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Solving the Windows Update/Excel Viewer problem

written by: John Lister•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/31/2008

Have you had trouble with Windows Update failing to install an update for the Excel Viewer? If so, read on for an explanation of what is causing the problem and how to fix it.

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    What is the problem?

    Many Windows users have found it impossible to install a Microsoft security update for Excel. It’s become a particular problem as some people have found the Windows Update service attempts to download and install the update every day and ignores any instructions to stop attempting to do so in the future.

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    What is the cause?

    The problem appears to stem from computers failing to properly uninstall the Excel Viewer, a free tool which allows users to open, view and print Excel format spreadsheet files when they don’t have Excel itself. It’s not entirely clear why this is happening, though it seems to have affected both people who’ve tried to remove the tool and people who’ve later installed the full version of Excel.

    The incomplete installation appears to confuse the Windows Update service which believes the Excel Viewer is on the machine (and therefore needs the update), but then can’t find the program to apply the patch.

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    What is the solution?

    There are two possible ways to solve this problem. Some people have reported they’ve been able to download and install the update directly from Microsoft’s website at:

    For others it seems the only effective solution is to apply the patch to a correctly working edition of the Excel Reader. To do this, take the following steps:

    If your computer will allow you, uninstall the Reader again. You can do this by going into the Control Panel, selecting ‘Add or Remove Programs’, and then searching for Microsoft Office Excel Reader. (Note that it will be listed under M for Microsoft, not E for Excel.) If you can’t find it, don’t worry.

    Now download and install the viewer from Microsoft’s site at:

    Make sure you are downloading the 2003 edition. You should also be sure to download and run the installation file from a location on your computer that doesn’t contain any Microsoft products. The easiest way is to download it to your Desktop and run it from there.

    You should now find the next time Windows Update tries to download and install the patch, it will be able to do so without any problems. After this you can theoretically uninstall the viewer, though there’s no need to do so as it doesn’t cause any harm and can sometimes be useful.

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    Removing the Excel Reader