to save? Did I make a change? I didn't want to make a change! What did I do!?) and that is not something you want to do. :)


Mental Models

If you have a document in a box, then you open the box to look at the document, but take no further action and then close the box, the document hasn't changed.

This is the mental model most people will have, other than superheros and Microsoft employees.

So no... an application shouldn't ask users to save a document if the user hasn't taken any action, and if something has changed internally (like a version), the application should inform the user what has changed.

  • +1 for "if something has changed internally (like a version), the application should inform the user what has changed." I think this is a really important point. If, for example, I open a CSV in excel and it makes changes behind the scenes, it should tell me that the application made the changes and if possible what they were. Otherwise, I'm concerned about either losing changes I don't remember making, or overwriting with an accidental change.
    – AlannaRose
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 0:43

One issue to keep in mind is MS Office, excel specifically, performs calculation updates when the file is opened. The software reads this as a "Change" even if the results of these calculations remained the same. I'm not a fan of this, because it also happens when a file doesn't meet the MS template format. A good example of this is .csv files. MS has their own format for these, and if excel sees one it didn't make, chances are it will try to reformat it... Sometimes to disastrous result.

Here are some notes from Microsoft that might not solve the problem, but it will give you yet another reason to look at them funny. Enjoy!


The only reason for having such a dialog is to prompt the user to save as to not lose the changes they've made. If they haven't made any changes, why ask to save? Saving would accomplish nothing, as no changes would be made to the file anyway.

Helpful Tip #1:

Indicate that changes have been made since the last time a file was saved. Notepad++ does this intuitively with an icon showing blue for saved and red for unsaved.

enter image description here

Helpful Tip #2:

Even though this is a question about saving, most users would probably rather not save. If you can, you should implement an auto save feature that saves every few minutes, or even better, instantly after making a change. Google Docs, Office Online, and many OS X applications do this on their own.

If you do this, make sure to include version history, and an option to duplicate a file to make a revised copy of it.

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