No Distaste for Paste (Why the UI, Part 7)

This is the seventh part in my weekly series of entries in which I outline some of the reasons we decided to pursue a new user interface for Office 12.  You can read the last installments here: Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6.

Last Monday I issued a challenge: for readers to pick the most-used command in Microsoft Word 2003 and also the top 5 most-used commands (bonus points for having them in order.)

For me, the most interesting part was reading the justifications around the guesses.  I'll reproduce a few of them here:

"Ctrl-Z Undo has *got* to be one of the top 5. I'm sure that bold/italic are in there too."

"...Save is very rarely used. Most end-users I've known are very hostile to the idea of saving frequently."

"I disagree with everyone.  My mother can't cut and copy and paste, and she's probably much more of a typical user than any of us."

"normal ppl don't use Print Preview."

Now you have a pretty good idea what designing software at Microsoft was like before we collected data through the Customer Experience Improvement Program.  Our internal discussions would have been peppered with the same wild guesses, justifications, and personal "anecdotes" served up as fact.

And looking over the guesses, one can't help but be surprised at the variety of commands nominated.  From "Word Count" to "Tab Adjustments" to "Final Showing Markup" to "Header Style", is it any wonder it's a bit tricky to design a feature organization for software used by 400 million people?

The only difference between your wild guesses and ours would have been that ours would have become reflected in the product.  If someone had a strong feeling that a particular feature was important and could convince people with her justification, then probably the product would have reflected that person's bias.  We do try to hire people with a good "sense" of how the software is used--but this is most powerful when combined with the real data to back it up.

We're hard at work mining data from Office 2003

OK, time for the big moment.  The data set I'm pulling from is all Word 2003 users who have opted in to the program.  We could slice the data based on, perhaps, CPU speed to try to get more power users.  Or 800x600 screen resolution, to try to get more home users.  But in this case, we're looking at the entire data set of commands executed through any means (toolbar, menu, context menu, or keyboard shortcut.)

Top 5 Most-Used Commands in Microsoft Word 2003

  1. Paste
  2. Save
  3. Copy
  4. Undo
  5. Bold

Together, these five commands account for around 32% of the total command use in Word 2003.  Paste itself accounts for more than 11% of all commands used, and has more than twice as much usage as the #2 entry on the list, Save.

Paste is also far-and-away the number one command in Excel and PowerPoint, accounting for 15% and 12% of total command use, respectively.

Beyond the top 10 commands or so, however, the curve flattens out considerably.  The percentage difference in usage between the #100 command ("Accept Change") and the #400 command ("Reset Picture") is about the same in difference between #1 and #11 ("Change Font Size")  This is what makes creating the new UI challenging--people really do use a lot of the breadth of Office and beyond the top 10 commands there are a lot of different ways of using the product.

Here's an example of where we used this very data to help make a decision in Office 12.  Early on, we were toying with the idea of not having buttons for Cut/Copy/Paste in the Ribbon.  Everyone "knew" that people mostly used CTRL+X/C/V to do most clipboard actions (which was true.)  And that mouse users used the context menu to access these clipboard commands (which was also true.)

What we didn't know until we analyzed the data was that even though so many people do use CTRL+V and do use "Paste" on the context menu, the toolbar button for Paste still gets clicked more than any other button.  The command is so incredibly popular that even though there are more efficient ways of using it, many people do prefer to click the toolbar button.

The data kept us from making a crucial, stupid mistake.  One which we might not have caught during the beta due to the high expertise level of our beta users.  Once we recognized the importance of the Paste toolbar button, it was promoted to the first big button on the left side of Word's first tab.

A few people asked in comments about the top "actions" done in Word 2003.  Here they are: Cursor Right, Cursor Left, Cursor Down, Backspace, Cursor Up.  Even the last of these (Cursor Up) is done about 8 times more than Paste, so people are doing a lot of cursoring around in the document (as you'd expect.)  We don't collect letter and number presses, but I expect you would find that they line up along expected frequencies...

So, without further ado, the winners of the contest:

  • Grand Prize: "herzi", for guessing "paste, copy, save, print, undo"  That's 4 out of 5, with #1 guessed correctly as Paste.
  • Second Prize: "John C. Kirk", for being the first one to guess Paste correctly as the #1 used command.
  • Third Prize: "Step", for being first to correctly guess 4 out of 5.

Congratulations to all three winners!  Your frame-ready award certificate is ready to be picked up.

To everyone else, thanks for playing and better luck next time.

Next Monday: How is usage data used to drive design decisions in the Office 12 UI?

Comments (40)
  1. jensenh says:

    Sorry for the late posting today… the robot who normally gets out of bed and pushes the button had a minor bug in it…

  2. Anonymous says:


    I noticed that QAT does not have print or print preview in it by default. Was there a reason for this?

    Even though print may not be a top 5 command, I would think it is a command where we would quick way to execute.

  3. Anonymous says:

    While you obviously don’t keep track of exactly which characters are typed into a document, do you keep track of whether it’s a letter/number/symbol?

    In particular, I would be quite curious to know what percentage of text is typed with CAPS LOCK turned on. Do you have any stats on that?

  4. jensenh says:

    zz: There’s an interesting story behind why no print up there, I’ll get to it in a future post.

  5. jensenh says:


    I doubt we know whether the CAPS LOCK is on or not. I’m not sure what design decisions it would help empower.

    If you are typing with CAPS LOCK on but type somethig like "tODAY i WENT TO THE STORE", Word recognizes the inversion, corrects it, and automatically turns CAPS LOCK off. You probably wouldn’t even notice.

  6. Anonymous says:

    That’s a fascinating post, Jensen; it’s amazing to learn what others do, and you’ve kept us all in suspense very well!

    Looking forward to reading more in the next few weeks.


  7. Anonymous says:

    Well, I eat my hat. My mother must be even less computer literate than I though.

  8. Anonymous says:


  9. Anonymous says:

    That’s pretty cool about Word turning off the Caps Lock in instances like that. I just had to see for myself and was completely amazed. That is so cool. I bet I have done it numerous time and didn’t even know. Now if more software did that.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Kim: Now if only keyboard makers would get rid of that useless and stupid key once and for all and replace it with something useful. In fact I have a list of keys that need moving:

    1) The Windows key, which can’t decide whether it’s a modifier or not, should be somewhere where you don’t hit it by accident during video games. (Which has the effect of minimizing your game and helpfully showing the Windows menu.) If it’s a modifier, it should do nothing while hit on its own. If not, it shouldn’t be used in conjunction with other keys. Make up your mind, Windows key!

    2) Caps lock. Utterly pointless. For the one time every three years you actually need to type in all caps, just hold your pinky on the shift key. (Not to mention it’s mislabeled; it’s not caps lock, it’s caps reverse. On OS X it’s caps lock *and* easy to disable.)

    3) Scroll Lock, and Pause. These keys go into the "99.99% of people will never use them except by accident, which means they call me for support when their arrow keys don’t work."

    4) Insert, Num Lock. Does anybody use these modes anymore? The only time I ever seen anybody use Insert or Num Lock is to turn them off and on, respectively. Get rid of them.

    5) While you’re making these changes, add a "return" key separate from "enter." Apple was right when they decided that "return" (add a line to a document) is a very different operation than "enter" (enter data into the computer.) Because IBM mixed those two functions up, we have abominations like "control-enter" to put a return in a IM window.

    Ok, that’s my keyboard gripe. Keyboards are *badly* in need of rethinking.

  11. Anonymous says:

    That was fun! Thanks for sharing the numbers with us – I’ve been anxiously awaiting this post. It goes to show the importance of data. I’m looking forward to more posts – this is by far my favorite blog right now.

    Oh – and my certificate’s already framed on my wall…. not. 🙂

  12. Anonymous says:

    James Schend: Many new keyboards do come without an Insert key. I refuse to buy them, as I do often use the old Ctrl-Ins/Shift-Ins for copy and paste… (and actually, I do use overwrite mode on occasion)

  13. Anonymous says:

    James Schend & josh, check out Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (^^^ link ^^^)

    1) You can disable Windows key. And there is only one of them on 4000.

    2) You can disable Caps Lock. On 4000 🙂

    3) Try Win-Pause before dismissing this useless key. And it is used in many games. And it actually works in console. Scroll Lock… dunno, some KVMs use it.

    4) Num Lock, I use it for typing in lots of numbers. And I use num pad, now bite me 😀 Hands off Insert or we will take your beloved X, C & V keys away!

    5) Hello? I cannot hear you! La-l-lala-la-la 😛

  14. PatriotB says:

    "There’s an interesting story behind why no print up there, I’ll get to it in a future post."

    Print is an interesting command; it is actually two commands as far as Office is concerned (see the Customize box to confirm). "Print…" the menu command displays the Print dialog box first; "Print" the toolbar button prints right away.

    (The Print command is even the poster child of the OLECMDEXECOPT_DONTPROMPTUSER flag documented at "Execute the command without prompting the user. For example, clicking the Print toolbar button causes a document to be immediately printed without user input.")

    Since Print is one of the few things that differs between the menu command and the toolbar command, that may have factored into the decision.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Woo-hoo 🙂 Actually, I’d be interested to know whether you have any more detail about the pasting that goes on; specifically, is it images or text? What I’ve noticed is that when I ask people to send me a screen-shot (if they get an error message), they are most likely to do Alt+PrintScreen and then paste it into Excel, rather than Paint, because that’s what they’re most familiar with.

    James: I actually find the Windows key useful, for the exact same reason that you find it annoying! I’ve just got Civ IV, which runs full-screen without a "minimise" button, so if I just want to check my email quickly without actually closing the game down then I hit the Windows key to bring up the Start menu.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Paste as #1 is very interesting. Did you keep track if the data was pasted from the same document or another document/application/whatever?

    I bet that "paste" is #1 because people don’t write anymore. They find what they want in the Web and/or another document and copy+paste. 🙂

    Or again, maybe I’m wrong. Since "copy" is #3, maybe people are simply trying to better reorder their thoughts in onder to produce something resembling a coesive text.

  17. Anonymous says:

    <<James Schend & josh, check out Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (^^^ link ^^^)

    1) You can disable Windows key. And there is only one of them on 4000.

    2) You can disable Caps Lock. On 4000 :)>>

    That’s great; now where can I get a non-ergonomic keyboard with the Windows key out-of-the-way, the contextual menu key out-of-the-way, and the ability to customize the other annoyances I mentioned? Sorry, I don’t like split keyboards.

    <<3) Try Win-Pause before dismissing this useless key. And it is used in many games. And it actually works in console. Scroll Lock… dunno, some KVMs use it.>>

    It’s useful because if I hit it at the same time as Windows it’ll pop up the System Properties window? A window I look at maybe once a year? WOOOW WAS I WRONG! HOW USEFUL THAT IS! (Sorry, sarcasm overload there. 😉

    <<4) Num Lock, I use it for typing in lots of numbers. And I use num pad, now bite me 😀 Hands off Insert or we will take your beloved X, C & V keys away!>>

    Everyone uses it for typing in numbers, that’s the point. It’s always on. Nobody uses it to replace their arrow keys, or their Page Up, Page Down, Home, End keys. So why have a mode at all? Just make it type numbers all the time, get rid of the dumb Num Lock key and replace it with something useful. (Apple puts a ‘clear’ key here, which makes the numeric keypad very calculator-like.)

    The only keyboards that use Num Lock should be those that have no other way to getting to Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, etc.

    <<5) Hello? I cannot hear you! La-l-lala-la-la :P>>

    Bah. If I ran the world, keyboards would make sense, damnit.

    I got a call this morning because an application we use wasn’t letting a nurse type in a medical record number. You know why? Num Lock. That bastard key costs me probably three hundred hours a year in support calls.

  18. ChrisC says:

    > 2) You can disable Caps Lock. On 4000 :)>>


    > That’s great; now where can I get a

    > non-ergonomic keyboard with the Windows

    > key out-of-the-way, the contextual …

    Pry the cap off of the windows key on the keyboard you have 🙂

    If *I* ran the world keyboards would be available which have the number-pad and arrow keys on the lefthand side.

    There’d be lots of other changes too…

    but since I don’t run the world…

    and never will…

    that matters VERY little [grin]

  19. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting! You say that beyond the first 10, the curve falls flat. But what commands are used in 6-10?

  20. Anonymous says:

    <a href="">Sensiva Symbol Commander</a> is just targeted to doin such repetetatve actions more effectively. with the help of both hands, meaning second hand is on the mice (or, even more effectively, touchpad). Just slide mouse up with pressed right/middle button and here is Ctrl+C. Slide down and that is Ctrl+V!

    You know, other aspects of this application suck, like its stupid deinstaller (deletes all files in Program Files folder) or its bugs with Opera gestures, so kind of developer company had bad days now… IMHO it would be a real kickass if MS had acquired this company and embedded its flagship product in next Office Suite or even Windows Home! Just note that users would like to have those gestures be configured per application, because "most actively used commands" may differ for other software.


  21. Anonymous says:

    Do you know if a "drag and drop" of text or other content is counted as a "cut and paste"??

    If so, I wonder what percent of these actions are inadvertant drags trying to highlight stuff. I see people do that all the time…

  22. Anonymous says:

    Not to go off-topic, but…

    Civ IV?! I’m so jealous! /rant

  23. Anonymous says:


    "4) Insert, Num Lock. Does anybody use these modes anymore? The only time I ever seen anybody use Insert or Num Lock is to turn them off and on, respectively. Get rid of them. "

    Die screaming! 🙂

    I use the Insert key all the time for copy and paste shortcuts. I find Ctrl-Insert and Shift-Insert more comfortable than Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V – my finger/thumb naturally rest on the Insert and Shift/Ctrl keys when I move my hand there. And I have 15 years of muscle memory to avoid if I have to change. I have ditched keyboards before because they moved the Insert key. As for the braindead MS keyboards that remove Insert altogether – forget it.

    In short, I find it amazing that in a blog entry where Jensen says "Hey, the NUMBER ONE command used in Office in all our tests is Paste", is where you say that the Insert key is useless and should be removed from keyboards, when it’s needed for one of the two shortcuts for Paste!

    (As to why I learned to use Insert – I happened to learn on software that used IBM’s CUA standard, which used Insert for copy/paste. Sue me. I’m willing to bet there are lots of other people out there like me.)

  24. MSDN Archive says:

    I suspect there are other people who use those shortcuts 😉

    I once wrote a text/code editor used by a couple dozen programmers, and when I asked for requests for keystrokes people wanted to use, Ctrl+Insert, Shift+Insert and Shift+Delete were three of them.

  25. Anonymous says:

    For around a year I used a laptop style keyboard on my desktop, but now I have the quite new MS Comfort keyboard. I’d have gotten Logitech instead, but Logitech did not offer the ins home pup, del end pdown, so it was pretty easy to dismiss most of the keyboards since they lacked the critical positioning of ins, which is used more often than del, since ins is the paste key.

    Your data just backs up that the new positioning of ins in new keyboards is very bad since paste is used so much. MS & Logitech forced people to adopt the ctrl+c. Shame on MS/Logitech Hardware.

  26. Anonymous says:

    So everyone agrees we need the insert key for shortcuts… But how many people actually use the insert key for its designed use – to toggle overwrite mode? That functionality is REALLY annoying if you don’t ever use overwrite mode and should be able to be disabled easily; possibly even by default on new installations. Plus, in Word and Excel (2002, at least) programs it’s not very obvious that it’s turned on.

    It’s like my grandmother’s new TV – there’s a button on the remote which toggles the aspect ratio from 4:3 to "Expand 4:3". And it’s an easy button to confuse – the arrow up/down (used on the menu). When I set her TV up, I told her never to press that button. A month later, she called, worried that her TV was broken, because the CNN/ESPN "crawl" was unreadable. Guess which button she had pressed? I wonder how many support calls Philips had about that…

    I just don’t think novice users should be able to, with one accidental press, completely and virtually silently change important settings like that. (scroll lock; num lock)

    Compare to the StickyKeys activation; just about as confusing a mode if you’re not used to it, and worse if you’ve never heard of it. But accidental activation requires pressing shift 5 times, ignoring a PC speaker tone, and then clicking OK in a dialog.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Another interesting series of&amp;nbsp;articles from Jensen Harris, sharing with us the rationale why Microsoft…

  28. Anonymous says:

    This is the eighth part in my weekly series of entries in which I outline some

    of the reasons we…

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