Recently Used Documents


One of the efficiency affordances added to Office over a decade ago is the Recent Documents list.


At the bottom of the File menu in Office 2003, you’ll see your four most recently-opened documents listed; you can click one of them to open the file directly. Looking at customer data from Office 2003, it becomes clear that this is one of the most broadly-used features in all of Office.


And it’s easy to see why it’s so popular; many people use the same documents over and over again, so having two-click access to open them from within Office is a big win.


At the same time, the feature as it exists in Office 2003 has its shortcomings. First, there are only four documents in the list by default. Although you can change this number in Options, most people don’t realize that it’s mutable and suffer through having too few entries in the list. In particular, if you regularly open five or six documents instead of four, the list becomes very unstable because a few of the documents you’re looking for are always missing.


Second, it’s too easy for the entire list to get blown away. Because the list is so small and because there’s no way to specify that you want to keep a document on the list, your “favorite” documents get pushed off in favor of documents you intend to read only once–say a README file for a piece of shareware you downloaded. It’s a bummer when the weekly sales report you edit each week gets bumped in favor of some e-mail attachment you’re never going to read again.


Third, it can be hard to tell the difference between similarly-named documents, and it’s virtually impossible to determine where a document is located. Because the File menu is space-constrained, you see a lot of file names like C:/D…/…/My…/Sales Figures for M… with no way to see the full name or path to the file.


In the Office 2007 UI, we wanted to build a better Recent Documents feature which corrected these deficiencies–preserving the simplicity and efficiency of two-click open, but adding fundamental improvements along the way.


When you click the Office button in Office 2007, the Office menu appears, containing a two-pane view somewhat similar to the Windows start menu. When the menu appears, the right pane is fully consumed by the Recent Documents list. We designed the list to be friendly, clear, and self-explanatory; it turns out that some people didn’t use the File menu list in previous versions because they didn’t understand what it was for.



By default, the list shows as many documents as can fit in the menu… 17 in this picture, but you can crank it all the way up to 50 if you want.


Although the pane is much wider than the Office 2003 File menu, there still might be a time when a document name is cut off. The good news: you can hover over any document in the list to get its full path in a tooltip, including where it’s located and its extension. An example tooltip: D:\Work\Shared\Work Hours Schedule.docx.


Most importantly, you can “pin” items to ensure that they stay in the list forever. Click the little pushpin icon next to any file and it will stay available in the list no matter how many other files you open in the meantime. This is useful for those documents you open again and again.


We designed the Office 2007 Recent Documents list to make it more useful than ever before: four times more room in the list for documents, the ability to see the full document and path name, and pushpins to keep your favorite documents on the list forever.

Comments (62)

  1. Ben R. says:

    Looks good! I also noticed some changes to the Office menu itself–for example, "Prepare" instead of "Finish", and you’ve also made the button and its menu visually connected. Nice.

    This is a bit off-topic, but what about that Word Options button? It always seems to me to be in a very unintuitive, extremely NON-obvious location.

    With all the improvements to Options itself, hiding it like that would be a shame.

  2. André says:

    I really like the new file menu, but I’m not sure if many users are not confused with the split buttons like Save As.

    I don’t know any other menu where an item is clickable but also has sub-items.

  3. Hae-Yu says:

    I really like what’s been done with this.

    I like the side pane since, as noted, it can hold many more documents in an easier fashion.

    The pushpin idea is almost perfect, although it looks as if they don’t go to the top when pinned. Does the item pinned at #5 stay pinned at #5? If so do the documents update around it? Or does the whole list (including pinned items) rearrange according to the most recently opened? If so, what happens if a pinned item isn’t one of the last 17 documents?

    It seems the pinned items should be segregated from the others, either at the top or bottom, similar to the way the start menu works its left pane.

  4. jensenh says:

    Andre:

    The behavior of the split buttons has been changed since Beta 2 so that they work more like normal menus which happen to have a clickable header as a shortcut.

    But you no longer have to target the arrow in order to open the right half of the split.

    This is one of the areas in which we made changes based on usability post-Beta 2 and I’ll discuss that in a future post.

  5. Lone Shepherd says:

    The changes are nice.  But one thing that has always annoyed me in both Office 2003 and the Office 2007 beta — if you delete a file which was on the "recently used document" list, the entry stays on the list, seemingly forever (until something else pushes it off, that is).

    It would be nice if Office could do a quick check on the recently used documents list, and if an entry no longer exists, remove it, or put an ! next to it, with an option to remove from list, or point it to the document’s new location (if you moved it).

  6. [ICR] says:

    Hae-Yu – If you start moving items around when you toggle their status you’ll find yourself constantly moving the mouse if you accidently click the wrong one etc.

  7. Vaibhav Garg says:

    A bit off topic, but do you really think the "Password to open" dialog box should be so hard to find?

    Look at the steps now– Save As > tools > General Options.. extremely non intutive. Rubbing salt to the wounds is the fact that you find nothing in the offline help for this. Alt+t > O and security options did it in 2003. So how about consistancy in this regard? And I bet it will not be easy to find for any of your users in a usability study.

    I would have posted in the word blog(blogs.msdn.com/joe_friend) but its almost dead with no posts for over a month now.

  8. peterpla says:

    Great to see Recently Used getting this attention.  Over the years, after many dozens of (re)installs of Office, I’ve learned to always crank up the RU count the first time I started the app.  Over as many future years, you’ll save me several hours of configuration time :-)

  9. Abigail says:

    If you "crank it up to 50"…where do they show up? Is the right pane then scrollable? If so, do the pinned items also scroll?

  10. Step says:

    Very nice.  As soon as I saw the screenshot, I stopped reading (temporarily (; ), as it was immediately clear what you were talking about.  The pins are very nicely done, and it’s going to be great having access to more frequently used documents.  

  11. Jeff says:

    I like Lone Shepard’s idea of Office checking to see if a recent document no longer exists and removing it.

    Also, speaking of Recent Documents, has anyone noticed that installing Office 2007 beta 2 mucks with the XP Start menu’s Recent Documents?  The ‘my recent documents’ start menu item just stops showing up.  Trying to CD to %userprofile%recent as admin gives ‘Access denied’.  After logging off and logging back on, everything works again, until you run Office for a while and you get ‘access denied’ again.

  12. A User says:

    I second the idea of moving "favorites" to the top, above "recent" files. Also, as the list grows longer a chronological sort becomes less useful. I think sorting alphabetically would be better, or you could offer choice.

    >>>it turns out that some people didn’t use the File menu list in previous versions because they didn’t understand

    What I never understood is why it only lists files that were opened (or saved) from within Excel. Since I normally open files from outside the application (e.g. Windows Explorer) the list is not useful.

  13. Patrick Schmid says:

    A user: I just tried this with Excel 2007 Beta 2. A file opened from Windows Explorer appeared in its Recent Document list.

    Jeff: I didn’t notice anything like that. Can you  right-click on it, "Sharing and Security" and check who has access to the folder when it gives you the Access Denied message?

  14. Andy Wilkinson says:

    I’m also all for the idea of pinned items moving to the top of the list.

    [ICR]: Yes. I agree that the behaviour you described would be annoying. What I’d expect however is that the list would stay in the same order when you pin/unpin items, and then move all the pinned items to the top once the menu was closed.

  15. Dan McCarty says:

    The MRU documents list is a great feature.  I’ve kept my list at the max (9) ever snice Office97.  However, Word (and Office) need a mechanism to clear the list.  Opening a sensitive document means that it stays in the MRU list.  Currently, the only way most users have to clear it out is to open four more documents so it scrolls off the list.  How will they do that if the list is at 17 or 50?

    Lone Shepherd: Office does it correctly.  The bigger problem, if they implement what you suggested, is that you go to open a file on a network or removable drive that you don’t currently have access to.  Word removes the file from the MRU list and later on even though you’ve reconnect to the network you don’t have the file in the list anymore.

    What would solve both the above issues would be a right-click context menu on the file list that lets you remove a particular file from the list.

  16. A User says:

    Patric:  Thanks for the good news.  (Actually, I would not know if this deficiency was fixed previously.  I am running an older release due to incompatibility issues.)

  17. Lone Shepherd says:



    However, Word (and Office) need a mechanism to clear the list.  Opening a sensitive document means that it stays in the MRU list.  Currently, the only way most users have to clear it out is to open four more documents so it scrolls off the list.  How will they do that if the list is at 17 or 50?

    The way I’ve always cleared deleted items off of the list is opening the Registry Editor and removing the entries manually.



    The bigger problem, if they implement what you suggested, is that you go to open a file on a network or removable drive that you don’t currently have access to.  Word removes the file from the MRU list and later on even though you’ve reconnect to the network you don’t have the file in the list anymore.

    That’s a good point I didn’t think of.  But I agree, there should be an easy way to remove an item from the list (for whatever reason).

  18. JWFisher says:

    I’m blown away by Office 2007… and this continual sweating of the details by the Office team just amazes me. The icing on the cake are the folks like Jensen who explain it all so well – and keep in touch with us frequently.

    Office 2007 has my vote for easily the best Office release in 10 years…!

  19. Ed W says:

    This is a great menu, although the Excel options arrangement, as with the Word options, is annoyingly lost where it is.  As for pinning, Andy Wilkinson has the right idea: no immediate move but it’s at the top once done.

    As for ordering: I’d like the ability to order by frequency – so it’s most often used rather than most recently.  A good algorithm that combines frequency with recency would be good … can’t be too difficult, I’m sure there’s something similar in the Start button’s equivalent left pane.

    What annoys me most is that these systems aren’t included into OneNote and Outlook … Why leave these programmes retarded when there’s progress elsewhere?

  20. Michael Liu says:

    To remove an item from Word’s MRU list, press Ctrl+Alt+Hyphen (the hyphen/underscore key). The mouse pointer turns into a minus sign, and the next menu item you click will be removed. This doesn’t work in Excel.

  21. Brutus says:

    This looks great!

    But I agree with the suggestion that the pinned items appear at the top.

    And since there’s now a pane (rather than a menu), maybe it wouldn’t be to hard/late to add a way to delete items from the list.

  22. AN says:

    Why do only the first 9 items in the recent documents have mnemonics instead of 10?  Couldn’t you use 0 as the mnemonic for the 10th item?  I think 10 items with mnemonics is neater than 9.

  23. Francis says:

    AN: What they could do is mimic the functionality of the Quick Access Toolbar. When you have more than 9 items, items 10-18 are accessed via ALT+09 throuh ALT+01.

    As I mentioned earlier in this blog, documents that are open should be marked as such. Why not make them bold? Many users will likely use the Recent Documents list as a quick way to switch between windows. Making them bold would be a useful visual tip (given that the Window menu has been buried in a button on the View tab.)

  24. James Goodwin says:

    Is it all files which are opened which go into this list (like previous versions) or only those which are modified? Personally, I’d prefer it that only those files which I’ve changed are listed. While I may want to reload the word document I recieved from my boss three months ago in an email (so the path isn’t valid any longer), I’m more likely to want to open the file I update every 4 months.

    In my work I read a lot more emails than I work on / save – all as important as each other – but I don’t need those documents to show up as I’m never going to open them again, and if I do, it’s going to be from Outlook, not the File menu.

  25. Dylan Greene says:

    Why is there still this unwritten rule that file names must be written out in one line or less?  Why can’t they wrap lines like all other text?

    [Word] Budget – WA – Seattle –

           2006 – 3rd Quarter

    [Word] Budget – WA – Seattle –

           2006 – 4th Quarter

  26. Koms Bomb says:

    Though I seldom use the MRU in Office (I usually open the document in file manager), I think such improvement is great, but there are still some points to improve,

    1, You should allow the user fully customize the MRU list. The user should be able to add, delete, spin, or even change the list order.

    Whenever I opened a sensitive document, I hate to see it stays in the MRU list.

    2, For non-exists files as the others said, I think here is a better solution: just leave the non-exists item in the MRU, and when the user click on it, if Office still finds it not exist, prompt a warning message and delete the item, or maybe you can ask the user what to do.

  27. Richard Gadsden says:

    Does the MRU work properly with DMSes?

    In Office 2003, I have the MRU turned off, because it doesn’t integrate with Interwoven WorkSite – and WorkSite has the WorkList which is effectively an MRU anyway.

    Is there a programming interface that will enable Interwoven to put the WorkList into the MRU in Office 2007?

  28. [ICR] says:

    Ed W – Thats a good idea. So long as pinned items don’t start moving around.

  29. [ICR] says:

    Ed W – Thats a good idea. So long as pinned items don’t start moving around.

  30. Enlightened says:

    So that’s what the push pins are for!  I didn’t understand why they were there, and the tooltip for the pin buttons didn’t really explain the benefit of pinning a document to the Recently Used Files List.

  31. Jeff says:

    Patrick: Something about Office 2007b2 royally screwed up the start menu’s Recent Docs.  When you try to use cacls.exe to view security info on %userprofile%recent, you also get "Access is denied".  Even as administrator.

  32. Patrick Schmid says:

    Jeff: can’t be Office 2007. Sounds like something changed the ownership of that folder and removed you from it. As Office installs and runs under your user account though, I don’t see how Office could have done this. When you check the securities in the properties menu of the folder, who is listed as owner?

  33. The Office orb looks sweet!

  34. Adrian says:

    Office 2003 has an MRU list!?  News to me.  My version certainly doesn’t, and it’s been one of my biggest gripes since upgrading from Office XP (which did have one).

    While the added functionality is great, it looks like we’ll have to be much more careful with the File menu now.  No longer do we just have to aim vertically, but horizontally as well!  Can we at least have the Exit button at the left edge?

    The arrows indicating cascaded menus are now visually confusing, as they seem to point to files in the MRU list.  "Publish > Holiday shopping ideas"  Huh?

  35. Ryan says:

    I echo Richard Gadsden’s comment (and here I thought I’d surely be alone on this question!).  We also had to turn off the MRU list because of the WorkSite integration for the same reason.  I can’t imagine that WorkSite is the only product that would cause this problem, though.

    This was one of the users’ biggest complaints when we adopted WorkSite, because they LOVE the MRU feature!  Granted, WorkSite has the Worklist feature, but the MRU feature is just much easier and faster to access.  

    I realize this is a job for Interwoven, but then I must ask the same question that Richard did: is there a way for developers to plug into the MRU list feature?

    By the way, keep up the great work on Office 2007, and particulary your blog.  I mention it routinely to colleagues as a fantastic resource for learning about 2007.  It’s one of the best product blogs out there! :)

  36. Jeff says:

    Patrick: I’d think you’re right, except  why would it allow me access after I log off and log back on?  Why would this problem start as soon as I installed O2007b2?

    The folder is owned by me (the administrator, and only user on the machine).

  37. C. Moya says:

    I was going to be make the same observation about the "visually confusing" cascading menu arrows as the last poster… but then decided I’ve derided Of2007 enough.

    But yeah, while the idea is nice, I would call the menu "Bad UI Design." There needs to be more visual separation between the left and right side. Perhaps something subtle like this:

    http://www.cflashsoft.com/temp/RecentDocuments.png

    (just a quick edit)

  38. Patrick Schmid says:

    Jeff: I don’t know. To be sure, I’d take ownership of the folder and reset its permission to inherit from parent folder.

  39. Patrick Schmid says:

    Jeff: I don’t know. To be sure, I’d take ownership of the folder and reset its permission to inherit from parent folder.

  40. PSBS says:

    WRT the Office/File Menu: Office 2003 keyboard shortcuts like Alt,F,V for Print Preview don’t work because they are now under submenus. (Instead, Alt,F,V opens the Convert dialog box.)

    *Full* Office 2003 keyboard shortcut compatibility was promised, but I don’t see it.  (I already sent "Send-a-Smile" comments about other O2003 keyboard issues)

  41. I really like this feature especially pining a doc:-)

    http://www.mikeysgblog.com

  42. So when you pin a document in Word does that also keep it permantly in the Operating System recently used doco list…

  43. stveveg says:

    That’s a VERY cool feature.

    (BTW can you explain the reason why Options and Exit are buttons on the menu and not, um, menu items?).

  44. Brandon Bloom says:

    @stveveg

    Options and Exit pertain to the APPLICATIOn

    While all the menu items pertain to FILES

  45. Hethu says:

    Let the context menu on Recent Documents have an item "Remove from list" just like in the start menu.

  46. Hae-Yu says:

    "To remove an item from Word’s MRU list, press Ctrl+Alt+Hyphen (the hyphen/underscore key). The mouse pointer turns into a minus sign, and the next menu item you click will be removed. This doesn’t work in Excel.

    Michael Liu"

    Thanks!!! I’ve learned more about Office shortcuts and features reading this blog than in 10 years of using Office.

  47. C. Moya says:

    "This doesn’t work in Excel"

    Yeah, that would be too consistent.

  48. Thad says:

    While I really like the new MRU list, I noticed that the "Exit Word" button is situated at the bottom right of the menu. This it puts "Exit" not only as far away from your mouse as possible, but also in a different position than in almost every other application ever written (I usually find it at or near the bottom-most option of the file menu, which would map to the position right under "close")

  49. ken lubar says:

    It would be really helpful if there was a way to open a file read-only. On occasion, I want to look at a file but I know I don’t want to modify it.  It would be great if you could use the open dialog box and say  "open this file read-only". Even better, would be to toggle read only once a file was open. I could open the file and then decide I don’t wan to save any of my modifications–but keep playing. Right now the only way to do that is to do a save-only to a temp file and then delete it.

  50. AN says:

    You can already open a file read-only using the Open dialogue box by clicking on the down arrow on the right side of the Open button and selecting Open Read-Only.

  51. PP says:

    Ben R:

    "This is a bit off-topic, but what about that Word Options button? It always seems to me to be in a very unintuitive, extremely NON-obvious location."

    I agree!

    Here’s my suggestion:

    http://img243.imageshack.us/img243/4713/wordeu7.png

  52. PSBS says:

    PP: There should be no ellipsis after Options.  See Windows UX Guidelines for details.

  53. Doug Mahugh says:

    After a busy week and a busier weekend, I came in early today to get a jump start on the week. Here are…

  54. C. Moya says:

    The recent guidelines put out are utter crap and only confuse things more.

    Look at the new usage guidelines for the "tray" (Notification Area) which was changed to allow for Outlook 2003’s (2007’s too? God I hope not!) completely retarded, non-standard, use of the tray.

  55. A User says:

    Richard >>> Is there a programming interface that will enable Interwoven to put the WorkList into the MRU in Office 2007?

    Take a look at Application.RecentFiles in the Excel object model. I don’t know about other Office components.

  56. Athena says:

    We still need a right-click "remove from this list" option for the Office MRU.  This has been a nagging problem ever we stopped using diskettes as our primary storage medium.

    We don’t need a fancy "intelligent" removal algorithm or an arcane key sequence like the one we have in Word today; the straightforward method used for the Windows start menu will suffice.

  57. Stefan Constantinescu says:

    Pinning = awesome = omfg why didn’t I think of that.

    Can’t wait to try out this new Office Suite!

  58. bob says:

    You should be careful about privacy in the "most recent files". For someone who has access to your computer, it’s easy to know which files you consult. The problem is even more sensible in Word than in Excel.

    At installation, Windows Media Player gives you the choice to disable the "most recent videos" list. That’s most understandable – I’m sure that some of us (or most of us ?) use our family computer or our business computer to watch videos or to read files that are not politically correct.

    So, if you want to make your customers happy, help them to hide from their wife/boss and give them the ability to delete a file from the list (say : right click -> remove from list).

    This is post may not be politically correct, but that’s a real matter.

    What do you think about it ? 😉