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.

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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.

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