Five tips for customizing the Office 2010 Ribbon

Office 2010 gives you considerable leeway in tailoring the interface to work the way you want it to. Susan Harkins runs through some customization basics.

When Microsoft introduced Office 2007, users hated the infamous Ribbon. To make matters worse, you couldn't customize it. You were just stuck with the organization that Microsoft deemed best, unless you had serious programming skills. Office 2010 is much friendlier. You can customize the Ribbon by adding your own tabs and rearranging the built-in options. Here are a few good ways to tweak the interface. I'll use Word in the examples, but the options and steps are similar throughout the suite.

1: Use the Quick Access Toolbar

You can reclaim almost everything Microsoft removed when installing the Ribbon interface by adding options to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT). The QAT isn't technically part of the Ribbon interface, but you'll use it to bypass the Ribbon, so it's the logical first step in customization.

The QAT resides in the top-left corner of the screen. Add options that are hard to find, that you use often, or that aren't on the Ribbon interface at all, such as the 2003 Style control you see in Figure A.

Figure A

Add options to the QAT for quick and easy access.
To modify the QAT, choose More Commands from the QAT drop-down list. In the resulting dialog, select an item from the Choose Commands From drop-down list. Select the command, as shown in Figure B, and click Add to move it to the Customize Quick Access Toolbar list. Click OK to return to Word. Note: Keep items on the QAT to a minimum or it can quickly lose its effectiveness.

Figure B

Select the command you want to add to the QAT.

2: Add custom tabs

The QAT provides quick access to the tools you need the most, but it can become cluttered if you're not careful. Adding a custom tab to display the features and commands you use the most is another way to bypass the Ribbon — or at least to corral the options you use most. To do so, click the File tab and choose Options. In the left pane, select Customize Ribbon. In the resulting dialog, click the New Tab button. Then, right-click on New Tab (Custom) in the Main Tabs list. Choose Rename from the shortcut menu and enter a meaningful name for the new tab. (You can rename built-in tabs too.)

When Word creates the custom tab, it also creates one group within it to get you started. We'll leave the group in this example set to its default name (New Group), but you can rename yours by following the steps above for renaming tabs.

Now you're ready to add items to your custom tab. From the Choose Commands From list, select an appropriate filter. Select the desired command from the list, click New Group under your new tab, and click Add.

Use the arrows to the right to position the tab within the existing tabs. (You can also use these arrows to move built-in tabs, such as the mostly unused Clipboard tab, to the right and out of your way!) Click OK when you're done. Click the new tab, shown in Figure C, for easy access to your favorite Word commands.

Figure C

Adding a new tab that groups your favorite commands is easy.

You can also use this technique to add items to the built-in tabs. You must add a new group, though — you can't add items to built-in groups in the main tabs.

3: Hide unused tabs

There may be tabs you don't use or, perhaps more important, tabs you don't want users to access. You can easily remove these tabs from the Ribbon. Click Options on the File tab and click Customize Ribbon. Right-click the tab in the Main Tabs list to the right and uncheck Show Tab. It couldn't be simpler. Of course, the downside to hiding a tab is that you might forget you hid it.

4: Do over!

You're never stuck with changes or custom tabs that don't provide the benefits you imagined. The Customize Ribbon dialog offers two reset options: You can reset the entire Ribbon interface to its installation settings or you can reset an individual tab. Unfortunately, that last option isn't obvious. You must click Reset to see that there are two reset options, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

To restore your Ribbon's out-of-the-box settings, click Reset.

5: Share them with your friends

Use the Import/Export button (in the Customize Ribbon dialog) to export your customizations. Simply click the button and save the customizations file. You can then copy your personalized Ribbon interface to other systems and import them into the appropriate Office application.


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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