Dipping Into the Well

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

Today, a few tips and tricks for using the new command well.

First, check out this picture of Word's command well to give you some grounding in the details I'm going to be talking about (you can click it to enlarge it to full size.)

Word's Command Well (Click to Enlarge)

Command Modifiers
To the right of many commands are little icons which tell you more about each item and what form it will take when it is added to the Quick Access Toolbar.

Command Modifiers in the Command Well

There are four kinds of command modifiers:

  • Dropdown: Indicates that the control is one which drops a menu, gallery, or other control.

  • Split Button: A control that has a main part to execute an action directly, and a secondary part that acts like a dropdown.

  • Edit Control: Any control you can type into: an edit box, spinner, or combo box.

  • Ribbon Group: This command represents an entire group of Ribbon functionality which you can add to the Quick Access Toolbar as a single icon.

Any command you see without a command modifier is a simple button which executes an action directly.

Command modifiers are useful for differentiating several commands that have the same or similar names but do different things.

For instance, there are three commands named Font: one which represents the Font group on the Home tab, one for the individual command which launches the Font dialog box, and a combo box for typing the name of the font (the normal font picker on the Home tab.)

Tooltip Help
When you hover over a command name, a tooltip appears which contains useful information about the command.

The first part of the tooltip tells you the full path to the location of the command in the user interface, in the form:

Contextual Tab Set | Tab | Group | Command Name

The second part of the tooltip, in parenthesis, indicates the exact name of the command used to refer to the command to reference it programatically, such as in a RibbonX solution.

Modify Macro Buttons
You can add macros you create or record to the Quick Access Toolbar to give you one-click access to them.

In order to help you tell them apart, you can click the Modify button in the command well to launch the Modify Button dialog box in order to choose a custom icon and name for the button which runs your macro.

We've increased the number of icons significantly from earlier builds of Office 2007 so that there are many more to choose from (and, hopefully, a more useful selection.)

RibbonX-based solutions can, as always, repurpose any icon in Office.

Other Features
A few people mentioned yesterday in comments ideas for additional command well features, such as search capabilities. Good ideas, indeed.

We did consider adding even more features to the command well (including search functionality), but ultimately we decided to spend more resources on the core UI.

As much as I wish it wasn't the case, our team has finite development resources, so prioritizing where to spend our time is a constant challenge.

The command well serves an important, but secondary purpose--in fact, we hope that most people will never see it or use it. For that reason, it made sense to spend more of our resources making other parts of the UI model more robust vs. adding additional features to the command well for 2007.

Undoubtably we'll look at opportunities to continue building on this area in future versions.

Comments (26)

  1. Anna Hofstrom says:

    I can see what you are trying to do with the command modifiers. Unfortunately they look clickable rather than illustrative. Perhaps if they weren’t right-aligned but came right after the command text I wouldn’t get the same associations.

  2. CM says:

    In other words. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I’m still trying to figure out why "Zoom – Text Width" isn’t on the ribbon and instead buried in a dialog box. It was so much easier to use in the zoom drop-down of pre-2007 Office.

    Are did I completely miss something?

  3. BoxCarl says:

    Someone oughta fix the frowny face icon…

  4. David Walker says:

    As long as all commands exist in the Command Well!  🙂

  5. Ruben says:

    I’ve always wanted a "Browse…" button to be able to select an existing icon that’s on disc. (I keep an extensive collection of all sorts of icons; I know: geeky.) For some reason, these generic icons have always been too generic for my macro buttons.

  6. I completely understand your prioritizations given the visibility of this feature and the finite nature of development resources.  That said, I tend to be frustrated when UI widgets that appear the same operate differently.  Here is a relevant example:

    In the Word Options Customization pane, the command list doesn’t support type-to-find functionality.  To use your example, typing f-o-n-t when the list is set to "All Commands" results in "Table" being selected instead of "Font."

    If this were consistent throughout Office, I’d probably it go, but if you click on the "Customize…" button on the Customization pane (potential naming issue here?) the commands list appearing on that dialog does support type-to-find (try s-h-o, you’ll get "ShowTasks" instead of "OfficeCenter").

    If either of these lists generally had no more than about 15 items in them (considered to be the norm among the web-usability style guides I’ve read and authored), I’d probably also let this go (<select> doesn’t support type-to-find).  However, as we can readily see, these lists start long and can get REALLY long making type-to-find a real time saver.

    Lastly, don’t feel bad about Office not doing this.  The Visual Studio add project reference dialog didn’t get it right until VS.Net.

  7. A User says:

    Do we still have "Edit Button Image" or are we limited to this gallery?

  8. Ilya Birman says:

    Jensen, the screenshot says "Ribbon group"… Is the name "Ribbon" back? Because, earlier you said it was renamed to something awful like "command bar" or what. So is it "Ribbon" officially? If so, that’s great!

  9. James says:

    Why are you explaining this to us?

    I really don’t mean to be rude, but it seems to me that the people who read this blog are likely to be computer-literate and adventurous users. If you need to explain your UI to us rather than the motivation behind it, or how it’s changed, you’ve utterly failed.

    This blog entry is actually a help page with an excuse for the UI being less than ideal: the excuse is that you didn’t spend enough time on it. It’s a pretty obvious explanation, but one that’s an inevitable reality of software development.

    Please, don’t waste your readers’ time.

  10. A Ghast says:


    I can’t believe what that guy just said.

    Look – James – if you are soooo psychic that you don’t need to be shown features of the new UI, surely you don’t need to view this blog at all.

    Ignore him Jensen. (I’m sure you have.)

  11. In response (if not answer) to A User’s question, my understanding is that there is no button image editor, and I’m also wondering what happens to custom button images already in use if you do an upgrade install of Word 2007 over Word 2003. I have several button images that I have designed and quite like (or at least am used to), and one of my fellow MVPs has created custom templates with dozens (possibly hundreds) of custom button faces. The button image editor is a feature I’d like to see improved, not deprecated.

  12. J says:

    "It’s a pretty obvious explanation, but one that’s an inevitable reality of software development."

    I read a few developer blogs daily and I can say with certainty that "obvious" is not in the vocabulary of most of the people who comment…

    (I do acknowledge that those who comment are a small subset of readers generally)

  13. C Moya says:

    I’d rather see entries on "meaty" things…

    Like document window management. Namely the obtuse MDI interface in Excel and PowerPoint (which is inconsistent with Word… and now the new MS Access) and sorely missing Tabbed Document Interface (which the new MS Access has!).

    Also, Template Management (like Office on the Mac) and why Microsoft abandoned the "document centric" model and went back (after 10 years!) to the classic Windows 3.1 model…. by for instance moving the Start Menu items into their own folder and getting rid of the Start | New Office Document feature.

  14. Francis says:

    1. Why does the command well not show keyboard shortcuts? Why do I need to click Customize to see keyboard shortcuts? That added step reduces the likelihood that users will learn keyboard shortcuts.

    2. Why can’t I execute/try out commands from the command well? Why does one have to go into the Macros dialog box, tell word to show all commands, select the desired command, and then click run? The command well and the macros dialog box are, to a great degree, redundant! Please ADD A RUN BUTTON to the command well (and maybe a "Customize" button to the macro dialog.)

    Better yet, merge the two dialogs into one (thus endowing the Customize dialog with the searchability + descriptions of the macro dialog.)

  15. I really liked the ability to make your own icons, as well as the ability to copy and paste them. I would take this functionality over a whole lot more of your icons any day.  I am sad this feature is disappearing.



    PS I never heard of the term "feature well" but I use it a lot and agree that people confuse its customize menu item with the options dialogue.

  16. steveg says:

    Hmmmm. My geeky nature liked the 2003 naming convention EditFind, EditPaste etc better than the new convention.

    Same as with the ribbons, a number of items are learned behaviour — there’s no way to intuit whether (say) the thing you want to insert is on Insert or Reference or Review (don’t get me wrong, I understand the classifications when I find the items, but it’s finding them in the first place — Oh! Comments are on Review. Oh! TOC is on Reference?).

    The one change that would really improve the All Command list is to let the listbox recognise multiple keystrokes "A.D.D." shouldn’t really end up at Dashes.

    Part of my reason for this is advanced users tend to use this box, and they are (I imagine) more likely to use the keyboard. Keyboard usability’s not perfect in that dialog box.

  17. Carrie says:

    I always designed my own button for the macros I wanted to keep around, with "edit button image" rather than "change button image." I hope that’s still an option?

  18. Mike says:

    Edting macro buttons is yet another way to customize the UI that’s been removed.  So you get an extra dozen or so preset icons, but can no longer create your own.  The feeling I’m getting with 2007 (at least the beta) is that the UI doesn’t have customization because no one thinks it’s needed.  I continue to hope that this changes by the first RC – Microsoft has been aware of the need for customization for months.

  19. Francis says:

    A better solution to including an icon editor in Office is to add a "Browse for more icons" button. Office would then behave identical to Windows Explorer (i.e., changing icons on shortcuts by Properties->Shortcut->Change Icon.)

    Icons are best created with the raft of third-party icon editors out there.

  20. M Boyd says:

    Its great to see such innovation at Microsoft and indeed the industry as a whole.  The ribbon ideas seem fair on the eye in MS Word 2007. Additional trainer functionality through brainstorming is no afterthought.  

    An emphasis has been placed on minimising user downtime when using end user licensed software.

    No doubt all regular users of computing technology will welcome this advancing in ethos.

    I am personally pleased to state that Excel’s colourful sheets through conditional formatting add life to the science of it all.

    XPS sounds interesting for file extensions doesn’t it? We’ll see what happens come January.

    Pivot Tables…were still learning.

  21. tm says:

    It would be great if you allowed us to customize keyboard shortcuts as well. I’d love to be able to assign new keyboard shortcuts to the various features in word, excel or outlook that currently don’t have keyboard shortcuts (or have ones that are too cryptic for me to remember).

  22. Roger says:

    The more that I use XL2007 the more disappointed I am with the new user interface. Example: I had to help coworker the other day. He was doing something that required that he select only visible cells. It was easy to place that icon on his toolbar, we use XL2000 here at work. He still had the default interface running where commands stay hidden until used. XL 2007 reminds me of the  xl 2000 default setting but worse, you can not change anything in the ribbon, period. There is a lot of real estate taken up by icons that I will not ever use, you may, but I will not, and I can not replace the rarely used ones with ones that  are buried in the command well. My only option is to use the quick access toolbar and it’s real estate is limited and I can’t use a custom icon with my macros. This severely limits the usefulness of a graphical user interface when compared to older versions of XL. I agree with the others above, at least bring back the ability create custom icons.

  23. Guido says:

    Please add a custom icon dialog box for entering a PNG file (or whatever is easier for you, don’t care if it’s hard to convert, we just need the possibility to add custom icons).

  24. Glenn says:

    I totally agree with Roger – the loss of customization is a grievous one, and those of us who live in Excel, who have crafted lean and efficient toolbars are now forced to log many more miles on our mouses.

    – only one long toolbar for customizing

    – no text/icon option

    – cannot customize icons

    – too much real estate consumed by the Ribbon

    – doubleclick to hide the ribbon – why not rightclick?  

    – the Ribbon’s cutesy way of lightening up when the cursor is near, like a wallflower at a dance;

    – the inability to have two rows of customized tools…

    – icons for Hide Row and Hide Column appear to be identical

    – toolbar – sorry – QAT cannot be on bottom of screen

    The list goes on…

    Who knows better what precise tools, and arrangements we need them in, than we heavy users? We need to have More and Better options for customizing, not fewer.

    It was a sad day when I loaded my Beta2 DVD, especially when I had such great hopes…

  25. Piyono says:

    I, too, was aghast at finding my carefully crafted custom icons and toolbars obsoleted when I first fired up Excel 2007.

    One hallmark of an advanced UI is its ease with which it can be customized by those who so desire. Robbing power users of the ability to tailor a program to their needs under the guise of benefiting of the masses is a big step in the wrong direction, regardless of how ostensibly slick a UI you’ve designed.

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