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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.

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.

17 comments
BRS
BRS

Tried the Ubit menue then went to Classic menu Not free but covers all office programes. I find it a good aid to learning the ribbon as it provides a fall back when I get trussed up in red tape (sic Ribbon)

Ron_007
Ron_007

I'll bypass the menu (yay!) vs ribbon gooey (phoey) argument. We are stuck with the ribbon, so we have to groan and bear it. (Why did they do it, to make MONEY, simple!) Susan. Can you take the article to the next step. You mention hiding default "unused" tabs, and adding new custom ones. I want to create "custom" tabs that recreate default tabs. Eventually I would omitt a few commands I don't use, and maybe add a couple I think belong there. I tried to start by simply recreating existing tabs. It turned out to be a waste of time. My "custom" versions didn't look ANYTHING like the default. Do you know of any "advanced" techiques (RibbonX xml commands?) I could use to recreate the default tabs before applying my own customizations to them?

jamiefixit
jamiefixit

Install UBitMenu which is free and gives you a tab that has all the old menu's on it. Thank god! If you spent maybe 10 years or more using a querty keyboard and everything and became really proficient with it and then one day the keyboard layout nazi's invaded and moved all the keys about because they liked it better and put them in a circle and hid some of them and recategorised some of them and then insisted that you use this new system, that there was no compatibility mode and basically suck it up because we know best and you can't be trusted to decide how your UX should be, you might be a tad upset, especially as you wasted hours and hours of precious time relearning the new keyboard. The menus in Word for example were not perfect but they were at least consistent for years and years. The ribbon might make more sense in someones mind for practical layout but there are myriad better keyboard layouts than qwerty, it would seem punitive to be forced to use them with no alternative...

bbeckers
bbeckers

Ok. I see the valid points presented in response to my post. Perhaps what we can agree on is that we all like options, and we all work differently. Perhaps have an option to "toggle" the Ribbon on and off? Add menu support with the use of the Alt key? Have it work like Internet Explorer where you can hide the menu bar, and "activate" it when you hit Alt? For me, I've come to like using the ribbons, (which I used to hate in 2007). The menu lovers out there are groaning right now reading this and wondering why anyone would like them. Well, here are a couple of things I like about the ribbons, (and the latest updates to Office): There are some tasks that I don't perform regularly, such as Mail Merges. For a task like this, that I don't do very often, I find the ribbons helpful. I always had problems remember where to go in the menus to do everything for the merges. Those of you who do mail merges more regularly, would probably find the ribbons more cumbersome, and I can see that. I admit there ARE more steps to take in some tasks when using the ribbons. Another thing I like is the ability to save directly to a PDF file, without having to use Acrobat, or some other option, (I've used several, but won't name them here). Now, if only we could EDIT a PDF in Word... Outlook 2010: I have several "Quick Steps" set up for mailings to several specific groups. Sure, I can just use a distribution group in the To field, but with Quick Steps, I can make ONE click, and have a new mail windows opened up with the To field already populated for me. Extra work? Nope, just the opposite. Sure, there have not been many TRUE enhancements to Office lately. In my opinion, MS should have skipped 2007 and gone right to 2010. Same holds true for the OS. XP -> Win7. Notice no vista in the middle? Vista should be relegated to the realm of Windows ME and Microsoft BOB. Windows 7: I've turned off the Aero features on my work PC. I *know* they take up a considerable amount of resources. With these features turned off, my system works much better for me than any other system I've used. Win7 v. XP: On my laptop, I'll take Win7 any day. Connecting to wireless networks is MUCH easier, and my laptop goes into and out of hibernation at a fraction of the time it took for my XP laptop. (Don't get me started on the Vista laptop I had......) My first discussion post was not intended to start a "which is better" war. I've simply seen and heard to many people who complain about change without giving it a fair shake. I feel the same way about people who complain about the results of an election, who didn't even vote!

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

Yes bbecker, people often do resist change and sometimes it's inappropriate to do so; however, resisiting "change for the sake of change" is rarely wrong. Face it, people run out and buy new clothes and new cars because they allow someone to tell them what is "in fashion" instead of deciding what they need and what they like for themselves. As Thomas Edison said, "there is no length to which the average man will not go to avoid the real work of thinking" (don't recall the exact quote, but that's the gist of it). The whole purpose of a menu is to make a whole lot of things easily/logically/quickly available in one place, when you want them. When you aren't looking for something, you don't want the menu getting in your way. The "ribbons" do neither. They're great for people who know nothing about menus and computers and don't want to learn, and worth less for everyone else. They also add to the current tendency to dumb down America, something we really don't need. They also increase the burden of unproductive "work" on our economy...something we also don't really need.

jonc2011
jonc2011

Sorry bbecker, you're wrong. While Office 2010 has some nice features, it is really a load of old (or should I say new) rubbish. 2003 and its menus are vastly superior. Why MS would get rid of a perfectly viable system for almost no gain I cannot imagine. Good aspects include xml and the navigation pane, also the ability to bring 2003 macros across to 2010, and to use 2003 speed keys. But I can't think of much else. Terrible are the restriction of the QAT to one line, and the inability to edit macro buttons. Hopeless. I am switching to OpenOffice or LibreOffice as soon as I retire in a few years. But thanks Susan, good try. But we need a few more tips to make us enjoy the change to 2010.

bbeckers
bbeckers

Times change and computer hardware and software evolve... deal with it. As an IT Tech and Consultant for most of the past 20 years, I've found that some things never change: There are always users that will whine and complain anytime ANYTHING is changed, whether for the better or for the worse. Just this past month, (June 2011), I made a service call on a company that is still using a DOS-based system.... Yes... DOS! Their reasoning: They don't want to have to re-train "everyone" (all 4 people), on using a newer system. And this antiquated system is the hotel management software for a popular motel. Even after showing the decision makers that they would break-even on the upgrade expense after just 6 months, they still didn't want to change. People are just afraid of change. Just because something is different does not mean that it is not actually better. I have been using Office applications since they were first introduced. And yes, I have done my own share of swearing when I can't find something where I used to look for it. HOWEVER, after adjusting to each new version of Office, I've come to *gasp* LIKE the changes. I *hated* the Ribbon when it first came out, and also wished for a return of the Menus. But... Office 2010 was well worth the upgrade to me. Microsoft made sufficient changes to the layouts and customizations of the Ribbon, that I now actually LIKE the Ribbon. It has actually improved my productivity. Return to Menus? Not me anymore! Return to XP? Nope! Windows 7 is far superior. BOTTOM LINE: Keep up with the changes and give them a fair chance. After the initial adjustment period, you may find that you are more productive, and wonder how you ever managed with the old programs.

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

I am getting used to the ribbon, but I can't customize my icons! Little green dots suck.

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

How about trash the ribbon and bring back the menu! Or at lease let people choose their perference and provide both. The problem is, many people using applications, at home, in the office are non IT folks. Most only learn the specifics they need to use the program to what their job requires. Change the user interface dramatically like that, and why most non IT folks in my office wants to upgrade past O2003 or many I know are going to open office. People get use to the same similar windows format, many use the classic start menu when went to XP, and many choose not to upgrade past XP. Have downgraded more laptops people I know that but preloaded with Vista or W7 back down to XP all due to needing to get things done on the newer system/app and not have time to relearn everything.

GazSkeltz
GazSkeltz

Hi, Can anyone tell me why this might be? Is there a setting I must change to make the menu available? Thanks Gary

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Anybody know how to hide the 'New Page' tab at the top of OneNote's note column, or move it to the bottom? I'm constantly hitting that thing when I really the first note in the folder.

maj37
maj37

At least in 2007 you can customize the QAT which the first thing I did when they put 2007 on my machine. maj

meronbar
meronbar

You miss one important thing. W7 is cool, and may be this Ribbon too. But if, just for example, you use some different workplaces, your are much productive if they look the same. And if one of this workplaces have 2003 and other 2010 Office, this is not easy to work on both of them comfortably. ;(

MrBeck
MrBeck

MS change their products to generate marketing buzz and to keep the cash cow working. Anything more than a marginal feature hasn't been added to Office since 2003. Most people aren't interested in radical changes in a UI unless there is some benefit, to them, not MS. These changes benefit only MS.

Softedge
Softedge

Bbeckers, I don't know about you, but I work. In order for me to work most efficiently, the tools I use must be as fast as possible and must provide me the largest work area possible. I didn't buy a faster computer and a larger monitor to have it used up by glitz and space required to operate the computer or application. Windows' new interface with its aero styling is noticably slower than the classic interface, I have run them both and have noticed the snap when I access the classic interface as opposed to the 3D or aero interface. By the way, I am running an i7 940 machine with HD5850 crossfire graphics and 12GB of ram. The second measure of speed for me is the number of keyboard keystrokes or mouse movements and clicks I am required to perform to execute a function to do my work. With the ribbon interface I either have to execute extra clicks to access commands, or I have to loose screen space which means more scrolling to see the same amount of data. I have seen this when I set a zoom level in Excel 2003 and go to my Excel 2007 at work and notice fewer cells visible, thus more panning. This is even the case with the ribbon menu hidden. If I have to execute more clicks or keyboard strokes to access the same tools to do my work, how can this be faster and more efficient. Much of what the new office application does better is make things look glitzier. This is debatable as to whether it is better or not. Our society has placed more stress on how good things look rather than how good they really are. This is particularly noticable in the computer industry and the political figures we elect. Softedge

ssharkins
ssharkins

We probably all have a few of these stories. Mine was a gentleman who wanted to upgrade a dBase app to Access. The original Access app "forced" you to reuse pk values, when they deleted a record. When someone deleted a record, they would write down the number. Then, when they created a number, they'd physically enter that value as the new record's pk. Well... there was no reason for it, so I did away with that first thing and he freaked -- "I'll lose all my data!" Um... no you won't. He simply couldn't get pass that and I never did finish the upgrade. I refused to maintain that stupid setup. I told him if he wanted to keep that system, he didn't need to upgrade, to just keep doing what he was already doing. That's what he decided to do! I don't really believe the dBase system forced them to do a thing -- I think he couldn't stand missing numbers -- which supports my position that users don't need to see/know the pk -- well, I'll get email on that one and I'm way off topic now! ;)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I didn't find it that much different from customizing O'03 menus.