Introducing the Command Well

There have always been certain commands in Office which aren't available as part of the default user interface. Sometimes, these commands are seldom-used alternatives to features that are part of the common UI. For instance, there are many commands that can be used select cells or regions in Excel in slightly different ways. It turns out that only a few of them are necessary to do pretty much everything that's possible though.

More frequently, there are features which had their day but have long-since been replaced by better features. In some cases, we keep these old features around in case someone wants to use them, but we don't clutter up the main user interface with them. For instance, there are a few features available to slightly change the 3-D orientation of comments in Excel... but since only about 5 people have clicked these commands in the whole time people have been using Excel 2003, it's a better use of space to bring forward more useful features instead.

Finally, there are a set of features which were built for whatever reason and they've never been exposed as part of the default UI. Some of the best ones from previous versions we've actually gone out of our way to expose on the Ribbon, such as Zoom to Selection in Excel. Others in Excel I'd love to know the history behind, such as Multiplication Sign (which types the "*" character at the cursor) and Solitaire which... well, launches Solitaire.

Where do these phantom features live? A place we call the Command Well.

The Command Well in Excel 2007 (Click to enlarge)

Hold on. I thought "command well" was a well-known term, but I just Googled it and one of my prior articles was the first relevant hit. Hmmm. Well, now you know our internal name for the list of commands in the product. Have you heard that term before or am I totally imagining that it's known outside of Microsoft?

Anyway, In Office 2003 and prior versions, you could access the command well by clicking Customize on the Tools menu. In Office 2007. we merged the command well into a Customize tab in the Options dialog box, because in usability again and again we witnessed that people didn't know the difference between the two entry points and would choose either Tools.Customize or Tools.Options pretty much at random.

The Customize tab of Office 2007 Options has two lists of commands.

On the left side is a list of all of the commands in the product, organized into several categories. On the right side are the commands you have added to the Quick Access Toolbar. You can move things easily between the lists.

How are the commands on the left side organized?

At the top are four special categories:

  • Popular Commands: This category is the default, and contains a hand-picked list of commands that we believe people will be most likely to add to the Quick Access Toolbar. All of these commands also exist elsewhere in other categories... putting them here just helps address the beta feedback we got about the full list of commands being very long to navigate. This category is new since Beta 2.

  • Commands Not In the Ribbon: This is the place where we've put together all of the features that are not exposed directly in the Ribbon. Some of these are in context menus, some of these have alternative (often better) versions in the Ribbon, and a few are deprecated or nonstandard functionality. But if you're looking for the Colon feature which inserts a ":" at the insertion point, you know where to look.

  • All Commands: The clearinghouse of everything in the product. A very long list, but if you can't find it elsewhere, this is the place to look.

  • Macros: Any macros you have created are listed here so that you can add them to the Quick Access Toolbar for one-click access.

After these top four special categories, the rest of the categories are in logical order where commands are grouped together according to their location in the product.

First come the features that are part of the Office Menu. Then, in order, each of core tabs, such as Home, Insert, and Page Layout have their own categories containing the commands that are with each of the tabs. Finally, all of the contextual tabs such as Table Layout and Chart Design are listed, grouped by the type of object the commands operate on.

That's it. Within the categories of the command well, you can see the thousands of features that make up Microsoft Office.

Next time, a few secrets to make the command well easier to use.

Comments (30)

  1. BoxCarl says:

    Is it too late to steal from Apple?

    1.) Add an iTunes-esque live search box.

    "P-a-s… Oh, there’s paste, on the top of the live search results."

    2.) Add and remove buttons with up and down arrows?

    I hope those are just there for the clueless and it actually responds to dragging and dropping. I mean, for real in 2006, it’s time to put some muscle behind drag and drop. There’s absolutely no reason that this can’t be done DnD style. It’s not complex computational or codewise. Make it "Just Work."

  2. do we finally (please!) get all the commands for all the products in the well? I find it frustrating not to be able to get at everything in the other applications the way I can in Word; the top-level commands are there in say Excel, but I love the way Word exposes just about anything I can get to, even down to dialog boxes. I know getting customisable keyboard shortcuts for apps other than Word will take such a big re-architecture it’s not in, but the more you can bring other apps up to the architectural strength of Word, the better.

  3. Francis says:

    I hope the commands get a thorough house cleaning. It’s time to blast out all the gunk that’s built up over the years! (And thus make the command well more navigable and useful.)

    It would be interesting to see a list of the least-used commands (prime targets for deletion) as well as the most-highly used commands that are only accessible via Tools->Customize (or Tools->Macro.)

    E.G.: Does anybody ever invoke Format->Section? Do others prefer use Format->Style to Format->Styles and Formatting?

    BTW, why not keep Options a tabbed dialog, only with the tabs vertically stacked along the left? Tabbed dialogs are intuitive. The dialog depicted is not–there is nothing to indicate that clicking one of the labels in the left column will change the contents of the right. It is not even clear from the UI what a selected/active element is: contrast the orange glass of "Customize" with the inverted text/blue background of "Popular Commands." They are inconsistent!

  4. BradC says:

    No, this is the first time I’ve heard the term "Command Well". I don’t think its well known outside MS.

  5. Eric Wilson says:

    Have you ever thought of removing some of these lesser commands from the product?  I mean, A menu item to insert a "*"?  I have to imagine that this still takes up some small amount of test time on every release.  Wouldn’t those resources be better used doing something, nay ANYTHING, else?

  6. John Topley says:

    The connection between Excel and Solitaire was that that Solitaire toolbar button was used to access the Excel 5.0 easter egg. See

  7. Mark Mitchell says:

    Is there an option to paste an item twice? You know, the way it works in _every other application ever created in the history of mankind_? Why does Cut->Paste->Paste just create an annoying sound in Excel?

  8. Stephen says:

    It would be nice if we could customize "Mini toolbar" and not just "Quick Access Toolbar"!!! More Customization for Word etc.

    p.s. can not wait for final r.

  9. David Walker says:

    Do all the commands in the product actually appear in the Command Well?  In Visual Studio .NET 2002 Standard, there were some commands on the standard toolbar that did not appear in its version of the command well!

    I was building a customized toolbar, and I had to move one command that I wanted, FROM the standard toolbar to my customized toolbar, then I was able to reset the standard toolbar (that was a good feature).  

    I don’t know how the team managed to ship the product with a partially-populated command well, but please make sure that Office 2007 doesn’t suffer from this.

    Also, you’re darn right people will click Customize or Options pretty much at random, because after all, the way we Customize a product is to select various Options that we like or don’t like, and turn them on or off.  Toggling various Options is how we Customize, to say the same thing again.  I don’t see any differrence in a meaningful way that I could memorize.

    How would you explain the difference?


    David Walker

  10. Ilya Birman says:

    …and still no "Quicksearch" feature. Look at how command well is organized in the Opera browser, I love it! And it’s so easy to implement; I do it even in web apps without any AJAX kind of nonsense πŸ™‚

    Hopefully, typing inside the list will "jump" to the corresponding items, as it does in Explorer for example, but this won’t help one find "Insert Picture from File" by typing "picture" or "Delete Sheet Rows" with "rows".

    However, putting this into Options is highly  appreciated. When "Options" and "Customize" are hard to distinguish, the words in Russian Office edition are close to something like "Parameters" and "Setting" (or "Adjustment"), which is even worse.

  11. LGFN says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for that link, I enjoyed alltogether that web site. Do you have mabey any more such websites? I’ll be very intrested in it.

    Thank you.

    P.S. The link they gave me to another page, dosn’t work.

  12. juice says:

    In Excel, I can’t find the old "Save All" command. I’ve searched the command well, I’ve googled, I’ve done everything I can think of.

    Does it still exist? (I’m happy to look like an idiot if it means someone can point me at it πŸ™‚

  13. Richard Swift says:

    Is there a command in the well that can be added to the QAT to show the current document’s location? We used to be able to select "Properties" from the "File" menu which seemed quite logical.

  14. David Letterman says:

    In PowerPoint, it would be nice to get the "Return to Slide Show" popup toolbar back or something after closing it. It never comes up anymore, and now I’m stuck with having to use this stupid little button in the quick access toolbar, and I never know anymore which window is active, the primary monitor window or the secondary window monitor.

  15. Jan Kucera says:

    I think that searching through command well (also heard 1st time) in Visual Studio 2005 is just as perfect as this task could be. Do it such way! πŸ˜‰

  16. CS says:

    Just two points about customization in Office that come up to me right now:

    a) pleeease implement a Quicksearch. Looking for a feature still is a pain in the ass.

    b) One thing that’s even more annoying than searching for a feature in the Command Well: Searching for a feature in the "Customize Keyboard" dialogue. The features herein are named e.g. "ZoomView100" which is not really helpful.

    Where did the "Customize Keyboard" button move anyay?

    Since I didn’t try it yet: What happens to a button from a contextual tab inserted to the QAT when I select plain text? Is the button still available?

    Anyway, I think you did a great job on Beta2… looking forward to the final product

  17. The Command Well seems to ask for a lot from the user. The user has some idea of a feature they want to use, and now must guess (a) if  the feature exists in the product, (b) what category it is in, and (c) what name it has.

    I would guess a better approach would be to support an index and search of descriptions all the features. If the user knows the command name, s/he can find it quickly. If the user just has vague sense of what to accomplish, s/he can find it that way too. Let users click on the results of the search to see detailed illustrated documentation on a feature to verify it’s what they want.

    In other words, maybe you don’t need the Command Well. Maybe you should just support installation of features from Help.

  18. In Word 2007

    it seems that they have eliminated the

    function  TOOLS | Templates | attach.

    I use this a lot and have a whole collection of style-filled templates that I switch back and forth from.

    Also missing is the capability to import my current set of customized TOOLBARS.

    Nothing like undercutting years of work….

  19. Yesterday I talked about the command well which exposes all of the features in the Office 2007 programs….

  20. raul says:

    I was going to suggest a live search/filter, but several other commenters beat me to the punch.

    My experience with the command well is that you go to it when you are doing some specific task that needs a command you don’t normally use.  The most frustrating thing is knowing the name of a command but not being able to find it.

    Install from help would also be great. If help suggests a certain course of action it should also offer the option to do that action.

  21. David Walker says:

    I would like to echo what some others have said here — it’s often hard to find a command in the Command Well (assuming they all exist in the well in the first place).  

    A sorted list of all commands would be useful.

  22. Carrie says:

    Like a previous poster, I couldn’t find one of my oft-used buttons from my custom toolbar in the Excel 2007 command well (forgive me if I have this wrong, I’m not working from the computer with Beta 2 installed so I couldn’t double check). What happened to the new workbook button that bypasses the dialog box? In Excel 2000, it’s the second command under "File" when you customize the toolbar.

  23. One of the topics I was going to cover at some point was the "command well", which is the list of commands…

  24. juice says:

    So has the "Save All" command been removed from Excel? As I said, I’ve looked everywhere (including the Command Well) and can’t find it.) Thanks for the ongoing education, it’s appreciated.

  25. Hi…reading about all these commands, I wonder if there is a way to REMOVE 90% of the commands so that you could have a really simple and slick interface that would basically allow the following:

    1. Open/Save/Print

    2. Header 1, Header 2, Header 3 and Normal styles.

    Such an interface would be great for about 75% of my work.  

  26. There have always been certain commands in Office which aren’t available as part of the default user interface. Sometimes, these commands are seldom-used alternatives to features that are part of the common UI. For instance, there are many commands tha

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