Software

10 ways to make the Office Ribbon your friend (kind of)

If you're one of the multitude of Office Ribbon-haters, these tips may help improve your relationship. Maybe.

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/smichellegibson

More than three years into the Office Ribbon interface, some users are still struggling. Let's face it, a lot of users hate the Ribbon and probably always will. Maybe you're one of them. But you shouldn't have to spend your workday loathing the tools you use.

Fortunately, there are several ways to come to terms with the Ribbon. The following tips might not help you fully embrace it, but you'll be more efficient and a little less frustrated.

1: Use the Quick Access Toolbar instead

You probably can't eliminate the Ribbon completely, but you can interact with it less by placing the commands you need on the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT). It's not a cure-all; it's just one measure you can take to reduce the number of times you have to interact with the Ribbon. Fortunately, it's an easy process:

  1. Choose More Commands from the QAT drop-down.
  2. Use the Choose Commands From drop-down to filter the commands.
  3. Choose a command and click Add.
  4. Click OK.

You can quickly add an option right from the Ribbon, too: Right-click an option and choose Add To Quick Access Toolbar. It's simple enough that you might find yourself adding too much, but fight the urge. Use the QAT for the commands you use the most or that are difficult to find. Using the QAT won't change the way you feel about the Ribbon overnight, but it's a step in the right direction.

2: Have it your way

The QAT provides a go-between, but in Office 2010 you can gain even more control by adding a new tab that houses the options and commands you use regularly. Doing so will allow you to avoid the rest of the Ribbon most of the time. The process of creating a custom tab is similar in all Office 2010 applications:

  1. Display the options dialog by clicking the File tab and choosing Options (under Help). Or choose More Commands from the QAT drop-down.
  2. In the left pane, select Customize Ribbon.
  3. Click New Tab
  4. Right-click New Tab (Custom).
  5. Choose Rename from the shortcut menu and enter a name for the new tab.
  6. Rename the new group (by right-clicking).
  7. From the Choose Commands From list, select an appropriate filter.
  8. Select a command from the list and drag it to the new group.
  9. Click OK when you're done.

Using this process, you can group your favorite commands in logical and efficient groups by task and bypass the rest of the Ribbon.

3: Hide tabs you don't use

Most of us don't use all of the tabs all the time. What you're not using can add to the confusion. In Office 2010, you can hide what you don't use, as follows:

  1. Display the Options dialog by clicking the File tab and choosing Options (under Help). Or choose More Commands from the QAT drop-down.
  2. In the left pane, select Customize Ribbon.
  3. Right-click the tab you want to hide in the Main Tabs list to the right.
  4. Uncheck Show Tab.

Once you hide a tab, it's easy to forget it exists. So later, if you need its commands, the hidden tab might cause more frustration than just leaving it visible. It's a choice, and it's up to you.

4: Minimize it

Many users complain that the Ribbon takes up too much room. You can quickly reduce the Ribbon to a menu-size bar if you want to free up a bit of space. There are several ways to do so:

  • Double-click any tab.
  • Click the Minimize Ribbon button (the caret symbol ^ at the right end of the Ribbon).
  • Press [Ctrl]+[F1].
  • Right-click the Ribbon and choose Minimize The Ribbon.
  • In Office 2007, you can choose Minimize The Ribbon from the QAT's drop-down.

These are all toggles, so repeating them will restore the Ribbon.

5: Scroll through the tabs

You can click tabs, which is quick and easy enough. But, you have to move the mouse and you might click the wrong tab. (Okay, that sounds a little too much like whining.) Some users will find scrolling easier and more efficient. Simply move the mouse to any part of the Ribbon and use the mouse wheel to scroll through the tabs.

6: Use key tips

One of the biggest complaints from pre-Ribbon users is having to relearn keyboard shortcuts. (Fortunately, most still work with the Ribbon versions.) The Ribbon has its own shortcuts and using them will help you acclimate a bit quicker. Press [Alt] to display key tips for each tab (and QAT item). Then, press the key corresponding to the tab you want. For instance, the key tip for Word's References tab is S. So pressing [Alt]+S will display all the key tips for the References tab.

7: Get a little help

Microsoft Office Labs offers a free add-in, Search Commands, that looks for commands and does two things:

  • It displays the command or option so you all have to do is click it -- you don't have to go looking for stuff anymore.
  • It displays the Ribbon path to the command or option, just in case you want to know.

It's easy to use and will help some users adjust to the Ribbon interface quicker than fumbling about on their own. Just download it, open an app, click the new Search Commands tab, and enter a command or option name.

8: Turn back the clock

There are dozens of add-ins that will let you use the classic menu interface from the pre-Ribbon days in 2007 and 2010. I recommend that you visit TechRepublic's sister site Download.com and search for "classic Office menu add-in." Pay attention to the reviews. Most add-ins are either free or inexpensive (after a free trial period).

9: Try Ribbon Hero

Ribbon Hero 2 is an interactive game for learning to use the Ribbon versions of Office. After a bit of conversation and research, I discovered that many users actually like Ribbon Hero and those supporting Ribbon users recommend it, kind of. I'm skeptical but open-minded enough to admit that this seemingly simple game might help some users adjust to the Ribbon quicker and with a better attitude about the whole thing.

10: Change the color

Office comes in three color schemes: blue, silver, and black. Now, it's a superfluous change, I admit, but it might help to change your outlook a bit (maybe). To change the color of all your Office Ribbons (except Publisher), do the following:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help). In Office 2007, click the Office button and then click the Options button.
  2. Click General in the left pane. In Office 2007, click Popular.
  3. In the User Interface Options section, choose a color from the Color Scheme drop-down.
  4. Click OK.

Take our Ribbon poll

Do you love it, hate it, tolerate it, or shun it completely? Weigh in with your vote, then share your comments below.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

26 comments
tweakmaster73
tweakmaster73

Yes, it's like they crammed all the commands they "thought you would use most" into the ribbon and all of it's non-intuitive tabs, and then left it up to the user to subtractively remove what they don't find useful. Not cost-effective use of my time, when I had everything perfectly setup, organized, and macroed in my previous version. I find it ironic that when I burrow in to add a command (nope - sorry, you can't put that on an EXISTING tab, you have to make a CUSTOM tab) it defaults to the "most popular command list" first, and what I want is NEVER in that list. Very telling. I will get used to it, but I work for the gov't and they don't like to pay me for customizing my UI, they just want results. Where it's really noticeable is when my older co-worker begs me to come over to his house to make office more like it used to be, and I see Office 2010 in all it's glory on a 14" CRT with about 5" of useful space in the middle of the monitor... Ah, UI's, thou inconsistent prize.

kallal
kallal

I find the ribbon a brilliant interface. Menu bars require a click then an up down choice. If you fall off that narrow navigation or wiggle the mouse then you have to go ALL the way back up to the start of the menu hierarchy and click the drop down again and start again the navigation down this narrow road of choices. With the ribbon using an option is usually ONE easy delightful click like a bird picking a bug off of a rock. And if you miss the target you just click and shoot at the target again (compared to a menu bar where you have to start all over again from the top). With larger targets there is far less effort and dexterity and less precision required as compared to the old fashioned menu system. Just put a big rock on your fore arm and then try moving the mouse pointer up down on a menu (near impossible and yet that what you have to do with menu bars). Now with that rock on your arm, try moving left to right (you can still do this with great ease as your wrist can flick left to right without even having to move your arm ??? side to side is MUCH easier with a mouse then moving your whole arm up/down. In fact your fore arm does not even have to move and your hand pivots left/right on its palm. To move up down as forced by a menu your is more difficult (you can easy move left/right the whole screen, but not up/down full screen without the whole arm + shoulder system having to move. Now toss in an aging population and that of touch based devices (you folks have heard of these things called tablets?), and the ribbon is not only a winner, but far more suited to touch screens and the general overall direction in our industry. Ever try and use a menu system on a tablet? This is not only silly but simply out of date and not a natural interface at all. In fact the UI on tablets are far closer to ribbon than that of a menu. In fact on touch and pen based devices a ribbon UI is far superior to those old fashion menus. As a technical editor for 3 Access books (all for Access 2010) and a long time Access developer I find the ribbon an amazing interface and a joy to use. It also important to note from a programing and software development point of view it makes no sense to attempt having both UI's. To have code compatibility between the two models would be much impossible. Also people don't understand that a TON of office options are now based on fluent UI code (ribbon xml ??? and as such cannot be used from a menu bar and this is especially due to ribbon being based on call backs and the old menu system is not) Worse having developers to write code for both types of UI makes even less sense and would not only increase costs but become a documentation nightmare for both developers' code and even worse of an problem for end user software manuals. I am honestly having difficulty understanding why a narrow group of people have such a hard time with the ribbon when I found near zero efforts to learn it. I do software consulting and development (and still do lots of Access work). I get to see firsthand how the ribbon is being adopted by MANY businesses and the VAST majority prefers the ribbon and another huge group when I ask them in fact are neutral and or did not care. The last smaller group is the vocal group that I am failing to understand. For some reason they tend to be government workers who live off tax dollars that are being taken from everyone else and they thus tend to more liberal minded and have less desire to learn new things or change the way they work. I don't know if this is due to these people not wanting to make the effort to become more productive or due to them living off of money being taken away from others who pay into the tax system as opposed to these government people who live off taxes and take more tax dollars OUT then what they put back in (in other words these people don't pay taxes but they do have to file and give some tax dollars back to the same system that is paying them with other people's money). So there is a particular type of mentally that seems to reject the ribbon. Perhaps this is due to me being a very fast learner, but the positive response I seen to the ribbon much outweighs the smaller vocal group that can't seem to modify the way they work to realize improved productivity with the ribbon. I am certainly a power user when it comes to office and I also develop applications based heavily on the office suite. There is certainly some ribbon detractors, but they are a smaller group in my experience. Albert D. Kallal Edmonton, Alberta Canada

ksaldutti
ksaldutti

If you are an office pro power user the ribbon system is totally non productive. If Bill Gates was still running things there would be a classic option. Fix it or lose your customer base. Fix it and gain millions back into the office fold. It is that simple.

bergdonk
bergdonk

Am I alone in thinking that the floating context sensitive toolbars that Lotus employed in Wordpro and 123 many years ago is still a better system? Maybe because its the first applications of their type that I really came to terms with? One compelling aspect that MS should incorporate is that format changes and the like are real time. It sort of happens now with a random preview, but it just worked in thr Lotus apps.

Solenoid
Solenoid

also see: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Ribbon_%28computing%29#Other_software_developers AFAIK, Microsoft also licensed the Ribbon UI to four other companies, including AutoDesk, makers of AutoCAD in many flavors and varieties. This started about the same time, with the 2008 releases. Unofficial word from Autodesk representatives is that it's not going away anytime soon. These software packages are significantly more complex than MS Office, and reaction in the design community is equally mixed as the poll above. Depending on the user's familiarity and preferred input methods, it can be either really easy to use or entirely in the way. Personally, I consider it a hindrance to software I know well, as I greatly prefer keyboard inputs. When learning new products (not just yearly release of same item), I often find it is easier to learn from scratch with the ribbon. When returning to familiar software, then it's less daunting. AutoCAD, however, is highly backwards-compatible, and retains an easy 'workspace' setting preloaded as default of "(productname) Classic" which restores the old UI button bars and removes the ribbon entirely in just two clicks. Heck, you can set up ACAD to act like it's mid-1980's with text bar menu on left and no icons. I wish MS Office was that user-accommodating. As usual, others perform Microsoft's ideas better than they do.

jimbritttn
jimbritttn

The ribbon was a giant step backward! It's not as bad as the destruction the did to Access (the new interface is HORRIBLE and much slower then the old one) but it's close. WHY doesn't the brain-dead designers at Microsoft give us a CHOICE as to which we prefer. I didn't update at home BECAUSE of the ribbon.

VirtualPro
VirtualPro

There are numerous things in Windows that I can spend hours tracking down from one release to the next and customize to make it simpler or look like the previous, but I really don't want to spend the time. The other issue with Windows is that over time it collects all kinds of baggage and starts to degrade so I have had to flatten it and restart with fresh build. Now I need to go back and try to figure out how I did all those customizations again? Lots and lots of wasted time... this is suppose to make us more productive - right?

johndoe4024
johndoe4024

The biggest gripe I had when moving to Office 2007 was not only did I lose all my custom Tool bars, I also lost all my context menu customizations. Bad things could have happened if I'd traveled to Redmond. ;-} Then I discovered all was not lost. All I had to do was load my old Normal11.dot (that was automatically created by the 2007 install), and I was back in business. All my context customizations were back, and, under Developer | Add-ins, all my Tool bars and custom buttons and associated VBA. Granted. any changes I wish to make to these tool bars requires me to go back to a 2003 box, make the changes, and then copy the updated Normal.dot to my 2007 box as Normal11.dot, but we still have some 2003 boxes in the lab, so it's no big deal. Even better, I'm not limited to Normal 11, I can also make use of any other custom.dot templates from 2003 in the same manner.

spawnywhippet
spawnywhippet

I learnt the first version of Office I ever used in less than an hour and never once needed to use Help after that. Now, with 15 years of MS Office experience and 3+ years on Ribbon Office, I am still having to use Help on a almost daily basis to find commonly used commands in Ribbon Office. Things that used to take 2 clicks now quite often take half a dozen or more. I cannot stand it, it has hugely impacted my perfomance and productivity using this software.

Robiisan
Robiisan

The closest option for me was "I hated it but now it's cool." The truth of the matter is, I never hated it, although it was a little frustrating, at first, trying to find the commands I was used to using in 2003. Now, though, I find the arrangement more logical, in many ways, and learning how the QAT could be customized has made "life with office" much easier. For example, the way I've arranged my Word QAT is this: Save, Save As, Save All, separator, Spell Check, separator, New, separator, Open, Open Recent, separator, Close, separator, Envelope and Label Wizard, separator, Undo, Redo, separator, Quick Print, and finally, Print Preview and Print. Not all of these commands are available under "popular commands," so use the drop down to select "all commands" at the top of the left column when customizing. The commands are easy to find, as they are sorted alpha. Word particularly needs "Close" in the QAT, otherwise the only way (I've found) to exit a document is to close the application and re-open it (minor annoyance and time consuming). Excel and the other apps don't have Save All and don't need the wizard, but I keep the rest of the commands in the same order, so there is less confusion on my part when using them. The separators are all there to make it a little easier to hit the right command with my mouse; necessary in my case as I keep my monitors at their highest resolution to provide lots of real estate for multiple apps running at the same time. Learning that I could customize the QAT (I don't do that to the Ribbon, the QAT is enough) was the biggest leap forward in getting up to speed with 2007 and 2010. This was a very good article, Susan, and I hope it helps those out there who are struggling with the "new" interface. But they (and I ) have to realize that change is inevitable, particularly with the house that Bill built, and get used to it. In the words of that Canadian Y2K doomsayer's website, "To embrace the future, let go of the past." Keep up the good work and thanks for all your many articles that have improved my personal productivity with these apps.

sonnystarks
sonnystarks

Will just stay with 2003 (along with the several hundred thousand US Government employees I work with) until Microsoft concedes and offers a menu choice. I and my several thousand co-supervisors WILL NOT recommend our agencies' "upgrade" our software until it can be done without taking time out to retrain employees.We will not be the losers here, Microsoft. Your shareholders will. We already have a product that works. Why change?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"It doesn't matter to me one way or the other." The confusing 'Office logo' button in the original 2007 version of the ribbon was our biggest problem. Once I located the 'Save' and 'Print' functions, my less-than-technically-advanced users didn't have much trouble making the transition. Fortunately, that button was replaced with a proper tab in the 2010 version. Customizing the QAT is no harder than building a custom toolbar in previous versions.

nikunjbhatt84
nikunjbhatt84

The result of the Ribbon Poll is surprising. I was thinking much less number of people would hate the ribbon. I don't like ribbon and totally agree with "tweakmaster73". Microsoft should ask to the users if they liked the ribbon or not after releasing Office 2007. There are many people who don't like ribbon interface and Microsoft must be aware of this and I was thinking that Ms will remove the ribbon and/or provide the menu interface in the next Ms Office (2010) version. I am still using Office 2003 but I will try the ribbon customization as described here in Office 2010 version. But if it fail to give the customization up to my requirements, I will again start using Office 2003 or try OpenOffice.org or Libre Office. BTW, I am also disappointed with the Windows 8 interface. I haven't used it but after reading about it and seeing some screenshots, I would hate it too.

tweakmaster73
tweakmaster73

It takes up too much valuable space, is too garbaged up with every command I never use, and the custom tabs aren't as customizable as older office. As with everything UI, THINK SPACE WASTE - THINK FEWEST MOUSE CLICKS - THINK PRACTICALITY - THINK CUSTOMIZATION, then design it. Then TEST it. That would be novel.

nikunjbhatt84
nikunjbhatt84

As you are calling yourself a Power User, you would be aware of customizing toolbars. And there aren't "narrow group of people" who want the old interface back, there are "broad group of people" who want it back. You are technically right about navigating the ribbon but compare it with navigating customized toolbars. Ribbon is no-where near it. Ms Office' menus are never deeper than 2 levels and on the 2nd level too, there aren't tools which are used most often. And if a tool is often used which is at 2nd level deep in the menu, again, Office 2003 has the toolbar customization facility. Developers do not need to write extra code for toolbar when ribbon is also implemented because toolbars were already there in Office. They may have to write new code for the ribbon. People want to try/use new things and want to have new features but not at the cost of current flexibility.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"For some reason they tend to be government workers who live off tax dollars that are being taken from everyone else and they thus tend to more liberal minded and have less desire to learn new things or change the way they work." Right up until that point. I don't know about Canada, but government workers in the US pay taxes too, at all levels of government.

ksaldutti
ksaldutti

Because their heads are too big. That would admit to failure. So instead of a ribbon opt out and a classic option that would increase sales by the millions they would rather languish in the puddle of ribbons. Gates would never allow that to happen, he knows better.

jmorice
jmorice

Restart with fresh build: wasted time for some; $ & job security for others. ;)

ssharkins
ssharkins

Thank you so much -- I'm glad you found these tips useful. I think we're in the same boat -- it's here, it's staying... and I like the QAT and 2010 is easily customized, so... I've adapted.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Don't hold your breath; that's not going to happen. Consider rolling out 2010 to the new employees. Otherwise you'll have to retrain them on how to use an outdated app they may have never seen.

ksaldutti
ksaldutti

They will loose a sale with the ribbon infested Win08 and Office 07 and on. I'm not alone by any means. My entire office is going to be in this mode unless MS changes things. It is not the sales they will lose but the sales they lost already.

SElizDav
SElizDav

It was confusing untill I got used to it. but think about it, every new version of Office has had some changes to the menus and tool bars that caused some confusion to users. If you look at the Office 2000 menus and compare them to the Office 2003 ones, you'll see what I mean. I will admit that when I first started using Office 2007 I hated the ribbons because I was used to looking through menus to find what I needed, but when I realized that everything was laid out right there in front of me, I started loving it. I also think that the ribbons make it easier for people to learn to use Office. I taught Office classes at a small college for years and when the ribbon came it seemed to me that my students (may of whom had never used Office before) caught on a lot faster and enjoyed learning more. Just my two cents! :)

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

They should have done a mock-up and asked current Office users about it BEFORE releasing Office 2007, not after.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

In my case and that of my users, it was a complete failure to recognize it was a BUTTON, and not merely a logo. My confusion began when I first wanted to print and save a file. A cursory search revealed nothing, so I set a time limit. If I couldn't figure it out for myself in fifteen minutes, I'd disable my pride and hit F1. Fifteen minutes later... After that, I made sure my users knew that's where Save and Print were. That took care of over 90% of the questions I received when transitioning to the Ribbon.

nikunjbhatt84
nikunjbhatt84

No software vendor asks to their software users before making any change to their software's user interface. But most of all care about providing option to switch between new and old interfaces, and I think that is the real expected thing from software users.