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Office 2010: Introducing the customisable ribbon

11th Feb 2010
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U-turn if you want to customise the ribbon
The decision to replace the familiar menus and toolbars with the new Office 2007 ribbon was not greeted with universal enthusiasm. Even allowing for the initial irritation of not knowing which aisle the baked beans have been moved to, many users have found the ribbon can reduce rather than enhance productivity.

Instead of vital options always being visible and accessible in the same place on the static toolbars, significant options come and go depending on which ribbon is active, and the most commonly used options skulk behind the mysterious Office button. Those who have bothered to reposition and populate their Quick Access Toolbar may have alleviated the problem to some extent, but the lack of any ability to customise the ribbon itself adds insult to injury.

Enter the beta version of Office 2010 and what looks like a U-turn from Microsoft. When Office 2007 was released, the main reason given for restricting customisation of the ribbon seemed to be the difficulty of supporting a product without a consistent interface. Microsoft rationalised the change by arguing that most people who changed their toolbars and did so by accident.

Changing the ribbon in Office 2010 requires deliberate action to choose particular options and accepting the changes, so there won’t be issues with people accidentally dragging things to the wrong place or closing them altogether. Although you have pretty free access to create and populate your own custom ribbon tabs, what you can do with the built-in tabs is restricted. You can’t add commands to built-in tab groups and you can’t remove individual tools within a built-in tab group.

But you can add, move and remove whole tab groups and indeed move and hide whole tabs. There is also an option to reset all changes back to the original setting either for a selected ribbon tab, or for all ribbon and quick access toolbar customisations.

Customise your ribbon

Let’s have a look at how to go about customising the ribbon. Right-clicking anywhere in an Office 2010 ribbon brings up a menu that includes the new Customise the ribbon option. This takes you to a screen similar to the existing Customise the Quick Access Toolbar dialogue, but displaying the current ribbon contents:

Customise the Ribbon in Office 2010

In the Customize the Ribbon column each ribbon tab can be moved by selecting and using the Up/Down buttons to the right. You can also move items by dragging them within the Customize the Ribbon section, including dragging commands from one custom group to another. The expand button to the left of each tab/group allows you to show the detailed contents, and the check box toggles the display of the whole tab. Beneath the view of the current ribbon options are buttons to create new custom tabs and new groups within tabs as well as modifying the currently selected item using the Rename button which allows you to choose different icons for groups and  commands as well as to rename commands, groups and tabs.

So, if we wanted to create a new tab for analysing accounting data in Excel, we could click on New Tab.  A new tab will then appear beneath the currently selected tab and it will contain a default new custom group. We can select each and use the Rename button to enter an appropriate description:

Rename an Office 2010 ribbon element

Having created the new tab and group we can add commands to the group and create additional groups:

Create a custom ribbon group in Office 2010
The ‘Choose commands from’ drop-down allows us to select ‘Popular’ commands, ‘Commands not in ribbon’ or 'All' commands. You can also select to choose from various existing tabs, or to choose from your list of macros.
Here we have chosen ‘All tabs’ and then added two options from the Get External Data group of the Data tab and some chart types from the Charts group of the Insert tab as well as the Win/Loss command from the Sparklines group of the same tab.

Here’s what our newly customised ribbon looks like:

Customised ribbon menu in Excel 2010
One really useful feature of the new customisation options is the ability to export the combined ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar customisations to a file which you, or another user, can import. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious way to easily and automatically associate particular documents with a specific customisation file, but this would provide even more scope for tailoring the interface to the requirements of a particular task.

Task ribbons
The challenge now is to come up with some really useful custom ribbon tabs, perhaps linked to particular tasks within the Office applications. The ability to write or record macros and then include these as commands within your custom ribbon tab could allow the creation of tabs that guide a user through all the required stages of a particular process, whilst also stripping out all irrelevant and possibly distracting options. For example, here’s our rather minimalist approach to data analysis with all the other tabs – apart from File – turned off:

Task-specific custom ribbon menu group in Office 2010

Further reading
More ExcelZone coverage of Office and Excel 2010


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By bseddon
13th Feb 2010 09:28

It is possible to change the Office 2007 ribbon - though it's no

It's true there's no handy built-in UI option to change the ribbon in Office 2007 but it is still possible to change the ribbon.  There's no programming but it's not exactly straight forward however it can be done.  The ribbon changes can also be document (or template) specific - a feature which carries through to 2010.  That is, changes can be applied only when a specific document or add-in is loaded.  This option is missing in 2010 so the technique to add ribbon UI in 2007 still applies, in part, in 2010.

Custom ribbon tabs and groups are held as Xml definitions within an Office document and the openxml team, the team which provides developers with tools to manipulate the new format files, has produced a UI editor.  Unfortunately it has no tab/group designer, just a box into which you can enter the Xml definitions needed to change the UI.   But at least it saves the Xml in the correct way inside you workbook or add-in.

The the buttons, dropdowns and other controls you add to the ribbon can cause macros to run.

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