An Invitation to Play in a Microsoft Lab's "Sandbox" and, While There, Make Your Office 2007 Ribbon Less Bewildering


Q: I came across an intriguing Web site that invites visitors to try out prototype software developed by Microsoft Office Labs. Some of the stuff looks quite useful, especially the tool designed to improve the maneuverability of the Ribbon in Office 2007. But I was hesitant to try it, for fear an unproven program would mess up my computer. What’s your take on it?


A: Thank you for alerting me to the site. Yes, the prototype programs that the lab invites visitors to download are really neat and very practical. I’ve been running one, Search Commands, and it has eased—but not eliminated—my criticism of the often-bewildering Ribbon.


Your caution is valid—unproven software can be dangerous. But although these programs are prototypes for use with Vista or the upcoming Windows 7 upgrade, I would not hesitate to load any of them on individual computers. However, I would not just load it on an organization’s network without first checking with the administrator.


A visit to Microsoft Office Labs is well worth it. Go to


But let’s get back to Search Commands, which integrates with the Ribbons of Word, Excel and PowerPoint and truly makes the Ribbon less baffling. It not only makes it easier to find the tools you need, but it also provides instant shortcuts to them. And if you load Windows’ Speech Recognition Macros, you can control the program with voice commands. The program is an intelligent search engine that, more often than not, correctly interprets your intentions and identifies the tool you want.


To initiate it after it’s downloaded, click on the Search Commands icon that the program inserts into your Ribbon, and it starts by displaying the most often-used tools in the toolbar that’s open (see screenshot below). The bulleted numbers are the quick-access codes.



If you need to dig deeper, type a keyword, such as pivot, into its Search box and the Ribbon swiftly presents multiple choices (see screenshot below).



I suggest you accept Microsoft Office Labs’ invitation to play in its software “sandbox.”


While we’re on the subject of making the Ribbon more maneuverable, be aware that the Alt key, rather than your mouse, can be used as your “control stick” in the Ribbon. For example, say you’re at the Home toolbar (that’s the opening toolbar) and you want to insert a chart, press the Alt key and a letter code with a white background (see screenshot below) will appear next to each tool label. Press N next to Insert (see screenshot below left) …



… and press Alt again and one of your choices is Chart (see screenshot at right). Press Alt again and you’re offered this array of chart design choices (see screenshot below):



If you press on A for Line, these choices come up (see screenshot below):




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