FRAMINGHAM – Microsoft Office 2007’s new Ribbon interface, which discards the familiar menus and tool bars of earlier versions of Office in favor of tabs that group icons, options and drop-down menus, is certainly the first change you’ll notice when you open Word, Excel, or PowerPoint 2007 for the first time. The interface isn’t just a radical departure from previous versions — for the first time in Office’s history, this collection of commands and options can’t be modified from within the applications themselves.
Microsoft says a survey it conducted revealed that only a small percentage of Office users modify the interface. Furthermore, an unchangeable interface can streamline UI-related calls to your help desk. Nevertheless, Office power users have been clamoring for a way to customize Office 2007 apps since the new interface was unveiled.
Sensing an opportunity, third-party software vendors have stepped in with products that either replace or enhance the new Ribbon interface in several Office 2007 applications. We examined three such programs.
Classic Menu adds a tab filled with Office 2003 menus (it’s organized to look much the same as the old familiar Office 2003 applications), though it isn’t customizable. ToolbarToggle can be customized much like Office 2003’s menus and tool bars can be, and you can use it in place of (or in concert with) the 2007 Ribbon.
These two products are designed to ease the migration between Office versions. If your business has hesitated to upgrade because of the learning curve your users may encounter, using Office 2003-like tool bars in Office 2007 applications can smooth the transition.
The third program we examined doesn’t look back at 2003 at all. Instead, RibbonCustomizer is designed to let you tweak the 2007 Ribbon (within the constraints Microsoft has established), so it appears to your specifications. It’s not a matter of easing into a new interface; it’s a desire for the Ribbon to look the way you want it to, just as customizable tool bars did in past versions of Office.
If you’re a power user who wants Office 2007 to follow your lead, the products reviewed here offer you a way to wrest control of the Ribbon away from Microsoft.
Going retro: Classic Menu for Office 2007
Installing Addintools’ Classic Menu is simple: you choose whether you want a new tab at the far left or far right of existing tabs, and once complete, Word, Excel and PowerPoint sport a new tab (called Menu) that offers an Office-2003-like set of menus.
On this menu you’ll see an “All” option, which acts as a drop-down menu of all first-level commands (that is, File, Edit, View, etc.) along the main menu of Word 2003, each with a pull-out submenu with the remaining commands. The other menu items on the Menu tab repeat these options but are displayed horizontally.
New 2007 commands, such as File > Publish in Word 2007, have been logically placed on the menus, usually at the bottom of the drop-downs. Classic Menu is implemented as a new Ribbon tab, so it doesn’t interfere with the underlying code of Word, Excel or PowerPoint 2007. Once you get past the top-level menus (File, Edit and so on), you’ll find command lists that use the Office 2007 icons.
Not everything is implemented exactly as it was in the 2003 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Some differences are nits: the View command includes a “Header_Footer” command instead of “Header and Footer.”
Other differences are odd: The Tools > Macro > Macros command in Word 2003 is presented as Tools > Code > Macros in Classic Menu for Word 2007.
A further eye-catcher not found in Word 2003: There are two Page Setup commands on the File menu, one to open a dialog box and the other to open a submenu of setup commands.
You can’t make changes to Classic Menu’s choices — the program installs its new tab, and that’s that.
One option you may want to use: Add the new Menus tab to the Quick Access Toolbar and then hide the Ribbon.
This lets you call all commands from the QAT icon without being distracted by the Ribbon.
Classic Menu is best used to help you navigate old menu structures to find favorite commands. But don’t expect to use all the familiar keyboard shortcuts from Office 2003.
For example, in Office 2003 applications, you can use Alt+F to open the File drop-down menu.
In Office 2007, Alt+F is the same as clicking on the Office button, since that’s where the file commands are now stored. With Classic Menu installed, Alt+F still triggers the Office button, not the File menu from Classic Menu.
You can use keyboard shortcuts to navigate menus, but they may be different from those you’re used to in Office 2003, and the “shortcuts” often take more keystrokes.
In Word 2003, for example, you can press Alt+A (to select the Table menu), I (to select Insert from the drop-down menu), and finally T to insert a table.
In Classic Menu in Word 2007, the keystroke sequence is a bit more complex: Alt+Q (to open the Menus tab on the Ribbon), A, 1 (the letter A, then the number 1 to select the Table command at the top-level menu), the down arrow key (for the next Table command), the right arrow key (to open the next-level menu), and finally I (for the Insert command) — not much of a shortcut.
We tested the “Office 2007” suite (US$30), which included menus for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Individual versions that support just one of these applications are available for $16 each.
For the price, ToolbarToggle offers more bang for the buck than Classic Menu, since it also lets you customize the menus.
However, Classic Menu has two advantages over ToolbarToggle: It’s available for PowerPoint today, and it includes Office 2007 commands on its menus, a modification you can’t make to ToolbarToggle menus.
But if you’re just interested in add-on menus that resemble Office 2003, the free version of RibbonCustomizer may be all you really need.
Customize a retro look: ToolbarToggle
ToolbarToggle from Venture Architects Labs is for those power users who want the improvements of Office 2007 with the familiar tool bar functionality and customization of Office 2003.
Hide the standard Ribbon, and with ToolbarToggle sitting at the top of your screen, you might almost think you’re working with Office 2003 again. Or use both the Ribbon and ToolbarToggle and have the best of both worlds.
The program works as an add-in for Word and Excel 2007, with a PowerPoint add-in promised within 45 days.
Unlike Classic Menu, you can customize ToolbarToggle in exactly the same way you did Office 2003’s tool bars. You can add buttons, use drag and drop to rearrange buttons or tool bars, tear off a tool bar and let it float, and even record macros and assign them to a tool bar menu or button.
Office 2003’s predefined tool bars aren’t supported, with two exceptions: Standard and Formatting.
If you want a Reviewing tool bar, for example, you’ll have to create it yourself. Furthermore, ToolbarToggle is strictly focused on Office 2003; new commands introduced in Office 2007 (for example, Insert QuickPart, Insert Signature Line, File Prepare, and File Publish in Word 2007) cannot be added to the menu.
As with Classic Menu, keyboard shortcuts in ToolbarToggle don’t work exactly the same as they did in Office 2003.
For example, you can’t press Alt+A to display the Table menu drop-down options from the ToolbarToggle’s Table menu in Word.
The shortcut still works — Alt+A, I, T will inse