Which Letter Is Better?

I mentioned a few days ago that the team has been immersed lately in improving the
Office 2007 keyboard model.
We got a lot of constructive feedback around the model from Beta 1 and so we're hard at work addressing it for Beta 2.

Today, I want to just throw out a minor but important detail of the overall design for
discussion to see what you think.

As I mentioned in my original post on the keyboard model, the first step of
using the keyboard with the Ribbon is pressing a letter to navigate to the tab
which contains the control you want to use. For instance, many apps have a
Review tab, and pressing ALT+R puts you in a mode to access the commands on the
Review tab with the keyboard by pressing subsequent letters.

One of the questions we're trying to answer is: What letter should we use for
the first tab of each of the Office 2007 programs?

Allow me to lay out the pros and cons of some of the myriad possibilities.

The first decision: is it important that the first tab of all Ribbon apps
share the same accelerator?

The argument for yes says that certain commands, such as the Clipboard, Find,
Bold, and Italic are almost always on the first tab and therefore if you assign
the same letter to the first tab everywhere, then keyboard accelerators are more
portable across apps.

The counter-argument is that the majority of the features present on the first tabs
are actually different--Excel has Sort and Conditional Formatting, while Word
has Styles and PowerPoint has Slide Layout. And the commands which are consistent already have well-known keyboard shortcuts (CTRL+F, CTRL+B,
CTRL+I, CTRL+X, etc.)

If you do want a common first tab letter, the first thing that comes to
mind would be to pick a letter with a mnemonic hook. For instance, "F" is good for
File because it's the first letter of the word. However, the names of the first
tabs of each of the apps don't have any letters in common. Word is "Write," Excel
is "Sheet," PowerPoint is "Slides," Access is "Data." And Outlook's are totally
variable based on the item type. So using a letter present in all of the words
would be impossible, because there aren't any.

Maybe instead we should optimize around picking a common letter that's easy
to type; after all, probably 90% of keyboard accelerators in Office 2007 will
start with this keystroke. Millions of people will type it millions of times a

So maybe something on the home row of the keyboard? Something on the left side
so that you can hold on to the mouse? Dig up
the research about which letters are easiest to type? "F" and "J" have the
little "home row" dots on them, but F is used for File. Wouldn't people laugh at
us if we gave the first tab "J" even if there's a good reason?

"H" is another possibility, since it's easy to type, you could imagine it stands for "Home," and
sometimes we think of the first tab as the "home tab" because it's
where you will spend most of your time.

Or maybe you go with "S" because it is the first letter of the name of two of
the first tabs (in Excel and PowerPoint). But, if you get used to hitting ALT+S
to access the most common commands, you might get tripped up because in Outlook, the
same shortcut immediately sends the e-mail you're working on. So maybe "S" isn't
the best idea either.

Maybe we should use some other easy-to-type combination, say ALT+SPACE or
ALT+ENTER or ALT+ALT even. Unfortunately, all of them already have
well-established behaviors in Windows or Office which cannot be changed.

There are other factors which go into the design as well, such as
localization issues and the fact that some of the letters are reserved and
cannot be used. But for simplicity's sake I won't get into those here.

So, what should we do? Is it important that the first tabs share a common
letter, and if so, which one should we use? Or, should we pick the letter which
works best for each program (probably mnemonically) and have inconsistency
between the apps? Or something else we haven't thought of yet?

Which letter is better?

Comments (91)

  1. Just throwing in an idea; what about CTRL+1, and utilize CTRL+n (where n = number) as the tabs?

    I never thought about that key-combo before reading your entry, and after playing around with it a bit, it seems that most apps are wasting the combo (or maybe it’s just me not used to use it) .. ?

    I like the way it works (as I just discovered) in Outlook 2003, where it changes between mail, calender, contacts and assignments – atleast in my (default) setup.

    CTRL+h is search and replace in most apps I use, and it basically seems, that most of the more obvious keys are reserved for specific shortcuts used throughout and across most apps.

    Just my $.02

  2. Steve Bucci says:

    My vote is for the tilde key (without having to hit shift).  It’s a one keystroke solution, and not used, as far as I know, by anything else in Office.  Although, outside the US it’s probably used a lot, so it may still have to be an ALT+ combination.  Either way, easy to remember.

  3. Rod says:


    Trying make the first tab keyboard accelerator consistent in all the Office programs reminds me of the customized menus idea.

    It may make sense to have a second accelerator (Ctrl+1) in addition to the function related accelerator. But I learn the accelerators based on their function, not their place in the UI.


  4. Keeron Modi says:

    For the "home" tab (or the first one visible) why not: ALT+Home?

    They are pretty far from each other (the keys), but kind of goes with the trend – ctrl+home usually goes at the top of the document (almost every app), ctrl+end, to the end of line, etc…

    Also, I know Beta 2 might have a ribbon tab navigation support from the mouse (scroll wheel), why not have something like CTRL+TAB to do the same from the keyboard? CTRL+Tab usually switches between MDI documents, but I don’t think any of the office apps (could be wrong, since I’ve mostly used Word,Excel,PP,Outlook) have MDI interface.

    – Keeron

  5. ale says:

    Yes, Ctrl+<number> is the BEST key combination for tabs.

    And it is already used in IE7.0… Why not to make MS applications’ UI more consistent? πŸ˜‰

  6. Troy Hepfner says:

    Some thoughts:

    1. You can’t tie it to keyboard layout because:

    a) not all keyboards are QWERTY keyboards

    b) not all keyboards have "home row dots"

    c) you mentioned "something on the left side so that you can hold on to the mouse".  That works fine for right-handed users, but not left-handed users.

    2. Earlier versions of Office did not use common keyboard accelerators, except for menus that were the same (e.g., File, Edit, Help).  Consistency between apps in that case made sense.  But the 7th menu in Word was "Table" and the 7th menu in Excel was "Data".  The keyboard shortcuts for these menus was not chosen based on their location on the menu bar – the letters chosen were actually in the name itself.  This was very intuitive to users, and my GUI design experience tells me you shouldn’t change this for the ribbon.

    3) You’ve pointed out in past posts the each application in Office is a unique application, and that the ribbon content was laid out in such a way as to capture the essence of the app and its workflow.  Each app is different and is used differently.  Since that is already the case, I would recommend selecting a letter that corresponds to the tab name.  If you want to add a common key above and beyond the unique keyboard accelerator (like maybe Alt-Home or something), then that is ok.  But don’t sacrifice intuitive usability for homogeneity.  Otherwise, people who are used to using keyboard accelerators (and used to how such mechanisms work in menu/toolbar systems) will struggle greatly with the ribbon.

  7. Jeff Carlsen says:

    If you’re using tabs, then the first step is to use what has already become the standard tab keyboard shortcuts, that is, ctrl+1, ctrl+2 ect. and ctrl+tab and ctrl+shift+tab for moving between tabs.  IE7 will be using this, Firefox already uses this, and I believe opera does as well.  Granted, Office isn’t a web browser, but why change such a simple standard?

    In this manner, you can make the letter based shortcut key contextual to the function/name of the tab, while still having a default that will take you to whatever tabs the user can see.

  8. Nate H. says:

    How about double clicking the alt key? Alt, Alt.

  9. Ernie Bello says:

    I second the notion for CTRL+number for tabs.

  10. David van Leerdam says:


    I don’t think that a single letter for a ‘first tab’ is the best solution. When in a later version things are changed, a lot of users will probably be confused.

    Such a ‘portable’ keyboard shortcut would be a great thing for a ‘mostly used commands’ tab though.

    Keep up the good work.

    Kind regards,

    David van Leerdam

  11. Seth Miller says:

    Well, nobody really accesses tabs, they access commands. In fact the number one point of shortcuts is to bypass the menus/ribbons/tabs. So all the commands should have the same shortcuts as in previous Office versions.

    As for the tabs, I say go with mnemonics.

    Cross-application compability is only neccessary with regards to commands. If mouse users are able to handle the difference in tabs, so should keyboard users.

    Another approach is to make it possible to navigate through the tabs with the keyboard arrows. ALT-RIGHT_ARROW should bring you the next tab and ALT-LEFT_ARROW the previous one. That would be the keyboard equivalence of the feature Bob invented.

  12. Brandon Bloom says:

    I really like the CTRL+[tab number] idea. I believe that some office apps already use these shortcuts, but ALT+[tab number] seems to be available. Hell, GTK apps automatically supply ALT+[tab number] for tab containers.

    Using a tab number based approach doesn’t eliminate the potential to also use a letter as well. Each application can have a unique and appropriate letter for the first tab. The letter need not be concerned with keyboard layout or handedness because the CTRL/ALT+1 is should be very easy 2 execute by right handed people (the vast majority) on nearly any keyboard layout. As accelerators are generally for expert users, I don’t think you need to worry about confusing them.

    As mentioned IE7, uses CTRL+[tab number]. If you decide to implement a similar feature in Office, PLEASE standardize with the IE team. (And now a totally bias statement: please switch them to the ALT+[tab number] system! I’d like it to match Gaim πŸ™‚

  13. Brandon Bloom says:

    @Seth Miller

    (Your post wasnt there when I began writing my previous one)

    I think alt+left and alt+right are already established in IE, Explorer, firefox, and other browsers (web or not) as go back and go forward.

    ctrl+tab (and ctrl+shift+tab in reverse) is already an established system wide tab cycling accelerator.

    Office should support this as well.

  14. Rob H. says:

    I vote Alt + <application specific mnemonic> for the primary and Alt + <tab number> for a secondary.  That way I can use Alt + 1, which is an easy chord for the left hand, to start the common commands in every app

  15. Dan de Zille says:

    Please, please, please have a consistant shortcut. I currently use firefox for web browsing and my most used shortcut is CTRL+W to close a tab. I have also just started using FeedDemon which uses CTRL+ALT+A to mark all the items in a feed read and CTRL+R to mark all items in a folder read. I really irritates me that all these functions which have an idealogical similarity have different shortcuts. For what its worth I vote for CTRL+[number], especialy if this is the system being used in IE7.

  16. ‘Word is "Write," Excel is "Sheet," PowerPoint is "Slides," Access is "Data." ‘

    This is a bit off-topic…

    Why is it that Word’s tab is the only verb in the bunch? Wouldn’t it be "Pages" or something like that?

  17. Seth Miller says:

    You are probably correct, Brandon. As long as there is a quick and simple way to just step through them I’m happy.

    One more thing: There should be an option not to have the keyboard shortcuts localized. I live in a country with two offical languages. Most people don’t even notice what language is in the menus, because they are used to reading both languages. It is a real pain to remember two different sets of shortcuts for the two, though.

    I used to use CTRL-B och CTRL-I all the time, but I rarely use them these days, because I’ve been bitten by the alternate language shortcuts so often.

  18. Louis Nell says:

    I would say a useful extra would be the CTRL+num option. It doesn’t make much sense to make the default shortcut the same for all office apps though, talking about the CTRL+alpha here. The one thing you’ve hammered into us from the start of this blog was consistency, this solution wouldn’t be consistent because you wont have the same shortcut for the second tab on all office apps. Make it consistent and have the same rules for all the tabs.

  19. Adrian says:

    Before apps started replacing traditional Windows menus with menu-like toolbars, I got in the habit of using Alt to navigate menus without leaving the keyboard.

    If you press and release Alt in Notepad, for example, it highlights File.  You can then use arrow keys to navigate the menu tree.  It would be cool if Alt by itself would highlight the first tab and then let me navigate the ribbon in a similar manner.  This would be a fast, single key method of getting to the first ribbon page, and it would open up keyboard navigation for those who don’t want to use the awkward combination accelerators or reach for the mouse.

    Oh, by the way, the home row on some of my keyboards has the bumps on D and K, so that they’re under your middle fingers rather then the index fingers.

  20. Jon Peltier says:

    Ctrl+1 (one) can’t be used, because it already must be one of the most used shortcuts in Excel: it opens the Format dialog for the selected object. I continually hit Ctrl+1 in Word and PowerPoint and wonder why they don’t have such an easy formatting shortcut.

    Ctrl-Tab is used in Excel to cycle among open documents. Word and PowerPoint drive me crazy by not using this one, either.

    It should be consistent, so maybe Alt+number for the tab selection would be best.

  21. Gabe says:

    It sounds like the term "tab" is confusing some people. I’m assuming this article is about tabs of application commands, but people are talking about CTRL+[number] as if you were refering to document tabs.

    In the case of document tabs, CTRL+[number] makes sense, but in the case of command tabs it does not. It’s easy to remember that your command is on the Table tab so you press Alt+T, but it’s not easy to remember that it’s the 5th tab so you press Alt+5.

    I definitely vote for the mnemonic option. That way the key is associated with what it does (F for File, W for Write, S for Sheet) instead of its position on the screen (like the J key for the second tab on every ribbon) or its position on the keyboard (F key because it’s easy to hit).

  22. Roland says:

    The mnemonic hook for commands and their shortcuts is not as important as it might seem.

    In German Office, for example, we have the English shortcuts, while the actual commands have German names. Thus, the mnemonic hook no longer exists. However, this has not been a problem for users of the German Office. We’ve just learned over time that Ctrl+P means Print, Ctrl+F means Find etc. We’re using Ctrl+F without thinking much about it.

    Just two examples (there are many more):

    English command name: Print

    English shortcut with mnemonic hook: Ctrl+P

    German command name: Drucken

    German shortcut without mnemonic hook: Ctrl+P

    English command name: Find

    English shortcut with mnemonic hook: Ctrl+F

    German command name: Suchen

    German shortcut without mnemonic hook: Ctrl+F

    What does this mean? Activating the first tab with the same shortcut in all Office apps (withouth mnemonic hook to the caption of the tabs) should not be a problem. People will just learn that Alt+A will always select the first tab, for example.


  23. Ben R. says:

    A lot of people are suggesting Ctrl-key and number combos, and I have to say I think that’s a really bad idea for a couple of reasons:

    1) Keyboard navigation now uses the Alt key almost exclusively (Alt-O-E to change case in Word, for example). I think it would be confusing if the Ctrl key were used in this manner. Right now, Ctrl seems to be reserved for "single-step" keyboard commands (Ctrl-S, Ctrl-P, etc.), while Alt is used for accessing menus. It should stay that way!

    2) Having to type the number of the tab you want means you have to continually count the tabs from left to right (or just memorize the numbers, I guess). This doesn’t seem very user-friendly, at least not to a literature major like me. πŸ˜‰ Quick: which number is the Table menu in Word? It’s #7, but I had to check, and it took more than a second.

  24. Greg Williams says:

    Use ALT-<tab number>.  Switch the numbers if the user has a left handed mouse orientation.  Also allow switching based on ALT-<tab mnemonic> as well because many people are used to that with menus.

  25. James says:

    There’s nothing stopping you having two accelerators: an "obvious" one, such as Alt-W for word, plus a consistent one (such as Alt-H, though I find this hard to type; the first key of a chord should be natural to use with one hand, in my opinion) for the whole suite.

    I spend 90% of my non-Outlook Office-using time in Word. If I’m running Excel, it’s normally only to use the fill-down feature (or because I really miss that annoying dialogue that asks me unquantifiable questions about the size of data on the clipboard when I exit). It wouldn’t hurt to give people the best of both worlds: a key that’s intuitable to application-biased users and another that’s consistent and easy to associate for the omni-dexterous office user.

    That’s my long answer. My short answer is: Ctrl+Space. It’s the king of shortcuts, accessible to either hand (at least on my keyboard), and greatly underused. It’s so big and easy to hit, it’s almost therapeutic. It would go nicely with the idea of resetting something to the default.

  26. ChrisC says:

    Arrrgh!  Where do you get using the control key from people?  

    Just because Firefox did it and now IE7 is playing copycat does not make it a good idea. (consistantly bad is still bad!)

    [CTRL]+ letter/number

    GENERALLY performs some action on an element contained within the document/sheet/whatever (Bold, Italic, Format, Cut, Paste…)

    [ALT]+ letter/number

    has GENERALLY changed the focus OFF OF the document/sheet/whatever so the user CAN DO SOMETHING THAT will operate on the environment

    (go to a menu item, go to a checkbox so it can be changed with the spacebar, go to a specific radio button…)

    Jensen you are replacing an item (the menu) which has always used [ALT]+[whatever] so continue to use the [ALT] key to control the ribbon.

    [F10] currently sets focus to the menu so you can cycle between the items with the arrow keys. (So does tapping the alt key) Keep this.

    [CTRL]+[TAB] is generally used to switch between tabs, so keep that too.  

    (this is a case of using the tab with the only remaining modifier key, therefor I don’t consider this to break my above assertion of the difference between [CTRL] and [ALT])

    Either use [ALT]+` for the "common" first element and then continue with [ALT]+1, [ALT]+2, [ALT]+3…

    Or just start with [ALT]+1 and proceed to [ALT]+2, [ALT]+3, [ALT]+4…



  27. furu says:

    Alt-E (for "Edit") or Alt-1 (for "First tab"). It should rather be Alt than Ctrl, since Ribbon navigation is Alt-based.

  28. Stephen McLaren says:

    Just some thoughts:

    I was going to make exactly the same statements as Jon Peltier…. I agree with him 100% that Ctrl 1 and Ctrl Tab not ‘working’ in Word and Powerpoint drives me absolutely nuts!

    Alt and then Alt again would confuse me (and maybe some other users too!). I press that key combination when I want to select the menu bar, then decide I didn’t need to after all (usually because I forgot what I was doing!)

    My vote would be Alt + <application specific menomic>. That’s the way it has been implemented in the past. I know that that is a really BAD reason for a UI decision (I’m glad the Office team have tried to move away from this with Office 12) but it does make sense to me. The problem would occur with non-English versions – do you stick with the same letter as the English or do you make it language specific?

    One other question – how do you access the Ribbon in a non-alphabet language? I’m thinking of east Asian languages specifically here. Just a piece of trivia I’d like to learn!

  29. Brad Corbin says:

    > Word is "Write,"

    > Excel is "Sheet,"

    > PowerPoint is "Slides,"

    > Access is "Data."

    Well I was going to suggest a hybrid: Give them the "natural" shortcuts (W for Write, S for Sheet and Slides, D for Data) but HONOR the incorrect shortcut if it is used.

    In other words, honor an Alt-W in Excel to select the Sheet ribbon tab. (Only tooltip with the "main" letter though, and you’d have to make sure that no other tabs used those three key shortcuts-W, S, and D.) This makes sure that it "just works right" for the user. After all, if an experienced Excel user does an Alt-S in Word, we "know what they mean", right?

    This way, the shortcuts are still discoverable with the ALT key, but once they learn the "main" ones, they should work similarly in each application.

    But I think the next sentence in your article throws a big loop in the mix:

    > And Outlook’s are totally variable based on the item type.

    So the question really becomes:

    * What other options appear in Outlook? 2 other letters? 15 other letters? How messy does this get?

    * What is the design price of permanently reserving these three (or more) letters to always be the first tab? (You realize, don’t you, that many of the decisions you are making now will be the "new defaults", and you’ll be stuck with them until the next major redesign in Office 24?)

    * How weird would it be for users if we had a "Data Analysis" ribbon tab in Excel with an "A" shortcut instead of the obvious "D" shortcut (because we are reserving D as an implied primary)


  30. Brad Corbin says:

    A lot of hybrid approaches being mentioned here (including one of my own above), but if the choice was simply "each app has its own shortcut" vs "all apps use the same shortcut", I would vote ALT-(first letter of the tab).


    * Most commonly-used commands already have direct Ctrl- shortcuts

    * I know you are showing the little shortcut-tooltip-thingies, and the user will figure out that the OBSCURE commands will have an odd letter associated ("Table of Contents" can’t have a T shortcut because "Table" already has it), but you want that to be the EXCEPTION, not the rule. And if the FIRST tab doesn’t match, that’s gonna seem odd. You gotta establish the rule before you bring up the exceptions.

    I would be very interested to see what % of users use ALT- key shortcuts on a really regular basis, instead of (or in addition to) Ctrl-key shortcuts.

    Myself, I only use a couple of Alt-combinations, and really only when there is no alternative. (Alt-F, S in Notepad, because older versions of notepad didn’t support Ctrl-S). I know, however, that the design goals for the ribbon are a bit different, you’re basically putting letter combinations on the TOOLBARS, too.

  31. jensenh says:

    Interesting discussion…

    One of the popular suggestions was ALT+[number].

    This was the original design (pre-Beta 1), but there are two downsides.  Keyboard users complained vehemently that they can’t touch-type numbers and therefore it slowed them down a lot.

    Also, if you number the tabs left-to-right and then in a new version of Office a new tab shows up for new functionality, what do you do?  You can’t change the numbers without angering everyone.  So pretty soon you end up with 1-2-3-9-4-5-7 or something for the main tabs, which would be non-sensical.  Remember, we have to think beyond just this release in the model.

    Tilde and some of the other suggestions–remember, these need to be ultra-fast and they have to work on laptops which don’t always have all of the extended keys available…

  32. Troy Hepfner says:


    Good point about numbering tabs.  The other problem with that approach is contextual tabs (that appear and disappear based on context) – the indexing will always be changing as the user works.

    Also, I second Adrian’s suggestion of using the Alt key followed by arrow keys to navigate tabs, like we currently do with menus.

  33. Keff says:

    Anders Rasmussen: CTRL + number is much too far on the keyboard (i cant go further on my keyboard than ctrl+8 and that quite hurts…). I would prefer ctrl + [qwerty…] which would focus tabs in thesame order as they are on screen.

    I think top line on the keyboard is good, choosig others would mean overriding ctrl + a, s, f, or ctrl+ z, x,c,v,b, respectively.

    By the way – little itch, did you know that on default czech keyboard (used by everyone except programmers in my country), the y/z is switched ? It’s the reason i never use undo because i never know if it is actually ctrl+z or ctrl+y… πŸ™‚

  34. JB says:

    If the ribbon replaces the menu bar, it is only logical that the keyboard shortcut to navigate to the menu should work on the ribbon. A few others mentioned this. Pressing Alt sets focus to the first item in a main menu – pressing Alt again restores focus to wherever it was. F10 works the same way. In a ribbon application, I would expect Alt to switch focus to the first ribbon, and pressing Alt again to restore focus back to my document.

    As far as the rest of the ribbons, Alt+Key still makes sense (just like we’re used to accessing menus…)

  35. Stevbe says:

    How about using a mnemonic of the name of the application itself.





  36. I’ve seen a few users who pretty much memorize alt-key combinations, including for commands without accelerators (usually laptop users who don’t have a proper mouse). Alt-F-X to exit like bang-bang-bang. Really annoying when the first menu is "Game."

    If you go with a standard Alt combination, it needs to be a key easy to hit while holding down Alt, which isn’t necessarily the same as a key that’s easy to hit in general. Alt-S and Alt-A are out (at least for people like me who tend to try to make metakey combinations with one hand) as is anything on the number pad or cursor controls. Anything in the top two rows, like Alt-1 or Alt-~, is literally a stretch or requires substantial hand repositioning. Alt-C or Alt-X are fine. No help on a mnemonic, however (C="Common"?).

    What about just Alt by itself? Hit and release Alt the Ribbon jumps to the Home tab, allowing selection of the next menu item, or selection of a different tab with the cursor keys, sort of like the way Alt works now. Hitting Alt + another key takes the user straight to any other arbitrary tab. Upside: the most common commands are accessed with simple key press, it is standardized across the apps, and you don’t need some weak mnemonic to "explain" it. Downside: users may expect Alt by itself to take them to the *current* tab, although that could be a job for F10.

  37. Ilya Birman says:

    My suggestion is the following.

    First, use Alt+<Letter> combination without thinking about consistency. Make Alt+W work for Write and Alt+S – for Sheet and so on.

    Second, add an Alt+1 combination to jump to first tab. And also do the same with Alt+0. This way you will have one-hand shortcuts for left hand and for right hand.

    Third, add Alt+Left and Alt+Right to navigate between tabs.

    (I didn’t try any beta, so I’m not sure my ideas don’t overlap anything).

    The general idea is that you should not limit to one shortcut. Make a "logic" shortcut, like alt+letter and a "consistent" shortcut, like alt+1/alt+0.

    I don’t think we need this kind of consistent shortcut for every tab. Even the first tab is not very much the same from app to app… Like, I’m used to the fact, that every Menu bar starts with File-Edit, and I except Alt+F and Alt+E to work, but all the rest – I don’t care. First tab is even more than just File-Edit, so I’m pretty sure it’s the only tab which needs this "home" kind of shortcut.

  38. Jon Peltier– Ctrl-D gives you the Font dialogue in Word, perhaps the closest to Excel’s Format dialogue. I’ve no idea why it isn’t documented in the menu. Can’t help you with PowerPoint.

  39. JohnS says:

    Absolute conformancy between applications is impossible. Near conformancy is possible, as long as the paradigms are shared (menus, tabs, documents, and so on). You are correct to assume that those who use multiple applications concurrently can become confused and frustrated when switching between applications that use dissimilar keyboard shortcuts for semantically similar tasks.

    The solution to this problem has been around for a long time, but is completely absent from Office Beta 1.

    PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE provide a mechanism for user customization of keyboard shortcuts!

    Keyboard shortcuts are a huge time saver, but I typically have to create custom shortcuts that mimic behavior between my applications to alleviate confusion. Although you can arrive at a paradigm that works for most people (Alt+N is a GREAT example of this), you cannot solve this problem for everybody without knowing in advance what applications they will be using.

  40. Abigail says:

    Do it based on the tab and don’t worry about consistency among apps. I agree with those who said we learn key commands based on function, not position in the ribbon.

  41. I really hate the tilde suggestion.  On my keyboard, it’s hidden behind an AltGr press, in addition to being a dead key.

    A single ALT press consistently brings up the menu in all Windows application, as does F10.

    So my suggestion would be for the Ribbon to focus in a similar fashion on a single CTRL press, in addtition to (for instance) F12.  

    F11 is full screen in several browsers, and should act similarly in Office applications, in my view.

  42. Bob Snyder says:

    I use a computer 8-12 hrs/day, 7 days/wk. But I almost never use keyboard shortcuts/accelerators. Apart from Ctrl+X, Ctrl+C, and Ctrl+V, I use the mouse for almost everything.

    Why? Because I am already maxing out my brain thinking about the software I’m writing. I have enough complexity already. I don’t want to use any mental energy trying to recall key sequences. I just want to be totally focussed on the problem I’m solving. So I use the mouse because it requires no mental effort.

    If I were doing a lot of data entry, I am sure my priorities would change.

    But it leads me to ask:  What percentage of people actually use keyboard accelerators? I suspect that if you don’t count shortcuts like Ctrl+C & Ctrl+X, the number is pretty low. I’d be interested in seeing the hard statistics if you have them.

  43. Chris Smith says:

    I definitely vote for ‘Just ALT’. This has been the key to get to the menu bar in all standard Windows applications since Windows 3.0 (and probably before but I don’t remember that far back).

    I haven’t seen anything that suggests that the press-and-release-ALT combination is overloaded with any other functionality in Office 2007, so why change to anything else? Adding a letter massively reduces discoverability and makes it very hard to remember.

    This is also pretty consistent with the Vista UI, where press-and-release-ALT causes the traditional menu bar to appear on windows without it (Explorer and Internet Explorer specifically)…

    Just stick to what we know – all the other innovations you’re coming up with for Office 2007 are great, but sometimes it’s best to stick to the tried-and-tested!

  44. Orion Adrian says:

    Do you have evidence that over the long term that keyboard mnemonics actually help? CTRL+X has no correlation with cut, nor does CTR+V and paste. Yet I can garuntee you that they are amonst the most easily remembered shortcuts.

    Also ALT+o for tools doesn’t really make any sense either. I think the fudanmental problem is that mnemonics don’t really help in the long run. I never remember them past the ones that I use all the time and the ones that I use at the top level.

    However muscle memory requires that the locations of these keyboard shortcuts stay the same during usage.

    Again, I remember CTRL+1 for Format Cells because I use it all the time; same goes for F2 and edit cell.

    Location and consistency are more important than mnemonics.

  45. Dave Solimini says:

    CRTL+[number] doesnt work for all cases of contextual tabs.

    In the case of context sensitive tabs, you could possibly have two or more contextual tabs available depending on what object you have selected. However, there are situations where the second of those contextual tabs would be the only contextual tab appropriate for a given selected object. Therefore, what was tab 7 in one case would be tab 6 in this case.

  46. Centaur says:

    Whatever you do, please make it consistent across language versions. All previous Windows and Office versions localized for Russia have hotkeys completely different from those in English version. So one saves a file under a different name in an English application by pressing Alt+F A, but in a Russian application one has to press Alt+Ѐ К which means keys Alt+A R. This way, when one sees both versions with about the same frequency, one cannot use the hotkeys.

  47. Christopher Hill says:

    Re Jensen’s post: What about using just Alt+1 for the ‘first’ tab, which (judging from the original article) is the one you’re struggling with, and then using the letter based mnemonics mentioned in the article for the rest? I think that Alt+1 is pretty natural for the ‘first’ tab, and Alt+letters is OK for the rest. I would also agree that keeping things to Alt instead of Ctrl is a good idea, to keep some sort of differentiation between doing things ‘to the document’ (Ctrl+B, Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+S) and things ‘to the interface’ (Alt+menu letter, Alt+tab).

  48. Simon says:

    I think some of you are confused by the fact that there are two different ways to use the keyboard to access commands: keyboard accelerators and shortcut keys.  You’re confusing the two.

    Keyboard shortcuts: these are the individual keystrokes (or combination of keys pressed simultaneously) used to access commands.  They appear to the right of the menu item.  For example, to access Undo using a shortcut, you press Ctrl+Z.

    Keyboard accelerators: these are the little underscores on menus and menu items.  They are used to navigate menus.  For example, to access Undo using accelerators, press Alt, then E, then U – three separate keystrokes.

    Jensen is addressing keyboard accelerators here, not shortcuts.  He has already said in previous posts that shortcuts will remain the same in Office 2007 as in previous versions of Office (which is a good thing).  The issue he is addressing in this post is keyboard accelerators and how the ribbon system should be navigated via the keyboard, as opposed to the old menu system.

  49. Jeff Carlsen says:

    Thinking about it, ribbon tabs are not the same as browser tabs, so the ctrl+<number> and ctrl+tab are not the best way to navigate them, as I have previously stated.  Instead, the ALT key is the more functional choice (in truth, Alt+Tab should not change applications, as that functionality should be moved to windows+tab, but oh well).

    Instead, ctrl+<number> and ctrl+tab should be reserved for moving between documents, and those should be displayed in a tab bar like modern web browsers do.  But that’s not the point of this post.

    I still believe that Alt+<number> should be one way of jumping between tabs, and if in future versions new tabs are added, then new tabs are added.  I’m a visual person, and won’t be learning the keys based on function.  Basing them on placement on the UI works better for me.

    But I also think they should have a Alt+<letter> key that is marked with an underline in each tab.  This will be the most readily noticeable shortcut, and the one worth remembering because it’s based on function.

    And lastly, simply pressing the alt key should allow the user to navigate the tabs like they were a menu, meaning that Alt+Enter would automatically select the first tab in every program.

  50. Nidonocu says:

    My first post in this blog. Found it last week and very much loving this UI and Office 12 discussion. πŸ™‚

    On topic, I would say think about the hand movement involved to perform a Alt+?? command.

    I personally perform it with pinkie finger on Left Alt and then either forth finger if its in the Q through S area or index finger if its F or further right. My other hand only changing if its way over the other side of the keyboard.

    With F still being in the product, one idea that comes to mind is having Alt+T for Tab as its near the letter F.

    In terms of ‘discoverability’ different parts of the UI could light up to show the next key in the sequence.

    User presses Alt, File and the tabs glow. T is pressed and alt released, the first letter of each tab glows. Tab letter is pressed, tab switches, next set of accelerators glow, etc.

    Just an idea anyway and I think it needs refinement.

  51. jensenh says:

    It was requested by my team that I mention the difference between accelerators and shortcuts.

    Shortcuts usually start with CTRL and they will remain the same between Office 2003 and Office 2007.

    Accelerators are really what I’m asking about–the replacement for pressing ALT+letter to drop down a menu in Office 2003 is pressing ALT+[something] to access a tab in Office 2007.  

    So switching to CTRL isn’t really an option. πŸ™‚

  52. jensenh says:

    A couple of other comments:

    Yes, once you press ALT you can navigate by using the arrow keys as well, so that’s built in (but not that efficient.)

    Currently ALT+[number] is being slotted for a different part of the design, which is why we’ve been concentrating on letters/symbols/anything else.

  53. Mike Dunn says:

    Simon, you have your terms reversed. Ctrl+Z is an accelerator. The underlined letters (or letters in tooltips in O12) are mnemonics. "shortcut" is too overloaded and too misused these days.

    My gut reaction is that Ctrl+1 or Alt+1 would be pretty good because it’s easy to remember and easy to type. But if you implement Alt+1, users will expect Alt+2..9 to work similarly, so be prepared for that.

    Also, Alt+` (backquote) is no good because that’s used by the Japanese IME.

  54. Simon says:

    The distinction between keyboard shortcuts and accelerators will probably get buried in this thread, considering there are 52 posts and growing πŸ™‚

    Maybe this is something you can clarify in tomorrow’s blog post, so it is more prominent and noticable?  I’m afraid a lot of readers may miss it by jumping to the bottom of the page to add their 2 cents worth.

  55. Mike Dunn says:

    D’oh, Jensen posted whilst I was too. Never mind.

    How about Alt+NumPad1? πŸ˜‰

  56. ChrisC says:

    Simon: Well said, I wish you could’ve posted that several hours earlier than 4:40pm (as displayed in my browser).

    Jensen wrote:

    <quote> …if you number the tabs left-to-right and then in a new version of Office a new tab shows up for new functionality, what do you do?  You can’t change the numbers…  So pretty soon you end up with 1-2-3-9-4-5-7


    Or you could put new parts of the ribbon to the far right.

    Thanks for taking our input btw, I’ve enjoyed giving it πŸ™‚

  57. ChrisC says:

    Wow that was a LONG page cache, I didn’t see anything after 5:02 (missing 6 posts).

    Ignore my prev comments as they were addressed.

    I’m curious what the [ALT]+# will be used for, looking forward to you telling us about it.

  58. Jamie Anderson says:

    I agree with the several people who say that Ctrl+<number> shortcuts are no good. They’re used for too many things already:

    Ctrl+1 (Excel) = Format cell

    Ctrl+1 (Word) = Single line spacing

    Ctrl+2 (Word) = Double line spacing

    Ctrl+5 (Word) = 1.5x line spacing

    Ctrl+0 (Word) = Double paragraph spacing

    I like the idea of Alt+1 to get to the main tab, and Alt+left and Alt+right to switch between tabs. However, this should be used alongside Alt+<letter>. And let the letters be different – the ribbons do different things, so why force the letters to be the same?

  59. Let me just throw a crazy suggestion out there. Why don’t you rename the first tab in all apps to a common name, e.g. Home, Main? Then you can go with the first letter of that word.

    This might go against some of your naming philosophy, but what all controls on the first tab have in common are that they are the most used ones. They don’t necessarily all fit logically under the tab name you chose. E.g., I am still wondering how the Paragraph chunk fits logically under the tab name Slides in ppt. I can think of more of these kinds of not that logical categorizations.

    Patrick Schmid

  60. Steve Malcon says:

    Hi, I just wanted to add another vote for an option to keep the shortcuts consistent across language-boundaries. People seldom use just their own computer nowadays. I frequently use computers that don’t have an English version Office. It would be great to be able to use them there as well.

  61. Andy C says:

    How about ALT + the menu key (the one added around the same time as the Windows key, that nothing uses) as a quick way of getting to the first tab and then ALT + first letter as a more general accelerator.

  62. Robert says:

    If users are anyway required to press Alt+several letters to get to the command they are looking for, why not make this the basis of a much more flexible design: Let the Alt key bring up a command line where users can type meaningful (and memorizable) words such as "font", "para", "print". When they type something unassigned, ask them to select the desired command from the ribbon so it will be available in the future.

  63. Danish Munir says:

    I vote for Ctrl + Number, as well as the Ctrl+Tab approach, or the ALT+LEFT/RIGHT

  64. ChrisC says:


    The ‘windows key’ isn’t really a key – it sends the same electric code from the keyboard as [CTRL]+[ESC].

    The ‘menu key’ is the same as a right click – thus it kind`a isn’t really a key either. (I think)


    I’ve been (happily) out of the Unix and mainframe worlds for a dozen years and used to think the same way you seem to. So as a recovered vi user I can tell `ya – command lines = bad idea.  

    (and yes I still use DOS commands such as

    "dir /A:-D /-C /Q /T:A /4 >> Files.txt")

    Problems with your script Jensen?  It’s after 7am PST and no daily post. (screwy time with the blog server I’m betting πŸ™‚

  65. Steve Bucci says:

    how about the fabled "any" key?  πŸ™‚

  66. Jerad Clark says:

    If the tabs on the ribbon were (user) postional, then you could just use ALT-1, ALT-2, etc to refer to an actual position on the tab, and therefore the tab located there, instead of having ALT-number refer to an actual tab.

    Therefore in future versions, should tabs move, or tabs be added/removed, it wont matter what the keys are, as you are only referencing a position on the ribbon.

  67. jensenh says:


    It is important to our keyboard users that they be able to memorize accelerator sequences.

    Changing the number of a tab down the line would cause a mutiny if there’s no other benefit other than that the numbers stay lined up. πŸ™‚

  68. juergen says:

    It should be natural. Mnemotically for instance for each application.

    In Internet Explorer for example:

    ALT + F for FILE

    ALT + F A for Favorites

    when you press ALT and a letter you dynamically show the optional words



    if you keep pressing additional letters you choose other than the first option. its similar to chinese pinyin keyboard input.

    The advantage is that it is easy to remember. I guess users think more in terms of tasks than in applications.

    A global applicapble letter sytem is not possible. A apps specific not natural. The only option I see is to dynamically show the menu bar changing according to the ALT choice. Its also easy to learn.


  69. Dvorak Shmorak says:

    I use the Dvorak keyboard on a Microsoft Natural Keyboard, and on a Toshiba laptop.  (The Dvorak keyboard switches the letters around so the most commonly used letters are on the home row — "aoeui dhtns" instead of "asdfg hjkl;".)

    I use keyboard shortcuts and keyboard accelerators a large percentage of the time.  As a fast typist (100+ wpm) instead of a hunt-and-peck typist, I don’t want to be forced to move my hands out of position to reach any shortcut or accelerator.  

    At first I thought Alt-Home would make a lot of sense since it’s the "Home" tab for each application.  Then I tried it out.  I still think that it’s a workable option, if it’s available, even if I have to move my hands out of position.  After all, I move there to get to Delete, End, PageUp, PageDown, etc.  

    Alt-Space was an interesting suggestion, but probably a lot of people (like me) use that for the application menu.  I’m not sure that overriding a windows accelerator key would be a recommended path to follow…  Might confuse people like me who started with Windows 3.0 (actually 2.x but who’s counting…)

    Alt-Minus is a similar option to Alt-Space.  In Office 2003 Alt-Minus takes you to the application menu again — and in other windows apps it takes you to the document menu if it’s an MDI app.  Overriding this Windows accelerator might be okay, but there might be better choices.

    With that in mind I wouldn’t mind using the period as an accelerator key — "Alt-."  I can’t think of any place I’ve used that as an accelerator.  Of course there might be one out there somewhere…  The period’s quite a popular key these days.  I suppose it could be called "Alt-Dot" and be quite hip, don’t you think?

    Here’s a thought to add to the comments on "shortcut" key vs "accelerator" key…  Using just the Alt key to get to the first tab seems more like an "accessibility" key than an "accelerator" key.  In my experience the first letter of a keyboard accelerator is generally used like the Shift key is used to get a capital A, or like the Ctrl-key shortcuts — as one keystroke:  for "Save As…"  Alt-F, A (two keystrokes) instead of Alt, F, A (three keystrokes).  So I’m thinking that an actual key needs to be specified (accelerator), not just the Alt key (accessibility).

    And a few thoughts to toss in on Ctrl-key shortcuts…  I use them all the time, but the position on the keyboard can vary with different keyboard layouts, as several posts have pointed out.  On a Dvorak keyboard the Cut shortcut is the biggest stretch (where ctrl-B is on a qwerty keyboard).  I actually wish I could turn off Ctrl-W, which closes a window — On a Dvorak keyboard it’s right next to Paste (qwerty comma and period, dvorak w and v).

    So to add my $.02 to the long list of posts now, I would vote for alt-. (faster accelerator key for fast typists but is it available?) or alt-home (not ideal as an accelerator for fast typists but workable).

    Now that I’ve added my $.02 to everyone else’s two cents, our collective wisdom is currently worth just under $1.50.  Big spenders, aren’t we?  :o)

  70. Jeradc says:

    jensenh, the fact you made head or tails out of my first paragraph is amazing, granted I can’t even understand what I wrote πŸ˜‰

    Not to mention that after I made my suggestion I read that the Alt-number keys are already being used somewhere else.

    Oh well, there does seem to be a lot of good discussions and suggestions here which leaves me hopeful.

    But my suggestion, more correctly worded, was to use alt-number keys to reference a position on the ribbon, rather then an actual tab on the ribbon, so that any tab that is currently in the keyed position is then selected.

    Adding, removing, or moving tabs (by users, or in future versions, or due to revisions) now become inconsequential, as the numbers only refer to positions, which will never change.

    While I do understand that a tab going from ALT-2 to ALT-3 (because of a position change) could be annoying, having the ability to move it back to ALT-2 would seem to solve that issue.

    Of course there could be a whole load of programming that this implementation would need, and at this late in the development cycle, it could well be too late.

    *looks around for an edit button*

  71. Kingsley says:

    I recommend overriding the current ALT-Space action. Most users are not even aware of it. I’m also recommending Alt/Ctrl+PageUp/Down as keyboard shortcuts to navigate tabs in the same way Firefox allows now. This would be similar to the scroll wheel navigation you mentioned earlier, but will be keyboard based. While we are at it, can we get some mouse gesture support as well πŸ˜€ ?

  72. steveg says:

    ** Numeric keypad

    Very difficult to touch type.

    Difficult on many laptops — a large and growing % of the user base.

    ** Alt+numbers

    Difficult to touch type — accuracy decreases on non-alpha keys for many typists.

    And apparently not available. Mysterious or not? (Alt+1 for Word, Alt+2 for Excel??? Future proofing for Office 13 where everything is inside one application πŸ™‚

    ** ~

    doesn’t exist in a sensible spot on all keyboards

    Many people don’t know where it is (seriously)

    ** Reinforement of accelerators

    If you offer an option to display accelerators, make sure it actually does what it says (eg please don’t copy Office < 12 behaviour)

    ** Keystroke consistenacy amongs office apps:

    Great idea. However, that’s a world of pain for somebody. Personally, I’d welcome short-term pain for long-term gain.

    Could you introduce some smarts to detect old-shortcuts followed by correction to new short-cut key behaviour: "That’s the 3rd time you’ve used an old Office shortcut key. Would you like Ctrl+B to always set text bold?  Did you know Ctrl+Q now turns text bold."

    ** Support Windows standards where possible

    Word’s Shift+F4 for Find Next has always been weird.

    ** Ctrl+Tab

    This good old MDI shortcut should be supported by Office apps to switch between documents.

    ** Mouse people vs Keyboard people

    You’ve got both camps to keep happy.

    Personally keyboard support is very important to me. I can’t stand an interface that’s mouse-only.


    You’re between Rock + hard place. Sometimes things change.

    You could offer different sets of accelerators and Alt behaviour. "Classic Office" vs "Office 2007+". Could be on an app-by-app basis. Support + Testing depts will not like you, though.

  73. steveg says:

    (me again, sorry). Maybe the answer to the actual question can be found in Sesame Street’s "now I know my A, B, C…"

    Arbitrarily Alt+A for first tab, Alt+B for second tab(where A reads: "first character in the alphabet" etc).

    Most people know the alphabet. Don’t they? Gives you 26 (US/UK keyboard) tabs. Add in Alt+Shift you’ve got 52.

    I18n issues? Is the alphabet the same in languages using Latin-like keyboards? Do Japanese+Arabic+Thai etc have an alphabet-like sequence on their keyboards?

  74. Step says:

    Having a common keyboard accelerator among all the applications sounds like a great idea, and I’m sure many of us power users would use it and perhaps find it very intuitive and usable…but….

    Whether or not you make a common key accelerator for the first tab, it seems most consistent and understandable for the majority of users to use a letter from the word in the first tab (thus having different accelerators for different applications).

    Another possibility would be to give the first tab a common name.  I don’t find the first tab names all that intuitive anyways.  It seems likely that it will become just like the "file" menu in my mind – no meaning attached, just hit "alt+f" to open the "file" menu, whatever that means, because I know the command I want is under there somewhere.  So maybe switching the first tab to "Home" or some other name would be good.  Maybe not, maybe your usability testing already eliminated this option.  I think in the interest of consistency (using letters from the words to navigate the menus and commands), and in the interest of longevity, it would be better to have different accelerators for each application.  Also I agree with many of the explanations above, such as much of steveg’s summary, and especially brad corbin’s point on establishing the rule (of using a letter in the word) before you start breaking it.

    On brad’s other point, I don’t know how many people navigate using [alt+(underlined letter)], but I do it quite often.  I’m an avid computer user, but switch among too many applications and remember too many different things to memorize any more than my most frequently used commands.  Cut, Paste, Open, Save, Close – other than that, I use the accelerators and not the shortcuts.  Shoot, even Save and Open I often use accelerators for some reason (muscle memory?)

    We’re now up to almost $1.70….maybe we’ll get enough together to have our cake and eat it too.  πŸ™‚

  75. I don’t know if it’s even (mechanically) feasible on all keyboards, but what about alt-caps lock?  I hate that damn key, since I hit it about 10 times accidentally for every time I actually mean to type it, so might as well put it to good use.

  76. Charley Kyd says:


    1. Associating keyboard accelerators (ALT + keys) with menu labels (F=File, E=Edit, etc.) brings several problems:

    a. Different languages use different labels, causing problems for multi-language users.

    b. Changing the menu (or ribbon) design obsoletes the prior accelerator keys.

    c. Some commands are very deep in a menu structure, bringing long keyboard-accelerator key combinations.


    1. This won’t be the last time that the menu/ribbon structure will change.

    2. Accelerator key combinations should continue to offer quick keyboard access to virtually every command.

    3. Users would rather not re-learn accelerator keys each time the Office UI changes.

    4. Users would like to have visual feedback as they type a series of accelerator keys.

    5. Numbers, most punctuation marks, and the letter Z take special effort for touch-typists to type.


    1. Decouple accelerator keys from their menu labels.

    2. Create a broad and shallow outline of all commands in each program. The outline could contain as many as 25 characters per level, and would have no more than three levels. This would give keyboard access to 25^3 (15,625) commands.

    3. Associate letters with each command at each level. Ideally there would some pneumonic that could help us to remember the letters, but that wouldn’t be required.

    4. When a user types "ALT+" display the next choices for the current level of the outline somewhere in the UI. Because this would resemble a non-clickable menu, this display could be in the Help window.

    5. Where practical, use the same key combinations across products. For example, ALT+XYZ might give us File, Save in any Office program. But this wouldn’t be required.

    6. In the visual feedback UI, provide a way for users to see the command path that we would take when we use the ribbon UI. (This could reduce the "Where did they hide the xxxx command?" questions.)

    7. Provide a switch that toggles a display of the three-letter key combinations within each tab of each dialog box. After we access the dialog with the mouse, this would tell us which TLCs (Three Letter Combinations) to use in the future.


    1. We get sub-second keyboard access to virtually any command.

    2. The same accelerator keys would be used for all Western languages.

    3. Accelerator key combinations would survive future changes in the UI.

    4. We could have sub-second keyboard access to any command.

    Charley Kyd

  77. Herb Tyson says:

    Consistency doesn’t have to mean the same key in every application and language. It can mean the same LOGIC in each application and language.

    As a user (in Word, for example), I can remember generally what’s contained in Write, Insert, Review, etc. But, I won’t remember–moving across applications–*where* the different main tabs are.

    So, for me, Alt+W for Write, Alt+I for insert, etc., makes the most sense (…with interior letters being used only when multible tabs begin with the same letter, which I hope could be avoided.)

  78. Francis says:

    I think this ribbon is a big mistake, but if it has to go forwards:

    1. CTRL in combination with other characters is no good as a keyboard accelerator. Most keys are booked up with CTRL shortcuts anyway. The ones that are not are difficult to press.

    2. ALT is a better idea, as people are accustomed to using it in menus. But it is already tied up, too (ALT+SPACE, ALT+X).

    3. The BEST solution would be to give users a choice: use the old menus and shortcuts OR the ribbon. If you used the ribbon, you could then reassign ALL the function keys. Think of it this way:

    F1 = leftmost ribbon object

    F2 = second to left ribbon object

    F3 = third to left ribbon object

    and so on. This would be language neutral, as the function keys are standard on nearly all keyboards. In addition, you could could  use the modifiers (CTRL and SHIFT, say) as follows:

    SHIFT+F1 = object above the leftmost ribbon object

    SHIFT+F2 = object above the second to left ribbon object



    CTRL+F1 = object below the leftmost ribbon object

    CTRL+F2 = object below second to left ribbon object

    Furthermore, you could extend this technique in modal dialog boxes. F1 would activate the first tab, F2 the second, etc.

    4. If this is not possible, you may want to investigate keyboard scan codes. What unusual but convenient keys can be pressed together?

    For instance, could you use the CAPS LOCK key as a modifier? CAPS+SPACE could activate the ribbon, where one could press W for the write mode–or one could press CAPS+W straight out.

  79. Francis says:

    A last thought–

    you could toggle new and old keyboard shortcuts/accelerators using the Scroll Lock key. This might disappoint a few Excel users, but the key is:

    – generally on the same row as the F-keys

    – and has a hardware indicator for its status (unlike Insert/overwrite, which never ceases to surprise)

    Come to think of it, this ribbon does not seem like something new at all. Didn’t Word for DOS (or at least some other 1980s DOS word processor) have a text ribbon with changing commands along the bottom of the screen?

  80. Francis says:

    A couple more thoughts that kept me up at night about accelerators;

    The more I think about the ribbon, the better of an idea it seems. But I think choosing an accelerator such as ALT or CTRL would be suboptimal.

    Here are a bunch of reasons why I think you should consider the function keys:

    1. They correspond to the ribbon–they are laid out in a row, as opposed to the letter keys, which are scattered. It is intuitive when a control on the screen that lies to the right is also activated by a key that lies to the right.

    2. They are closest to the screen of any keys. Users may associate them by proximity with interface elements.

    3. For many users, they have no apparent use, unlike the letter keys. "B", for instance is both the letter "R" and "right align." If you add the "Reviewing" contextual tab to that, it may overload them.

    4. Modifiers (ALT, CTRL) are difficult to use for _many_ people, especially new users and users with disabilities. Holding down one key and then pressing (but not holding) another and then releasing the first key I also find challenging to explain–users listen but still do it incorrectly and cannot understand that they are not doing what they have been instructed to.

    5. Typos are less likely with the function keys. They are one row deep, which means typos can only happen by pressing horizontally adjacent (not vertically) keys. Furthermore, they are grouped into sets of fours, which makes erroneous key presses even less likely.

    6. The separators between the keys may be used as a cognitive aid. They provide a logical break which the programs may make use of–similar or related functions may be grouped in the same set of four keys.

    7. They are language neutral. Localization is not an issue, because there is no mnemonic association with a given letter (a downside) but also no false association (an upside.)

    8. The relative positioning of the Escape and F-keys makes it clearer that the Escape key lets a user "go back" from what he was doing.

    9. I speculate that the F-keys are far less utilized than, say CTRL+C, CTRL+V, CTRL+S, ALT+menu, etc. Changing the function of the F-keys would thus "break" fewer things for the users.

    10. There is little consistency between Windows programs in their use of the F-keys (unlike CTRL+X,C,V,Y,Z,A,N,O,S)

    11. If the function keys are reassigned, you get a trove of possible combinations:

     –  12 unmodified keys

     –  36 modified by SHIFT, CTRL, or ALT

     –  36 modified by any combination of the two

    If one sticks to the letter keys with a certain modifier, 26 combinations are available.

  81. GiorgioMoroder says:

    I actually think Ctrl-[#] is a bad idea:

    It causes weird hand positions: try pressing ctrl-4 or ctrl-5 repeatedly and often without moving your hands from their 10-finger-typing-position. it’ll start to hurt. That’s really bad. Think about millions of people with hurting hands. RSI. Economics.

    On a nonphysical level, the fact that Firefox uses it, is by not a reason to duplicate it – especially since there’s no conceptual similarity (tab switching is between information spaces; ribbon switching is between tool spaces/workflow positions).

    Because of accessibility, speed, recognizability, etc my preference would be plain F-keys for the ribbons. Imagine the speed!

  82. Noel Chinchen says:

    Give 2 methods:

    1.  For those that think in terms of functionality (most of us) make the shortcut a letter which is meaningful within that application – without worrying (much) about consistency of letters across applications

    2.  For those who think in terms of position, make Alt-Home the home page, and Alt-Left and Alt-Right for shifting tabs progressively.

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