Software

10 tweaks to make Office 2010 work the way you want

Office 2010 has a lot going for it -- including better customization options. Deb Shinder looks at some tricks for making the new version work the way you want it to.

The latest version of Microsoft Office has some nice new features and usability improvements, but for many of us, the default settings just don't do the trick. As good as Office 2010 is, you can make it better by customizing configuration settings and installing a few add-ins. In this article, we'll look at 10 ways you can make your Office 2010 experience a better one. Some of these are new to Office 2010 and some are tweaks that were around for previous editions of Office, but which many people never knew about.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Change the default color scheme

This has nothing to do with how the Office programs work, but everything to do with the environment in which you work with them. Some folks probably don't care a whit, but to me the baby blue default color scheme in Office 2010 is distracting and actually reduces my productivity. I'm not really happy with either of the alternatives, either. The "black" is a muddy gray/dark tan color and it turns the folder pane and Today pane dark with white text, making it difficult to read. And the "silver" isn't very silver; it's more of a light gray. But I settled on silver as the easiest on my eyes and the least in-your- face choice.

To change the color scheme in any of the Office 2010 programs, click the File tab, click Options in the left pane, click General in the left Options pane and select Silver in the Color Scheme drop-down box (Figure A).

Figure A

You can change the distracting baby blue default color scheme to silver or black.

2: Customize the Ribbon

When the Ribbon was introduced in Office 2007, there was a tremendous outcry. Part of that was just the human aversion to learning something new, but even those of us (yes, I confess to being one of them) who liked the Ribbon had a complaint: Why couldn't we customize it to fit the way we work?

Microsoft listened and, in Office 2010, added the capability to customize the Ribbon. This makes it much more useful and should alleviate some of the confusion among those upgrading from Office 2003. Now you can customize the Ribbon's main tabs and tool tabs, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

New to Office 2010 is the option to customize the Ribbon to your liking.

You can remove commands you rarely use or group them differently to suit the way you work. You can create a new tab on the Ribbon or add your favorite commands to a new group on an existing tab. You can also rename commands. And of course, there is a "reset" option so you can return the Ribbon to its default look. You can even export your custom Ribbon and then import it into another instance of Office 2010. So once you get it configured just right on your desktop machine, you don't have to go through that whole customization process again for your laptop. This Office Watch article explains more about customizing the Ribbon.

3: Customize the Quick Access Toolbar

Much as I like my customized Ribbon, there are some commands that I want to have available regardless of which Ribbon tab I'm in. That's where the Quick Access toolbar comes in handy. Many Office users seem to overlook this little gem, but it's one of the first things I set up when I install any recent version of Office.

I have my own set of commands that I put on the Quick Access bar, including Save, Save As, Undo, Redo, Email, New Comment, and New Document. I also like to move the toolbar so that it's under the Ribbon instead of above it, as shown in Figure C. To move or customize the Quick Access toolbar, right-click on it and choose the appropriate action.

Figure C

A customized Ribbon still doesn't take the place of the Quick Access toolbar.

4: Turn on Live Preview

Sometimes when you copy and paste material into an Office document, it doesn't end up looking the way you thought it would. It can be difficult to know which of the Paste options (e.g., Keep Source Formatting, Merge Formatting, Keep Text Only) to use. Office 2010 helps to eliminate surprises by including the Live Preview feature, which lets you see exactly how copied content will look when you paste it in an Office application. When you right-click and hover the mouse pointer over each Paste option, you get a preview of what it will look like if you use that option to paste the content.

For some reason, the Live Preview feature is not enabled by default. To enable it, click File | Options and select the Enable Live Preview check box on the General page.

5: Tweak AutoCorrect options

AutoCorrect is a great feature that can save you a lot of time by correcting common typos automatically. However, it can also drive you crazy when it "corrects" what you intentionally typed. For example, by default when you type a word with two initial capital letters, Office corrects it by making the second letter lowercase. Most of the time, it's a typo, and that's what you want to happen. But what if you have a company name or product name that actually uses two initial capitals, such as TRick (a company named after someone named Thomas Rick)? Word will try to be helpful by changing it to "Trick."

You could just patiently retype it the way you want it and Word will get the message and let it remain, but that takes extra time. You could turn off the TWo INitial Caps feature in the AutoCorrect settings, but then it wouldn't correct the real typos of this nature. The best way to deal with it is to add an exception for TRick. Here's how you do that:

  1. Select Options in the left pane of the BackStage menu, then select Proofing.
  2. Click the AutoCorrect Options button.
  3. On the AutoCorrect tab, click the Exceptions button.
  4. Click the INitial CAps tab and under Don't Correct, type TRick and click Add, then click OK.

You can make exceptions for other types of corrections using the First Letter and Other Corrections tabs.

6: Create Quick Steps

One of the coolest new features in Outlook 2010 is Quick Steps. It allows you to create multi-step actions that you can apply to email messages. For example, I forward many messages to a particular person. Instead of having to click Forward, type in his name, and then click Send, I've created a Quick Step that lets me do all that by simply clicking a single button. There is a wizard-type interface for creating a new Quick Step. Simply click Create New in the Quick Steps section of the Home tab and you'll get the Edit Quick Step dialog box shown in Figure D.

Figure D

You can create Quick Steps to perform a multi-step action with one click.

6: Turn on Conversation view

In the beta version of Outlook 2010, the default arrangement for email messages was Conversation view. This view can make it easier to follow a discussion, as it consolidates all the messages in a conversation thread all into one nice package. In the final release, Conversation view was turned off by default. If you'd rather have it turned on, follow these steps:

  1. In the left column heading at the top of your message list, right-click where it says Arrange By: Date.
  2. Check the box that says Show As Conversations.

7: Install Social Connectors

The Outlook Social Connector (OSC) is built into Outlook 2010. It lets you install plug-ins that aggregate social networking information about your contacts in the People Pane at the bottom of an email message in the preview pane. Connector plug-ins bring in your contacts' status updates and other information from social networking sites. The feature also displays other recent email conversations with that person, recent appointments, and the person's profile picture. For more on how to use this feature, see Five tips for adding social media to Outlook 2010.

When Office 2010 was released in June, plug-ins were available only for LinkedIn and MySpace Microsoft has now added plug-ins for Windows Live Messenger and Facebook. It has also made the feature compatible with Outlook 2003 and 2007. This BNET article has the details.

8: Change default settings

No matter which version of Office you install, you should always go through the options and tweak the settings to suit yourself. In many cases, the defaults will work fine but in others, you'll be happier with an alternative setting. For example, if Word's grammar checker drives you batty (considering it's often wrong, especially when it comes to complex sentences), you can turn it off by unchecking Mark Grammar Errors As You Type in the Proofing section of Word Options. You can also click the Settings button and specify which grammatical issues should be checked, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Each Office 2010 application offers many configurable options you can tweak.

On the Save page, you might want to change the default setting so that the applications save documents in the older .doc, .xls, and .ppt formats instead of .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx if you often share documents with people who use Office 2003. You also might consider saving autorecovery information more often than every 10 minutes. If you're a fast typist, you can create a lot of content in 10 minutes. You also may want to change default save locations.

The Advanced page gives you a plethora of options for editing, cutting and pasting, images, how document content is displayed, printing, and more. Want to be prompted before saving changes to the Normal template? There's a check box for that.

10: Install add-ins

You can enhance the functionality of Office 2010 by installing add-ins for the specific functions your work requires. For example, I use Twitter extensively to announce the publication of my articles and point my followers to interesting or useful tech articles written by others. It's much easier for me to tweet from Outlook than to open up the Twitter Web site, so I've installed Twinbox, an add-in that lets you create updates, receive updates from those you follow, and manage and search tweets the same way you search your Outlook mailbox.

The add-in behaves a little differently in Outlook 2010, compared to Outlook 2007. In the latter, Twinbox puts a toolbar in Outlook underneath the other toolbars. In Outlook 2010, the Ribbon contains an Add-ins tab. You'll have to go there to find your Twinbox toolbar, shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Add-ins such as Twinbox can add to the functionality of Office applications.

You can manage add-ins with the Add-in Manager, which you'll find in the Options dialog box for each application.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

19 comments
cathy
cathy

I have customized the ribbon in Outlook 2010 3 days in a row and it will not save. It reverts back to the default. This also happens in Word and Excel when customizing the Quick Access Tool Bar

garyrcris
garyrcris

My biggest complaint about the ribbon is not mentioned in other comments. In Word 2003, I could move the toolbars to the side, freeing up valuable real estate at the top of my screen. When working with portrait style documents the amount of the document available keeps shrinking as monitors go to wider formats, while the sides of the screen is unused. I haven't found anyway to move the ribbon in Word 2007. Is there a way to move it?

Dog Byte Computer Consulting
Dog Byte Computer Consulting

My add-ins tab disappeared from the Home page of Outlook 2010 Mail...I tried unchecking the boxz for this tab, closing and re-opening, then re-checking the add-ins tab box in settings for Home (Mail) without any results...do any of you know what setting may be causing this tab to disappear? It does appear when I open up an email.

sonnystarks
sonnystarks

I never save ANYTHING to my C: drive. Can anyone tell me how to change the default "Save as" to "Documents Library" to another drive/folder?

Excelmann
Excelmann

Office assigns your choices a number which responds to Alt + the number. I use the same commands in the same order for Word and Excel: 2 Page Setup 3 Page Preview 4 Format painter 5 Text Highlight 6 Center

cbose
cbose

excellent analysis

Thomas504
Thomas504

to number 5, it is also possible to use Undo if AutoCorrect "corrects" something that you didn't want it to. This is the best method for me personally because I just give Ctrl + Z a quick tap and the auto correction is undone.

as-ap
as-ap

file/ options /save Change the default file llocation to whatever you want

carlsf
carlsf

You want to get rid of the "RIBBON" in total and go back to the "CLASSIC" menues as in Office 2003. This is the reason we have NOT gone the 2007 way, and it looks as if 2010 is NO better.

Ron_007
Ron_007

some people like the taste, others continue to say "BLEECHHH!!!!! ... Ptooey!, Ptooey!". Windoze vs Nix vs OS2 vs DOS, MS Word vs WordPerfect, Menu vs Ribbon is simply the latest examples of the "Religious" wars people in computing have "waged" for years. Each side thinks the other is a bunch of idiots, for various reasons. In Office 2007 there were several addons, free and purchased, that recreated the 2003 menu in a tab. If you have them installed for Office 2007, some of them continue work more or less in Office 2010. MS HAS created a couple of tools to help the migraine ... pardon me, migration from menu to ribbon. Too bad they have hidden them so successfully. Even though I know they are on the MS site, I have a hard time finding them. I would have put links to them directly on the Office 2007 and 2010 home pages. MS is much too much more "subtle" than I am. MS have created applets (flash for 2007 and silverlight for 2010) that display the 2003 menu. When you click on a command, they morph to locate the same command in the ribbon. (These applets finally "forced" me to recognize that "resistance is futile" and install silverfish ... oops silverlight so I could run them.) MS has also created spreadsheets that map menu commands to the ribbon, in text form. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/training/guides-to-the-ribbon-use-office-2003-menus-to-learn-the-office-2007-user-interface-HA010229584.aspx?CTT=1 - 2003 menu to 2007 ribbon command mapping applets and spreadsheets http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook-help/learn-where-menu-and-toolbar-commands-are-in-office-2010-HA101794130.aspx - 2003 menu to 2010 ribbon command mapping applets and spreadsheets http://www.officelabs.com/projects/searchcommands/Pages/default.aspx - There is also the unsupported (by MS) Search addon. It adds a search tab, allowing you to type a command you are looking for, it displays all(?) possible matches. IT is GREAT! You just have to know the right command name. It is really !!!TOO BAD!!! that they aren't planning to create a 2010 version of it. I've been using the ribbon daily for around 3 years. It STILL makes me feel like I am forced to wear boxing gloves at the keyboard! I am a touch typist, and the ribbon gooey is mouse focused. Although there still is the keyboard access, the "new" ALT has that gosh-darned 2 second delay that trips me up and wastes MY time. (PS MS, please give me an option of getting rid of that damn delay! That tiny change alone would make the ribbon MUCH more palatable. Then at least I could get on with learning the new keyboard combinations, without waiting for the UI to catch up to me. That delay makes me feel like I'm back to using my original slow, 286 based computer.) Personally, I can't understand why (other than "they can") MS has taken the high-handed approach of totally scrapping the menu UI. As a programmer, I know it would have been only slightly more than a trivial effort for them to offer users the choice of both. What happened to the "Personal" in PC? What happened to "reverse compatibility"? MS apps still support and other shortcuts that actually PRE-date DOS all the way back to the 1970's! Yet they no longer support the menu UI that has been in place for going on 20 years ... Too bad few people are surprised by the arrogance of it all!

techrep
techrep

The Ribbon looks totally different but after 2 or 3 days uers will be happy with it. It is a major step forward

carlsf
carlsf

That was NO reason to take it out alltogether..... They have alienated a hell of a lot of users, to please a few. IT SHOULD have been left as an OPTION to use the "CLASSIC" Menues. Why do you think the adoption is so LOW. Microsoft need to be aware of their existing BASE and how changes like this affects people/users.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As I understand, MS frequently received requests asking for features to be added to the Office apps. The problem was that many of the requested features were already present; users just couldn't find them. The Ribbon is an attempt to rearrange the menus to make more visible those features most frequently used or asked about. That obviously is going to result in making some features less visible. One's opinion of their degree of success will be influenced by the number of one's favorite features that were affected.

alfred.nims
alfred.nims

The corp I work for has been using Office 2007 for about 2 years. Even a very large telecom (friend's job)is migrating to Office 2007. Before we deployed it, the users received a quick tutorial and the Microsoft Office Interactive guides were put on their desktop. Download at: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/training/guides-to-the-ribbon-use-office-2003-menus-to-learn-the-office-2007-user-interface-HA010229584.aspx I am currently using Office 2010 and I also like it very much. As an IT professional part of our job is to educate our users. This is on things like security and productivity. If I give you a new remote for your TV with buttons in different places and even new buttons for added features but don't tell you how to use it you won't want it. But if I show you how to use it maybe you would actually give it a try. This goes for anything we do in life. In Office 2007 I customized the Quick Access bar so the tasks I do the most are right there, one click. Ribbon minimized. In Office 2010, customize the Quick Access Bar for things most used and customize/create your own Ribbon for things used but not as often.

carlsf
carlsf

Was installed onto systems for trail (3 weeks) users/secetarys (115) HATED it, the "RIBBON" is counter productive. Workflows and Time schedules went out the door. Why do you think corps do/have not gone the 2007 way

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I felt the same way when I first heard about it. Having tried it, I don't feel that way any more. I've installed 2007 for over 60 desktop users, users who ran 2003 before. The most frequently asked question I received (and EVERYONE asked it) was, "Where's the File menu? I can't print or save!". Since I had the same problem myself, I quickly learned to explain that stupid 'Office logo' was actually a button for the File menu. That problem is gone in the 2010 version, which returned the File menu. I received less than ten other questions. Most of my users (and I suspect most of all Office users) don't use most of the capabilities of the suite, so they didn't care about the things were in different places. You can personalize the 'Quick Access' toolbar in 2007 the same way you could build a custom toolbar in 2000 and 2003. In 2010 you can do that and also build a custom ribbon. The same keyboard shortcuts that have been there all along still work. If you're desperate, there are plug-ins for sale that will return the old style menu to 2007 and 2010. Or run 2003 if you wish; no one is going to force you to upgrade.

N4AOF
N4AOF

The notion that the ONLY thing wrong with the ribbon was that it was new and different is a crock. Most commands that were one or two clicks in the old interface became four or five clicks in "2007" -- and several commands disappeared entirely or were changed in ways that made them useless. And, Microsoft CHOSE not to provide a help function specifically for prior versions. Look at how long Word included specific help for WordPerfect users, but they refused to include help for 2003 users in Word 2007?!?

fire
fire

@CharlieSpencer 

Regarding your comment of, "...no one is going to force you to upgrade."

Actually yes, my husband's company has upgraded all of the computers to Office 2010 and the users, such as my husband, have no authority to add helpful add-ins or plug-ins to help with the sudden change. For older users or those who are not computer-savvy and who are too busy to take the time to learn the new versions, it would be nice to be able to customize the Ribbons into the old menus-which do have some advantages over the Ribbon--less clicks to use certain features, for one.

Editor's Picks