Verklärte Macht: Keyboard Revisited

I mentioned in mid-March that we had been putting a lot of thought and effort into improving the Office 2007 keyboard access model for Beta 2. Getting keyboarding for the new UI model right is a necessity--not only for accessibility but also for efficiency. As a result, we've continued to tweak and redesign and tweak some more based on all of the feedback we've received.

Today, I'm finally ready to reveal the improved keyboard model you'll find in Beta 2.

There are four ways to access features using the keyboard in Office 2007: shortcuts, menu accelerators, KeyTips, and navigation.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are dedicated keystrokes you can use to access specific features, such as CTRL+B for Bold, CTRL+X for Cut, and CTRL+P for Print.

Every one of the Office 2003 keyboard shortcuts continues to work the same in Office 2007; there's no relearning necessary.

We've also used the data from the Customer Experience Improvement Program to track down the most frequently-used features without good keyboard shortcuts so that we could add them. For instance, you'll find CTRL+ALT+V added for Paste Special.

Menu Accelerators

"Menu accelerators" refer to the way that you can use the keyboard to kind of "navigate" the top-level menus in old-UI programs. For example, you can type ALT+O+H+R to navigate Format - Sheet - Rename to access the Format Sheet dialog box in Excel 2003.

Starting in Beta 2, you will be able to use all of the menu accelerators just like you were running Office 2003. If you have ALT+I+R memorized in Excel (Insert - Row, in case you were wondering) you can type it and it will magically work. No need to activate any sort of legacy keyboard mode or anything like that--your menu accelerators just work.

We've designed this part of the feature for people who have these keystrokes memorized ("in the fingers" as they say), so there's no UI to explore the old menu structure. In other words, this isn't the way to discover new ways of doing things with the keyboard.

But, when you do start to enter an Office 2003 menu accelerator, we pop up a small window over the Ribbon to show what keys you've pressed and that you're entering an Office 2003 menu accelerator.

Using Office 2003 menu accelerators


KeyTips are the new way to access commands with the keyboard. I describe KeyTips in great detail in my original keyboard article from last year.

In short, every single command in the Ribbon receives a letter which you can press to activate that command. Unlike in the menus-and-toolbars system, every feature in the Ribbon is efficiently keyboard accessible.

The letters are indicated by small "KeyTips" which indicate the letter to press to activate the control. KeyTips are displayed using the Alt key, so using them feels similar to how menu navigation works in Windows.

KeyTips in the PowerPoint Slide Show tab

The feedback we got from Beta 1 on the KeyTips was loud and clear: good idea, but the KeyTips key sequences are too long and inefficient compared to the old menu accelerators.

So, we went back to the drawing board and looked at how we could shorten KeyTip sequences to be as short as possible. We removed an extra keystroke everywhere by no longer requiring you to type the KeyTip for the group a control is in. And, we did away with most of the two-letter KeyTips by adding numbers as potential KeyTips for very dense Ribbon tabs.

The result? We ran an analysis of every single command in Office 2003 and Office 2007--and the average "keystroke length" to access a command has gone down considerably. And for frequently-used commands in Office 2007, most are accessible with Alt + two keystrokes, just like the top-level menu commands in Office 2003.

We also added one-letter KeyTips for commands in the customizable Quick Access Toolbar: Alt+1 for the first command through Alt+9 for the ninth command (after that, it's double digits.) This lets you have hyper-efficient keyboard shortcuts to your favorite features.

KeyTips in the customized Quick Access Toolbar

So we hope that KeyTips are now worthy of even the most keyboard-obsessed Office user. And, because every single command can be accessed with an efficient set of keystrokes, the result is a much more accessible product.


The final way to use the keyboard to access features is not really about efficiency, but about accessibility and discoverability.

You can use the arrow keys and Tab to navigate the Ribbon, letting the accessibility aid (such as a screen reader) identify the controls you have selected. Because the Ribbon uses dialog box-like navigation, it provides enhanced accessibility compared to the old toolbars.


It's been a very long road, but thanks to everyone's feedback, we finally feel like we have a keyboard model to be proud of. There's no more "legacy" keyboard mode, and the design of KeyTips has been much improved.

In short:

  • Every keystroke from prior versions continues to work out-of-the-box: no special mode required.

  • KeyTips provide a more efficient and complete keyboard model than prior Office user interfaces.

  • KeyTips + navigation provides a great accessibility experience.

Note that there are still a few issues we're still looking into for post-Beta 2, such as making sure you can use KeyTips while keeping the Ribbon collapsed.

But we feel like Beta 2 represents a huge step forward for the keyboard model of the new Office UI.

Comments (31)
  1. Steve B says:

    I would suggest avoiding (or at least trying to avoid) CTRL+ALT combinations for keyboard shortcuts, since this is the combination Explorer uses for Windows global shortcuts.  For example, I have CTRL+ALT+I set up to launch Internet Explorer and CTRL+ALT+C set up to launch Command Prompt.  Adobe uses CTRL+ALT in some of their apps, and they don’t work when you have conflicting global shortcuts set up in Explorer.

    As an alternative, I suggest CTRL+SHIFT whenever possible.  In fact, I use Paste Special all the time in Word, and I have it mapped to CTRL+SHIFT+V.  If CTRL+<letter> and CTRL+SHIFT+<letter> are already taken, use a different letter, or go to CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+<letter>.

  2. drborts says:

    Ctrl+Shift is used a lot to swap keyboard layouts, though.  Something to consider if going that route.

  3. Pieter Huizinga says:

    I regret, but I take offence at the ‘obsessed’ typing.

    I’m sure there are thousands of people who like me have physical difficulties using mice. (Just as they might also have difficulties reading the bloody small print on Microsoft’s web site).

    I test each software suite on usability w/o a pointing device before I even consider buying it. Not because I am a mouse hater. Because working the silly device drives me up the wall.

    Thanks for reading this and recognizing that not everyone is of the mindless point-and-click generation.


  4. leap says:

    Too late: Excel already uses about a dozen of them shortcuts

  5. leap says:

    Pieter Huizinga: I regret, but I take offence at the ‘obsessed’ typing … Thanks for reading this and recognizing that not everyone is of the mindless point-and-click generation.

    Thank you for not insulting mouse users. Not.

  6. jensenh says:


    I didn’t intend any negative connotation along with "obsessed."  I think it’s a great way for people to work, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve put so much energy into the keyboard model.

  7. Tim says:

    Thanks for the paste special!  I use it far more than paste, as I usually am only interested in the data, not the formatting. The lack of a built in shortcut has been driving me up the wall for a LONG time, and it is good to see it finally making it into the production product!

  8. Jakob says:


    is there any reason you chose this title, "Verklärte Macht"? It might be translated to "misty-eyed power", but both version (german original and enlish translation) don’t make any sense to me. I asked as I was surprised to see German words on this blog, especially as there is no reference in the text at all.

  9. Colen says:

    So you use alt to access the office 2003 accelerators, AND the new keytips? How will that work? I’m confused >:

  10. Guess Who says:

    I read on another blog that the floatie toolbar goes away if you use a keyboard shortcut, is this true? If it is could you fix that problem? I will probably use the keyboard in conjunction with the floatie.

  11. Abigail says:


    Verklären is "to transfigure" (so the title is "transformed power," approximately). I imagine it’s a reference to <a href=""><i>Verklärte Nacht</i></a>.

  12. Abigail says:

    Hm… I guess HTML isn’t supported in the comments. 🙂  

  13. sloan says:

    How do these help keys work when the screen is smaller than your optimized size? Like 800×600 for instance?

  14. josh says:

    but ctrl + alt = altgr ?

  15. Nektar says:

    The important thing for keyboard shortcuts is not if they are numerous and if they cover everything as you seem to suggest but if they are easily memorizable. In this respect I wouldn’t like you to start using every key imaginable for shortcuts. I wouldn’t like you to use numbers for shortcuts since they stand for nothing (they don’t begin any word) and thus are difficult to memorize. As things stands Word 2003’s shortcuts are difficult to memorize and using the keyboard with Word 2003 is a suboptimal experience. Try to create lists, numbered and not, with the keyboard. What is the keyboard shortcut for numbered lists? Not exists. The shortcut for clearing formatting is a strange combination. There are many shortcuts that are unnecessary and some that would have been useful do not exist. Also, now that I mention it, why doesn’t the Numbering toolbar button doesn’t apply the correct style but only applies the numbering to the current paragraph? Why do we have styles for? Your styles environment is a mess: Word hides most styles, users do not apply them mostly or use them inconsistently, they are not applied even the Word commands eg. the Numbering toolbar button and they are not applied automatically. However, styles are another story.

    Finally, returning to shortcuts, please make sure that your new shortcuts do not conflict with the shortcuts that screen reading software uses. If they do, please consider changing them since screen readers aren’t going to change theirs, just to be compatible with Office 2007. Especially shortcuts containing numbers might be used by screen readers. After all, shortcuts should primarily be friendly above all to those that need them the most, ie. people with accessibility problems, eg. those using screen readers.

  16. I’m still anxious to know if the keyboard short cuts will be localized in the different versions of Office 2007. This is one of my pet peeves in the current office; that CTRL-B in the Swedish version of office is not the same thing as CTRL-B in the standard/english version. Highly annoying!



  17. Giga says:

    How many shortcuts with CTRL+Alt+ have Beta 2 now? I hope A, E, L, N, O, S, Z, X are not used, because they are necessary in my input language (Polish – Programmers).

  18. AdamB says:

    Is there a shorcut for paste as Unformatted Text? One of the most annoying things is copying URL’s and such into Outlook messages or a word doc. If you don’t paste as unformatted text it changes your font and the rest of your message is in that font; yuk! Or there should maybe be a way to just "fix" fonts when making new messages (without resorting to plain text).

    But I think Paste Special is good…but usually the only time I use Paste Special is to strip formatting. Not sure if your data shows a lot people doing that.


  19. On Wednesday, I mentioned that as part of the keyboard work we’ve done for Beta 2, controls on the customizable…

  20. Thomas Passin says:

    I haven’t tried it, but I think that the popup that shows the keystrokes for the menu accelerators ("we pop up a small window over the Ribbon to show what keys you’ve pressed and that you’re entering an Office 2003 menu accelerator.") is a really bad idea.  

    First of all, these accelerators are built into the new Office programs, so they are native. Thus it’s confusing to call the by the name "Office 2003)".  Second, no-one thinks of them by that label.  Most of them have been around for years and are used in most programs by covnentions – like <cntrl-v> for paste.  So the label will be confusing.

    Third, many people will be going to the new Office from pre-2003 version, and will have no idea what the "2003" label means.

    Forth, this approach just adds visual clutter and distraction.  I don’t want new boxes and letters flickering into my vision when I type a shortcut, for goodness sake!  I want the shortcut to work with a minimum of fuss, that’s what they are for.

    Fifth, you are going back to the bad old days when the computer constantly asked you whether you really meant to do what you just instructed it to do.  True, you won’t have to respond, but it’s still going to be annoying.  You don’t tell me what letters I just typed into the text (I can see that).  In the same way, if I type the wrong accelerator letters, I’ll see that I got the wrong result, undo it, and do it right next time.

    So even though I haven’t tried it out (I’m not testing the beta), I suggest you simplify this part of the new UI by just removing the "feature".

  21. Francis says:

    3 points:

    1. I *like* seeing accelerators underlined instead of shown only when ALT is pressed. Please include a option so that the ribbon accelerators will always be on-screen.

    2. Is the Office team making an efforts to increase awareness/usage of existing keyboard shortcuts? Many of these do things that cannot be done efficiently or at all through the GUI in Office 2003.

    I would like to see an optional display bar that shows what the 12 function keys do. Various communications packages had this. The bar would dynamically update to reflect which modifier keys are depressed.

    This is important because the F-keys are often necessary but counterintuitive. For people who work with fields, F9/F11 are crucial keys, yet can any of them keep the following straight?

    F9 UpdateFields

    SHIFT+F9 ToggleFieldDisplay

    CTRL+F9 InsertFieldChars

    ALT+F9 ViewFieldCodes

    SHIFT+CTRL+F9 UnlinkFields

    ALT+SHIFT+F9 DoFieldClick

    ALT+CTRL+F9 (unassigned)

    F11 NextField

    SHIFT+F11 PrevField

    CTRL+F11 LockFields

    CTRL+SHIFT+F11 UnlockFields

    ALT+F11 ViewVBCode

    ALT+SHIFT+F11 MicrosoftScriptEditor

    ALT+CTRL+F11 (unassigned)

    What a tangle! You could design the bar such that when the pointer hovers over it, a list of commands and the relevant modifiers would pop up.

    3. The Office 2003 feature is welcome but is bad UI design. It lets the user know they are entering a command but does not specify which! The menus with underlined accelerators were a guide and positive reinforcement. Without them, people will begin to forget and confuse which keys to press. This will lead to unexpected behavior. Alt E-A and Alt I-A do, e.g., dramatically different things in Word 2003, yet could be mistaken easily.

    Minimal suggestion: show NOT only the key but the menu item the user is selecting, like so:

    "Office 2003 access key: ALT, I (Insert), F (Field)"

    Better yet would be expose the menu structure, even if it runs against the design paradigm. You don’t want users pressing random keys in an attempt to remember what the accelerator they wanted was.

  22. Francis says:

    Oops! Axe suggestion #2–please make sure the existing function key toolbar from Word 2003 is carried over (I just discovered it, hidden in the toolbar dialog… what a godsend!)

  23. Regular readers may remember how I have complained in the past about the way Word interferes with key…

  24. JC Roy says:

    This article is a few day old.

    I hope it’s not too late to express our comment.

    One thing Microsoft need to check before assigning keyboard shortcut is user keyboard profile. If a shortcut is the same as the user profile there should be a prompt to relocate it or disable it.

    For example on my word2003 i can’t type [ and ] as it’s asigned for "useless for me" font grow and decrease shortcut.

    I could remove the sortcut for one of them but the other do not want to be removed.

    I’ve tryed to install internet explorer 7. For some reason Microsoft wanted to asign ctrl-alt 2 for something i do not know what it does.

    I’m sorry but this ctrl-alt-2 is my @

    IE without @ is a clever reson to switch to firefox.

    Just immagine what problem you’ll run if you have an entire compagny using french canadian keyboard that can’t type "@" in outlook !

    I know most of the beta working of microsoft is about US-English, but French isnt the only keyboard local who use ctrl-alt to tigger special character. And a keyboard compatibility tool is definitively something word need to consider.

  25. Michael J says:

    > We also added one-letter KeyTips for commands

    > in the customizable Quick Access Toolbar: Alt+1

    > for the first command through Alt+9 for the

    > ninth command (after that, it’s double digits.)

    So if I change the tool order in the toolbar, the numbers will be out of order? Or the tools will be renumbered? Both options look pretty unusable to me.

    I understand that the numbers are just labels, but it was you who set order on them by saying "first" through "ninth".

  26. online directory main

  27. One of the many areas in which we’ve spent time since Beta 2 has been making working with the collapsed…

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