Status Bar Update

Yesterday, I walked you through some of the history of the status bar. 
Today, I’m going to write about what we’ve done in Office 12.  It’s
not a radical departure from previous versions, but there are some nice

I mentioned yesterday that in thinking about the status bar for Office 12, the
first conversation we had was “do we need it at all?”  We looked at the
various scenarios that required the status bar, those that used it but didn’t
need to, and features that could be made better through using that space.

We came to the conclusion that it did make sense for the Office 12 frame to
contain a status bar.  There were many “status-like” items that needed a
place in the UI–document load information, printing status, long recalculation
in Excel, and other background tasks.

There are also a number of add-ins to Office that people have written which
expect the status bar.  One could have imagined trying to integrate every
piece of status into a separate place in the UI (as someone mentioned yesterday, perhaps
putting page number in the scrollbar, for instance), but in the end we decided
to stick with simplicity and leave a status area at the bottom of the screen.

But at the same time, we knew that these “in-progress” status updates wouldn’t
always be up, and we didn’t want the status bar to be just a wasted piece of
screen real-estate with just the words “Press F1 for Help” showing most of the time.

So, we started to think of how to use the space in a way that made sense with
the rest of the Office 12 design.  First,
we made the decision to use the right side of the status bar area a place to
host view switching, window switching, and zoom control–basically, everything
that controls how your window looks.  We thought it was consistent to have
these “window frame commands” near the scroll bars and it gave us an ideal,
standard place to host these controls in a way that increased the
density of the UI

The next thing we needed to work out was scalability.  One of the reasons
the previous Word status bar was so cryptic (with lots of three-letter acronyms
like TRK, EXT, and OVR) was that the status bar was pretty much fixed-size… it
had no way of scaling up to show more information.  We needed to work on a
way to show information in a more clear way while still permitting “urgent”
messages to be visible when necessary.  (And, of course, letting the status
area grow to two lines was not a realistic or desirable option.)

The Word 2003 status bar had some fairly cryptic acronyms: REC, TRK, EXT…

Once we had a design that allowed the status bar to scale well to different
types of
data (an algorithm I won’t get into here), we started brainstorming what data people might want to see along with
their document.  We wanted to keep the default list set of items short and
manageable, while allowing more expert users the ability to customize and add
more items over time.

Word count was the first thing that jumped to mind; why should people have to
open a separate window or click “Recount” when the word processor should just
know at all times how many words you have written?  Word count is in the
default status bar in Word 12, and as you select text, it updates to show you also the
number of words in your selection.  You can click on the number of words
(which lights up like a button) to bring up the full Word Count dialog box. 
Many parts of the status bar can be interacted with to reveal more information.

Word count as part of the default Word 12 status bar

In Excel, knowing the average, total, minimum, maximum, and sum of any selected
numbers seemed like a handy shortcut.

Handy math as part of the Excel 12 status bar

If you’re someone that misses all of things that used to be on the status bar
(such as knowing whether Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Overtype mode are
activated), you can add them to your bar.  We make these much easier to
decipher compared to their cryptic current-day formulations.  To customize
the status bar, you simply right-click on it to reveal a list of items to add or
remove.  (A cool feature of this is we show the values of the customizable
items right in the menu, so you could just use right-click to see how many lines
you had without actually adding them to the status bar.)

Right-click the status bar to see what you can add or remove

Finally, key reading scenarios (such as the full-screen reading experience in
Word 12) have no status bar at all, so that you have the maximum space available
to focus on your document.

Comments (27)

  1. Szajd says:

    "A cool feature of this is we show the values of the customizable items right in the menu, so you could just use right-click to see how many lines you had without actually adding them to the menu."

    Actually, a much more cooler feature in that menu is that it doesn’t go away after each clicking in it, so I can really set up my status bar without right-clicking again and again and again.

  2. Gabe says:

    I would argue that things like "Overtype" and "Recording Macro" are items that may not need a permanent position on the status bar, but should be indicated when they are on.

  3. anon says:

    "menu is that it doesn’t go away after each clicking in it"


  4. I notice that the Excel spreadsheet still says ‘Ready’ on the status bar. Surely this is just as bad as ‘Press F1 for help’? What other things might it say?

  5. Michael Zuschlag says:

    That looks pretty useful, especially the view controls. Personally, I’ve felt for awhile that view controls should be consolidated, but I didn’t know if that would make sense for other users. But can the same view manipulations be done through the ribbon? Are you concerned that that violates your principle of one place for each command?

  6. Michael Zuschlag says:

    "Word count was the first thing that jumped to mind [to go on the status bar]"

    Oh, yeah. The old use of a modal dialog to find the word count is on Cooper & Reimann’s list of annoying things (see p122 of About Face 2.0). What next? Will we get automatic implicit save (p167)?

  7. Chris says:

    Word Count? Is that really that useful for anyone except students? I don’t use it daily, or even monthly.

  8. Tyler Reddun says:

    Well Chris, not to be a grouch, but it’s useful to people who write reviews… in fact if a product lacks a word count every reviewer will comment on it. See they use it in there day to day work, so they feel it must be there. So they would be all "Wow woo!" when the see the word count right there and give Word 12 extra points for putting a "commonly used feature" so prominently on the main frame of the application.

  9. Jote says:

    I really like MS Office UI Team take on the UI, it really looks as they care about simplicity and consistency. But the thing that bothers me is that those concepts should be also applied throughout entire Vista UI! For instance, it’s a good idea to have zoom slider in the status-bar. However, in Vista Explorer windows similar functionality is implemented in the upper toolbar. This doesn’t seem consistent. And I would really love to see Office 12 and Windows Vista share similar window theme (gradients, backgrounds) to provide further consistency. I always loved Office UI Team ideas (except for Office2003… blue is terrible an inconsistent with the rest of UI) – I remember looking at OfficeXP UI (the most elegant to me) and asking myself – why the heck can’t WindowsXP look like this instead of this colorful "clowns and balloons" theme? 😉

  10. Mike says:

    Have you done anything to tackle the problem of accidentally turning on Overwrite mode?

    This has the potential to wreck a user’s experience if they don’t know how to turn it off – I’ve seen it happen to my mum!

  11. pcooper says:

    I used to disable the insert key and the caps lock key through some obscure registry key in the keyboard driver (I think), just because I never hit those keys intentionally.

  12. Abigail says:

    Some of the new MS keyboards don’t even have an INS key. If I get a keyboard that does, I literally just pop off the key. 🙂

  13. Nas Hahsmi says:

    i have this blog in my rss reader and i got on here just to comment on the ins key. I notice that the last three responses already have that started. Wow!

    But to add in my own input, there should be an alert about the ins key everytime someone goes into overtype mode.

    I know that very few people know about this even to this day. They come out with real creative ways to go around it.

    I feel real sorry for those people though. I remember while in school, i had to type a report and just because of the ins key, everytime i wanted to make a correction i ended up typing the whole report over again and again and again.

    No one should have to go thru that misery.

  14. Dave Solimini says:

    RE: Word count

    While word count may not be the most commonly-used feature ever, there are merits to doing it this way… for one, its easy if you do use it and it doesnt bother you if it doesnt. Second, i think its used more than people realize. I work in political communications (yes, that means "Spin Doctor") and i often toss out requests to co-workers like "give me 200 words on that bill we’re supporting" to put in a newsletter or something. My point is that while people may not explicitly use it all the time to meet a space requirement or term paper length, it may be used more informally.

    just my 3 cents

  15. J says:

    Not to mention that this blog has mentioned about the usage statistics that the Office team has collected. They probably have real proof that word count is a commonly used feature instead of random speculation.

  16. John Waller says:

    >>>Have you done anything to tackle the problem of accidentally turning on Overwrite mode?

    Excellent idea.

    I’ve never seen the Ins key intentionally used for overwriting. It’s usually hit by a fumble on the keyboard.

    People I know just comment on the strange behaviour of Word when OVR is activated. Some are proud that they know how to "fix" it. It’s certainly not common knowledge.

    What do your stats tell you about this, Jensen?

  17. Ravages says:


    Came here via <a href="">Kingsley</a&gt;

    A good blog, this is. As to your poin about integrating the word count statistics on the status bar, I am surprised. I use Word 2004 for the Mac and the word count info is on the status bar, as a button. Not very new is it?

  18. Rob S. says:


    Your blog is great. Thanks so much for taking the time to share what is coming in the next version of Office. I can’t wait to use it.

    You mentioned above that Window Switching is one of the tasks that is handled by the new status bar. Is this the same as document switching? How is document switching handled in Office 12?

    In older versions of Office (I just reproduced this in Office XP) there’s a design inconsistency between how Excel and Word behave when they are setup to place each document on the TaskBar (the default behavior). In the case of MS Word, each document behaves as a separate application which means that I can click the X to close one document without impacting the other documents I may be working on at the same time. However, Excel behaves differently. If I have 2 spreadsheets open, both of them have a place on the taskbar. However, if I click the X to close one application window it wants to close all of them. I use Word more than Excel most of the time so I got used to the fact that I could close one window in Word and keep my other documents open. I have lost work on more than one occasion in Excel because it behaves differently than Word. I know I’m prompted to save my workbook, but if I’m in a hurry I’m not thinking about it, and I’m not reading prompts.

    Going into Excel and changing it so that it doesn’t place each sheet on the Taskbar kept me out of trouble. However, it would be nice if Excel behaved the same way as Word.

    If each document is going to take up a spot on the taskbar then the Office apps need to behave like IE does. If I close one IE window, my other IE windows stay open.

  19. Smf says:


    To begin, as it is my first comment on your post, I’d like to thank you to share all these interesting thoughts about UI with us.

    Then, I’d like to add my input about the “Word count discussion”. For me, no doubt it is a good think to have it in such a place (not too visible, but here, right when you need it, as Dave said).

    But actually, as a UI designer, it’s not the word count that I use but the characters count. And around me, lot’s of colleagues (UI and graphic designers, developers, etc) use this option quite often (how many car. can fitt in this area, How many car should we allow to type, etc…). So I’m wondering if you though about adding this command in the right click menu and if so, why you’ve chosen not to do it?



  20. Stephen McLaren says:

    To add my (late) tuppence worth. The status bar is either one of most useful parts of a piece of software or the most useless!

    I write macro’s in Excel and I frequently use the status bar to update the user on what’s happening and asking them kindly to be patient if it’s a long process (on an aside why does it take soooooo long to save an addin (*.xla) file?)

    One of the other programs I use has helpful colour boxes on the status bar to show the status(!) of communications between various pieces of hardware. A quick glance tells me what’s broken and what’s working fine.

    The Office 12 status bar seems to be a big step toward making the status bar useful again.

    Oh and BTW Jensen I *love* the status bar in Explorer – the file count and size function is something I find really useful. I love it so much the first thing I do is switch it on whenever I open a new Explorer window without one…

  21. Richard says:

    What seems to be missing is a useful horizontal position measurement. Column number is only really useful when working with mono-space without tabs or indent (a rare occurrence these days).

    Vertical position on the page is given in lines and measurement (inches for me). Why is horizontal position only given in columns? This would save trying to gauge against the ruler at the top of the page when adjusting tab or column positions.