About About

It was asked last week: “With the Help menu not present in Office 2007, where do I get to the version information from the About box?”

Good question. In thinking through the design, we decided that it made sense for the version information to be integrated into the Options dialog box, since that’s kind of a hub for application-level and system-level configuration and information. The Options window itself is launched from the bottom of the Office menu.

The “Resources” page within Options contains all of the information about updating and getting support for Office, so this seemed like the most natural place for the version information to live.

(Click to view full picture)

Outside of the beta program, the two top reasons people need version information are 1) when calling product support and 2) when verifying the service pack level installed. For #1, we just need to have a predictable location that product support can use to lead people towards the version information. #2 was what motivated us to move the version information to the same page as where one checks for product updates.

Comments (34)

  1. citizen says:

    It’s now my habit to press "Help" then look for "About" at the bottom, to find version & SP numbers.

    (Sorry if I’m stating the obvious, but that’s where I look first for all existing software.)

  2. John C. Kirk says:

    Hmm, I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good idea. Presumably you still need admin rights to check for updates, so the average user won’t be doing that (particularly in a corporate environment, where it will all get handled via WSUS or suchlike). In fairness, I suppose that most PCs in a corporate environment will be using the same version of the software, but it’s still a bit tricky.

    Personally, I like the fact that "Help | About" will work in the vast majority of programs, so if I’m trying to diagnose a problem over the phone then I can talk someone through it without having the app in front of me – this will make it more difficult. In particular, it leads to a chicken-and-egg scenario:

    Me: "What version of Word are you using?"

    User: "I don’t know – how do I find out?"

    Me: "Well, you do it one way in Word 2003 and a different way in Word 2007."

    User: "But I don’t know whether I’m using Word 2003 or Word 2007!"

    I quite like the way that IE7 has handled this: it hides the menus in favour of toolbar buttons, so you get a question mark icon instead of a Help menu, but then the menus reappear if you press the Alt key. So, if I tell someone to press Alt+H, then click on "About", that will work, but the rest of the time they can just use the friendly picture. (In fact, IE7 has a drop down menu next to the ? button, which is another way of handling the problem.)

  3. Aaron M. Hall says:

    Nevermind that you could just pay attention to the logo as the app loads. I mean I know it’s only there for like 2 seconds, and all, but we’re not talking rocket science.

  4. James says:

    Speaking of "Options", one of the things in Word that I’ve always found a bit … mental … is the way the Tools|Options dialogue seemlessly blends settings that will persist forever and options that apply only to the current document.

    Combined with the appalling wording of many of the options (e.g., "Save data only for forms" should be "Only save data for forms") and the way the help is getting less and less context sensitive with every release (in 2003, clicking the ‘?’ button in the caption just opens a help page for the entire dialogue… not even for the specific tab), the situation is a mess.

    How has Options (and its help) been improved?

  5. J. Roberts says:

    Question, where’s the print button?

  6. jensenh says:

    Citizen & John:

    As there isn’t a Help menu anywhere, we had to find a new place for this functionality.

    You are right that if we still had a Help menu (or menus at all) that would be a good place for the About information.

  7. Orion Adrian says:

    "(e.g., "Save data only for forms" should be "Only save data for forms")"

    Actually in my mind it would be better as

    "For forms, only save data" as both the entries above make me think that it’s not going to save data for non-form documents.

  8. Guess Who says:

    In my opinion you should put the ‘about’ button at the bottom of the File menu, that is where I would expect it to be.

  9. citizen says:

    "(In fact, IE7 has a drop down menu next to the ? button, which is another way of handling the problem.)"


  10. Adam says:

    Making "Help" a split button would be cool.  An "about" command in the menu could open the Office Center to the "Resources" page.

  11. Regardless of order, "only" modifies "data" and so should immediately preceed it. So it should be either "Save only data for forms" or "For forms, save only data." Better still, if the app could detect whether the document contained form fields and, only if it did, display, "For this form document, save only the data"…

  12. Hun says:

    I totally agree

  13. GaryK says:

    i don’t think it’s a good idea. every app ever written has version info in help and now you decide to change it.

    bad idea in my opionion

  14. Lawrence S says:

    Is it just me, or does "Resources" give no clue what’s found there?

    "Advanced" seemed like another reasonable guess for the about box and update functionality, with "Customizations", "Add-Ins", and "Trust Center" following as more remote guesses for the update feature.

  15. Brandon Bloom says:

    Each item on the resources page seems to have a full caption and then a button with a short caption.

    Loose the old ugly buttons.

    Go with stacked text buttons similar to Expression Interactive Designer’s welcome screen:


  16. steveg says:

    A lot of strong opinions about what is, ostensibly, not much of a feature. Maybe my opinion will change when I use it, but I’m apprehensive about losing Help | About (I’ve already complained about the LOOK AT ME I’M AN OFFICE PRODUCT logo in the top LHS replacing the File menu).

    I’m glad to see the Option box get a much-needed overhaul. It had to be one of the first tabbed dialog boxes in Windows. It was very cool at the time, but it’s been struggling the last few releases.

    Is there a plan to deal with a possible backlash against the new interface when it’s released? Remember Word 97?

  17. steveg says:

    Aaron M Hall said: "Nevermind that you could just pay attention to the logo as the app loads. I mean I know it’s only there for like 2 seconds, and all, but we’re not talking rocket science."

    Time yourself. Look at Word XP’s about box and tell me the exact version #.

    11.6502.6408 SP1

    Never make fun of a rocket scientist.

  18. Adam says:


    Don’t be so quick to dismiss tabbed dialogs. Check http://www.joelonsoftware.com/uibook/chapters/fog0000000060.html from about 2/3 of the way down.

    According to previous MS usability studies, about 30% of users could figure out the "old-style" (and now new-style for office 2007) multi-pane dialogs, while 100% could figure out tabbed dialogs.

    I’d agree that recent Word options got hectic, but, in my opinion, that was partly due to the fact that the dialog used one options page for per-application and per-document settings when two dialogs would have been used to better effect, and partly due to the options dialog being so damn tiny and non-resizable.

    The new options dialog does seem a lot bigger. Most importantly it seems wider, which could have eased the "three layers of tabs" disgustingness if they were still using tabs.

    Still, something must have changed loads if usability research now shows that the "old-style" dialogs are more usable than tabbed dialogs. I wonder which it is:

    a) There are no more newbies anymore.

    b) The original usability research was not entirely correct. (In which case it would be interesting to know why MS think they’re correct this time)

    c) This change is not usability based, but either frivolous or marketing driven ("All New Options Dialog!")

    d) Joel is lying.


  19. Dan McCarty says:

    For some reason, the first thing I do whenever I run a program for the first time is go to Help | About.  After working with probably hundreds of Windows programs since 3.1, I can tell a lot about the program just from the appearance of its About dialog.

  20. Jeff says:

    I find tabs easy to use, but only when there’s 1 row.

    I also like descriptive, concise headings.  Display, Proofing, Save = good.  Resources?  Trust Center?  Ambiguous.

    Also, why doesn’t the options dialog have a maximize/restore button?  And is it still modal?

  21. John says:

    Yes, not goign to help, about is different, but rememebr people there is no more help menu, thus help|about is impossible.  I’m glad they found a new home for it.

  22. Jeff C says:

    As a technical writer myself, I’m curious how involved the documentation team has been in the design of the new interface, and whether the radical shift from the old interface to the Ribbon has caused them to rethink the way help is provided in any significant ways.

    How about a guest entry from someone writing help for the new application?

  23. I love the Idea to have everything on the options page.

    What I did realize is taht you have a newer version… I had to ask if the besta test will inlcude a test of the update process using Office online beta?

  24. David Walker says:

    Yes, John Kirks’ comment was very good.  In order to know how to find what version and service pack of an Office program you are using, you have to … know what version of Office you are using.

    I suppose the phone conversation would go something like this:

    "Is there a little question mark on the right side of the toolbar?  If yes, click it; if no, is there a menu with a Help entry?"  

    The loss of Help/About does make the new Office a departure from the rest of the world of Windows programs.

  25. Jo-Pete says:

    You’re leaving off group three- people who are checking what version of the software is on the computer they’re sitting in front of. Especially because I’m still a student, I use a *lot* of different computers, and sometimes I’ll be sitting in front of Office 98, sometimes 2001, sometimes 2003. I’m not going to call a tech support for help, because it will take them longer to find the answer than it takes me to find it on google, but I need to know what version I’m sitting in front of.

    This, of course, doesn’t just apply to Office, it applies to every windows program out there- if Microsoft moves the "about" box, then that destroys the consistency, and in the future it will be hopeless to try to determine the version info on xyz program by ABC corporation.

  26. KirkMorrant says:

    I also agree that the About dialog should be accessed from "Help". I’m not sure what comes up onto the screen when a user clicks the ? button, but could there not simply be a hyperlink that appears somewhere on the screen that says: "About Microsoft Office Word 2007" which opens the same dialog that opens from the Options dialog? That way everyone’s happy.

  27. Stefan KZVB says:

    In addition to James comment:

    I think it’s one of the biggest usability issues to figure out, if an option of the Options-Dialog is for the current document or for the whole Word Application. Sometimes I even record the option change into a vba macro kind to see what objects are really affected!

    And there are other things, where you have to guess what happens:

    1. When changing the printer in the print dialog of Word it’s only for this Word session (unsaved) and only for Word.

    2. When you change properties of the printer from Word’s printer dialog, it’s only for the current document, isn’t it?

    Pleeaase improve these issues so that the user knows what he’s doing and must not guess what happens!!!!

    For the Version Information, please consider to put "About" additionally in the "Home"-Tab and into Help after clicking on "?".

  28. Francis says:

    Adam took the words out of my mouth. Tabbed dialogs work!

    If you a) separate document-specific* and application-wide settings into 2 dialogs and b) take advantage of larger screens, you probably could reduce the three-row monster into one row of tabs.

    *It would also make sense to integrate the File–>Properties dialog with the document-specific settings currently strewn throughout Tools->Options.

    As Help->About: one less menu is good.

  29. Nick says:

    What part of "About"? is an Option?

  30. tiger mountain says:

    I too think this is a mistake

    What happens when you right click on "?"

    Couldn’t that provide "About"?

  31. Andre says:

    Why does the help icon have to be just a button, it could be a popup menu.

    If we can add groups to the QAT, why not make help one too?

    That way Help|About would still work without making any changes to the UI.

  32. [ICR] says:

    I personaly would put "About" at the bottom of the File menu where "Word Options" and "Exit" are. That’s far more discoverable imo, no matter what the legacy reasons are.

    If you are considering conversations:

    "Do you have a ? icon?"


    "Click Help->About"

    "Do you have a ? icon"


    "Right click, click About"

    vs my suggestion

    "Click File. Is there "About" at the bottom?"


    "Click Help->About"

    "Click File. Is there "About" at the bottom?"

    "Click on it"

    So it’s the same process for both. However, how many people are going to right click the ? and find this out for themselves? And how many people are going to notice it at the bottom? Alot more. It also, imo, has better legacy as you are still keeping it in the drop-down menu. Office has always set the trend in UI, but alot of applications won’t impliment the help (mainly because alot of them don’t have it). By simply moving it from Help to File they can still easily include it in a way that is similar to office. So no longer do you have custom solutions, you only have 2.

  33. tiger mountain says:

    there is no file menu