Nice for Mice: Menu Tabs

Last week, I wrote about some of the work we've done to make the minimized Ribbon work well with the new keyboard model. I even posted a movie showing the new feature in action if you want to see what it looks like.

A few months ago as we were doing the work to build this feature, the developers mentioned that it appeared we had all of the architectural pieces in place to make the minimized Ribbon work better for mouse users as well.

(Keep reading, there's a movie down there!)

But first, a flashback to early 2004: A couple dozen of us are sitting in a first floor conference room conducting the very first Ribbon spec review.

In this first draft spec for the Ribbon was included a feature we called "Menu Tabs." The idea was this: you could minimize the Ribbon as today, but once it was minimized, there were two ways you could use it.

Left-click un-minimized the Ribbon like usual (exactly like it works in Beta 2.) But if you right-clicked on a tab, you got a popup version of the tab. Once you used a control on the tab or clicked away, the popup tab disappeared and you were back in the minimized state.

Well, Menu Tabs ended up getting cut from the Ribbon design in order to make room for other components of the UI to get built; the cost of developing the feature was too high. And that's where the feature lay, discarded on the cutting room floor, until just a few months ago.

All of the architectural work done over the two years between mid-2004 and mid-2006 made it possible to re-evaluate doing the original Menu Tabs design as part of filling out the minimized Ribbon scenario. So, we decided to give it a try.

The developer dug in and in less than a day she had a great prototype running. Our test team agreed to take on the extra burden, and they spent a couple of weeks filing bugs and to make sure we could get the feature to ship quality. And now, Menu Tabs is in the builds and ready to use.

In reconsidering the feature, we decided to make a few changes to the interaction design from what we originally spec'd in 2003.

Specifically, we decided that once the Ribbon is minimized, left-click activates the tab as a popup. You can double-click a tab to un-minimize the Ribbon, or right-click anywhere on the Ribbon to un-minimize from the context menu. We felt that this gave better overall symmetry to the design: double-click, right-click, or CTRL+F1 to minimize or un-minimize the Ribbon. You exit the state the same way you enter it.

I can hear you thinking "what does it look like?" I'm glad you asked. I've prepared another movie to show Menu Tabs in action in a recent internal build of Word:

Watch the Menu Tabs Movie
(Windows Media, 38 seconds, 7.3 MB)

Watch the Menu Tabs Movie (Smaller, Lower Quality)
(Windows Media, 38 seconds, 3.3 MB)

Now you know the full scope of the work we've done to make the minimized Ribbon work great for keyboard and mouse users. (And I forgot to mention last week: yes, we do remember the state of the minimized Ribbon between sessions; if you exit a program with it minimized, it will be minimized when you launch it again.)

While we do still view the minimized Ribbon as a secondary mode of interacting with the product, I'm sure some people will use it frequently. Especially if you use Office on a limited screen-size device (such as an Ultra-Mobile PC), you'll appreciate this simple minimization which maximizes your screen real-estate.

Comments (53)

  1. netfreak says:

    Dear, Jensen

    Really glad to hear that state is being remembered between the sessions. I had a bug 786959180 filled about this and I had an answer that it won’t be so because many users will be "confused by the ‘ribbon went away and I can’t get it back’ issue".

    And UMPC and small-sized laptops were my reasons for state-remembering. (I myself own 12" laptop)

    I am glad that you are reading the feedback!!!

    Guys, you ROCK!

    Can hardly wait for the RTM or TR at least

  2. Francis says:

    Great! That should placate the pixel counters.

    I hope the Office team has also simplified the accelerators. The "accelerators" in beta 2 could be made shorter. They’re often so long and strange that I find it faster to reach for the mouse. (E.G., many ribbon elements can only be accessed by pressing at least TWO non-modifier keys after selecting the correct tab. Even on the Home tab in Word, there are unused, memorable keys to which these elements could be mapped, thus permitting one-key accelerators.)

  3. TKO says:

    Wow.  I just have to say wow.  I’m really excited about this version of Office.  I’ve been reading this blog (and the excel one, and the MS font team one) for two or three months now and I’m just super excited here.  I even downloaded the last beta.  (Just haven’t got round to installing it yet.)  

    As I hear about more and more cool features I start to think "Hmmm..  Maybe I should just hold out for the full retail package?"  But maybe that much excitement all in one go would make my brain explode?  Hmmm..  Decisions decisions.  

    Anyway, just had to comment how much this minimized-ribbon stuff has me happy as a puppy.

    PS: Do you have many people in your team who are keyboard navigators?  The one thing about Office and Windows stuff that keeps annoying me is when I try to get the mouse-pointer out of the way to start typing something, and theres some damn huge tool-tip that imposes itself right over where I’m typing!  ..Hmmm.  Maybe that’s more Windows functionality, and I should try Vista before comment more on that.

    PS: You got any time to take over the IE dev team when you’re done with this?  I can’t work out what the heck those guys think they’re doing. πŸ˜‰

  4. Stefan KZVB says:

    Hi Jensen, WHERE do you remember if the ribbon is minimized? It should be in a single user registry key – so companies can decide easily about the default state of this and ANY feature on roll-out. And yes, I know the Office 2003 Profile Wizard. πŸ˜‰

    Btw: Is it i.e. possible for Word and Excel to have different minimized states?

  5. Dan Dautrich says:

    WOW!!  I’m sure this will help out new user transitioning, as it seems that this new feature is closer to and looks more similar to the menu paradigm (that ironically enough, Office 12 was attempting to move away from with the advent of the Ribbon).  Regardless, any new and useful functionality is welcome.  Great work, keep it up!

  6. This is *exactly* what I was looking for, and I can guarantee it will be my primary mode of operation. Thank you!


  7. Ben R. says:

    Looks great. Why are there red blotches in the movie whenever the user clicks on something? This isn’t part of the UI, right? I’m assuming it’s just a glitch or something.

  8. Keeron says:

    Those red blotches are because he was using a movie capture software (cam…something).

  9. jensenh says:


    HyperCam has an option to turn that on to show when you’re clicking (red for left click, blue for right click.)

    I turned that option on so it was clear when I was clicking (and to differentiate it from the keyboard movie.)

  10. jensenh says:


    The state of the Ribbon is persisted in the registry.

    It is per-app, so you can have different settings for Word/Excel/etc.

  11. Ben R. says:

    Jensen, thanks for explaining about the red dots–I feel silly now. πŸ˜‰

    I think this feature is terrific. I spend most of my time in Word 2007 on my 12" screen XGA laptop, where this would be ideal. You know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if menus in virtually all software programs worked this way in ten years.

    Anyway, I feel one of the huge advances in the Ribbon is the graceful melding of toolbars and menus into a single object. The regular Ribbon feels generally toolbar-like with menu-like features thrown in, and so it’s great that the minimized Ribbon with its new features will be more menu-like with toolbar-like features thrown in, so you can preserve the advantages of both menus and toolbars. If that makes sense.

    Anyway, I can’t wait to upgrade my father’s computer from the Works word processor to Word 2007 (Word 2003 is just too complicated for him to use, so I didn’t buy it for him).

  12. Stephen Bullen says:

    Thanks Jensen! Now I’m just waiting for the post where you explain how we’ll be able to drag groups off the ribbon and float them close to where we’re working!

  13. Calrion says:

    This is a great feature! As of Beta 2 I feel stuck using the full-size ribbon most of the time; with this, I fully expect to use the ribbon minimised most of the time — it’s like a better menu system.

    I also see this as being really useful on my (admittedly 14" SVGA+) Tablet PC.

  14. Brandon Bloom says:

    Last week I wanted to hug your whole team for the minimized ribbon changes. Today, I’m about 10 seconds from sending a 5 minute S+ out to your team with subject "Get a hug from an Office 2007 fan".

    Great work!

  15. Brandon Bloom says:

    Oh: a suggestion if I may.

    Why not have a little (un)pinned icon similar to

  16. anonymous says:

    Will the Menu Tabs work with horizontal window sizes less than 250 px?  I use Office 2003 with Remote Desktop on my Pocket PC frequently, and if the ribbon just disappears on a 240*320 screen in Office 2007, it becomes unusable.

  17. LDR says:

    This is great!  Two of my biggest complaints with Beta 2 have now been solved. (No grey theme being the other complaint.)  Now if we get an editable minibar and the document icon where the office icon is, then most of my complaints would be gone.

    I think my default view will be with the ribbon collapsed and the QAT filled with common items and placed below the ribbon.  Wow!  That will make it look almost like Office 2003, except that it still take more vertical space due to the larger default font size and larger space for the column headers.  Oh well.

  18. ck says:

    Very nice! I have one off topic question I would like to know your answer on. Our company is starting to get .docx documents more and more from outside, and we are wondering if MS is recommending the deployment of the beta compatibility pack for office2003. I don’t see an easy way to roll it out in any case. I think MS should have waited on the .docx default till after the beta, when the compatibility packs were also out of beta and ready for originations to roll out.

  19. Carlos B says:

    Just great!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Great! But I hate the needless click on Tab caption. Mouse over would be sufficient.

  21. Anonymous: "Great! But I hate the needless click on Tab caption. Mouse over would be sufficient."

    Heh… I wondered when the web style of mouse-over menus would find their way into desktop applications. I’ve wondered for a while why web menus are expected to behave differently. For the record, I’d really rather open any menu with a click, whether on a web page or a desktop application.

  22. Brutus says:

    The Atari ST had its menus popdown on mouse-overs.  In the late 80’s I attended a presentation given by one of Apple’s UI guys, and he ripped the Atari system to shreds over that issue. πŸ˜‰  He said it was unexpected behavior; users wouldn’t want menus popping down just by moving the mouse.  I tend to agree.

    Of course, at the time Macs required you to hold the mouse down as you navigated the menus to select the desired command.  With Mac OS System 7, Apple finally adopted Win3x’s system of allowing the user to click a menu to pop it down and then move the mouse to the selected item without having to hold the mouse down.

    Just a history lesson. πŸ˜‰

    I don’t think a minimized ribbon should expand just by mousing over a tab, nor do I think an unminimized ribbon should display galleries and whatnot just by mousing over a tab.  I think it’s best to make the user click to begin an operation, then he can use mouse-over to specify what he wants to do (like menus are used today).

  23. C. Moya says:


    Now if you could figure out how to get rid of the annoying, distracting, empty space around the Word page it’d be perfect.

    And while your at it, make non-printing marks (paragraph marks, margin indicators, etc) less BLACK (like it used to be in Mac Word that I used in college). I’m sick of hearing "Are those marks going to show up when I print the page?" from my users.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Paul M. Parks

    And about nowadays submenus is there some annoyance for you when they pop up when over its captions?


    Maybe the menu popup was delayed and need a click to hide. In my conception the popup would hide immediately if the mouse goes away.

    I stay in front my computer all day twelve until sixteen hours. I do so many clicks that some times I prefer to rise up my desk than have to do a click. Then I hate when I have to use a command on menu that always need two clicks. Most the time I refuse menu commands preferring tool bar buttons and hot keys. About the new UI and clicks…

  25. macbirdie says:

    C. Moya – zoom in?

  26. Anonymous: "And about nowadays submenus is there some annoyance for you when they pop up when over its captions?"

    No, I don’t mind submenus popping up on mouseover once I’ve opened a menu. That’s expected at that point. What annoys me about mouseover menus is when I throw the mouse cursor across the screen to get it out of the way so I can read the content on a web page, only to have the content obscured by an unexpected menu.

    I don’t expect that this is a battle I can win on the web front, of course. Too many people now expect web menus to pop up on mouseover. I just hope that this behavior doesn’t start appearing in non-web interfaces.

  27. C. Moya says:

    macbirdie: "Page Width" should give just that. Not that and then some.

    Which reminds me. In the last beta I tried, "Text Width" (by far the most useful zoom) is BURIED. You have to dig into a dialog box to get to it. It used to be right in the Zoom drop down. What happened? Ugh!

  28. wHy? says:

    WHY is the Office Orb still around? This thing is going to be like Clippy. It will annoy us all for about two more versions of the software and then they’ll finally come to the conclusion they were wrong… then they’ll take it out.

    Why not just go back the pre beta 2 design for area above the ribbon? Get rid of the horrible two tone curves of the background and then all would be well!!!

    Keep some consistence across the products MS. Please tell me that yall are not going to be adding that horrible "Orb" to other products like IE and Messenger.

    Why did you change a great design and replace it with one that looks like a kid designed it? wHy?

  29. I’m playing with Beta 2 of Word right now and ever since I discovered the collapsibility (it took me over a week of the ribbon), I’ve been very happy. But there are still a few features I’ve been missing from previous versions (so far each version has removed one or two). One of those is true full screen edit mode. That is one where I see nothing but a blank screen. I use it all the time when workin with groups on a document using an LCD projector.

  30. it isn´t working on my beta 2 release

    I have only 2 options when I right click in the ribbon

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