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May 2008 Issue
Ribbons and Rows
Office 2007 is out there; maybe it’s for you and maybe not. I was experiencing some crashes and slow performance with Office 2003, and took the plunge. Did I carefully assess my needs, research industry reviews and caveats, consult my company’s advisory page? I did not. The new Office took many hours to download and install itself. But I had no worries – that was during the first stage and I assumed an easy transition – didn’t even think about it. Then I entered Word 2007 for the first time. Before I came out on the other side, I went through three classic stages of software upgrade – shock, discovery and acceptance. Here is my story – to help you make your decision and to point out some nifty help that’s available.
Word is the most used Office application, and so it was that my first battle involved Word. I had become something of a whiz among business analysts and project managers for my ability to use the heading row repeat command (to carry table headings over to continuation pages). Now that sounds strange – was it so very hard? No, but I find many Office users concentrate only on their minimal set of necessary commands until forced out of their comfort zone – as I was now.
In Word 2003, there was a nice familiar “table menu” item on the top menu-bar, and one of its subcommands was “Heading Rows Repeat.” Of course I did have to remember to highlight the row that was to be the heading, but it was definitely in my bag of tricks. That was when I first noticed that there was no more menu bar; only a large and dense set of tabs, icons and groupings, later discovered to be the Ribbon. I tried to just brazen it out and click around but saw that I was going to learn some fundamental new concepts and use a systematic approach to do eventhis simple table operation.
A new discovery method was needed. No quick help text would reveal the answer. The old drop–down nested menu system and toolbar shortcuts had been replaced, and a new paradigm created with options supposedly visible in a rationalized single interface. Microsoft says the Ribbon is designed to make the features of the application more accessible with fewer mouse clicks as compared to the menu-based UI. The Microsoft Office Ribbon contains command buttons and icons, organizes related commands within Tabs, and within each tab related options may be grouped together.
At first I used the same technique I had used for smaller questions: Web search. After many dead ends (I painfully went through assorted step by step instructions), I stumbled across Microsoft’s Web-based 2003 to 2007 interactive guide. To me it’s brilliant: after you select the desired command in the emulated 2003 interface display (Table/Heading Rows Repeat), the guide first informs you of the new acceptable language in a firm yet friendly manner (When a Table is selected, on the Layout tab, in the Data Group, click Repeat Heading Rows). Then the guide dissolves to the emulated 2007 interface, with bright yellow lines around the elements of the Ribbon which should be used. Success! A small quibble: I no longer have Word 2003, and am starting to forget some of the commands that are the key to finding the equivalent 2007 commands. I guess they figure folks should be trained up quickly, but for seldom used commands, this could make the interactive guide less helpful.
And speaking of those helpful yellow lines, I did not notice at first that some ribbon areas are contextual. I had kept missing seeing the Layout tab, because it was only visible when tables were being edited.
So now I use my interactive guide (see below) a lot – in fact if I had not found it I don’t think I would have recognized the change in philosophy between menus and toolbars and the Ribbon. There are also many other guides, some done by individual companies. Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook all have similar guided translations, but I don’t use those as much.
In future, I’ll investigate new software a bit more. And I would really like to understand the technology behind Microsoft help and training aides such as the Interactive Guide.
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