How to switch ribbon tab programmatically… looks simple ?

Few days back I had an interesting case where one of our customers wanted to switch the ribbon programmatically, from the surface it looks easy ... but unfortunately currently there is no programmatic way  to do it.

So, I started digging for a prospective workaround ...

  1. OM doesn't give us anything
  2. Can't simply use win32 APIs as ribbon tab is not a "window"

The first piece of the "gyan" that I can use active accessibility for this issue was from

After looking at it I Started playing with "Active Accessibility" APIs. After some more trial and error it was clear that I'll need to use a combination of Win32 APIs and "Active Accessibility" APIs. Built a sample library which basically does the following:-

  • Based on inputs it will try to find the window of a specific office program (excel, word, powerpoint, etc)
  • Then it will get the ribbon object [EnumWindows]
  • Then we’ll get the IAccessibile object for the ribbon object
  • We’ll recurse through the IAccessibility tree and find the control that you specify
  • We’ll execute its default action (in case of ribbon tabs the default action is switch, for buttons it’s click and for the dropdowns it’s drop)


I also commented the code (question for you .. is commenting code painful for you? ..I mean, are  you like me 🙂 ?) so that you can understand the code flow accurately. Download the attachment and have fun!! 🙂

If I get some questions around the sample, I'll post some examples on how to use it, here is a quick sample of using it from a windows form

Private Sub Form1_Load(ByVal sender As System.Object, ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles MyBase.Load
    Dim o As New OfficeAccWraper
    o.App = OfficeAccWraper.OfficeApp.MicrosoftWord2007
    o.Command = "View"
End Sub


Here is a quick FAQ:

Q: Is it a production code?

A: Absolutely not! it's a sample... just tells you how to do the stuff. Customize it to your needs and test it well before putting it to the production.

Q: Such a big sample! just for switching the ribbon tabs ? Am I missing something?

A: Yes, you are ... using this sample, you can executedefaultaction for any of the ribbon controls (e.g. maybe you want to switch a ribbon tab programmatically or you might want to do switch a ribbon or you might want to execute the commands that are in the "office menu")

Q: Is is a supported sample?

A: No, as I explained before, It's a sample, and provided as-is, without any help or support of any kind (no warranty guaranty .. no liability etc.), but feels free to send me an email, if there is something that I can help with, I'll do it.

Q: What else can I do with it ? Is it just for Office?

A: You can use it for any application as long as it uses IAccessible  control, how will the application behave? I don't know ..haven't tested .. you'll need to try (and let me know, if possible :))

Q: I see that it has  two classes, one of them wraps the API calls and the other one uses this class and adds the office specific stuff why two classes? why not just one?

A: there were a few reasons ranging from good design to usability, but one of the most important reason was this, that I wanted this sample to be usable without office also, so if you want to use it for other applications, you'll just need to use the class which wraps the API calls)

Q: I see that it has two method with a similar name GetTopWindow and GetTopWindow2. I also see that you are using the first one in your office wrapper class. So, where do you use GetTopWindow2?

A: Nowhere. Actually, after designing the library I realized that there is one more way of getting a top level window, where I don't need to use FindWindow. So, I quickly included it in the library .. Tested using it and everything seems to work fine. But, finally I had to zero on one method so choose FindWindow (no specific reason). You an use GetTopWindow2 if you you are writing a wrapper for some other application. You can even modify the existing code and start using GetTopWindow2. Your choice ..!

Q: You are passing "View" in o.command. How do I know that what should I pass?

A: Good Question! you need to pass the "accessible name" of the control. For Office, I've noticed that for most of the controls the name that is shown in the tooltip, is the "accessible name". For the ribbon tabs, the caption is the "accessible name". But, for exactly knowing what do you need to pass you might want to use "AccExplorer32". Just drag the crosshair over the object and see the name, simple 🙂 . Download it from Download details- Active Accessibility 2.0 SDK Tools

Q: Where can I get more details about "Active Accessibility"

A: Here are some links that you might find useful:

Comments (11)

  1. Cases and customers are very important for us; they make us grow in terms of individuals and from the

  2. Douglas says:

    I just want to be able to hide the ribbon when my Access application opens up and to display the custom menu bar created in an earlier version of Access. Will your sample allow me to do that as well?

  3. Douglas says:

    Email if required is q u i l l at d e f a i r w e a t h e r . c o m

    Depending upon the scenario, the sample might need some tweaking; I tried to make it as generic as possible, but, at the end of the day; it’s a sample!

    If you’ve already tried tweaking it, and didn’t work for you, I’d suggest, open up a case with Microsoft PSS. We can have a look at it and see if what is the best resolution for you

  4. alizproarts says:

    Can you please provide the same sample for C#?

  5. Rajshree Dugar says:

    Awesome article I must say. Give some leads on how you thought to take this path. Any more articles?

    short answer is; I tried everything else, so gave it a shot! A longer answer is, I knew that I basically need a sendkey, but sendkey is too rudimentry, it can fail at any point of time, so a better way of doing a sendkey was using Accessibility API (In my opinion, what we did was just a beefed up version of sendkeys).
    One small question (a personal one, you can choose to ignore it).
    Actually I’ve done DOEACC “O”, “A”, “B” level, and I did it from “Dugar” computers, Indore. As your name is “Rajashri Dugar” and you’ve also done DOEACC (sorry for a couple of quick searches .. ), I was just wondering if you are somehow related with Dugar Computers, Or Hemant Kumar Dugar(Director of the institute)

  6. Rajshree Dugar says:

    Good to hear back. Nice line of thought.

    So you hold a DOEACC certificate too. Great.

    I am distantly related to them.

    My mail id is <>

    Keep in touch

  7. Unfortunately it seems that the accessibilty and access to Office components is culture based and so it’s not possible to write a generic code to access any specific ribbon in office.

    What’s "View" in english offices, is "Ansicht" in german and something else in other languages.

    Was hoping this is a solution for me :-/

  8. hlock says:

    I need to "click" on a ribbon button using vba in Outlook 2007 for an open email.  I don’t have the source code.  The current command is located under the File Menu, on the explorer command toolbar and on the Add-Ins ribbon menu.  Any thoughts?

  9. Steve says:

    This article is extremely helpful!  Thank you!

  10. Arshad says:

    I have worked in the same direction as given here in the article. I have published an article on my work. Hope it helps.

  11. Casey says:

    Thanks for your solution!  I assume this (object model not providing a way to programmatically set the active tab of the ribbon) is still an issue for Office 2010?  I did verify that your solution still works with 2010.

Skip to main content