Introducing the Ribbon

If you've used Excel 2007 for more than a minute, you know that it has an entirely new UI. Menus and toolbars are gone, replaced with a brand new "tab and Ribbon" UI. Click a tab along the top (that is, a word such as Home, Insert, Page Layout), and the Ribbon displays the commands for that tab. Office 2007 is the first software in history to use this new interface, so the jury is still out regarding how it will be accepted.

The appearance of the commands on the Ribbon varies, depending on the width of the Excel window. When the window is too narrow to display everything, the commands adapt, and may seem to be missing. But the commands are still available. Figure 2-2 shows the Home tab of the Ribbon with all controls fully visible. Figure 2-3 shows the Ribbon when Excel's window is narrower. Notice that some of the descriptive text is gone, but the icons remain. Figure 2-4 shows the extreme case, in which the window is very narrow. Some of the groups display a single icon. However, if you click the icon, all of the group commands are available to you.

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Figure 2-2: The Home tab of the Ribbon.

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Figure 2-3: The Home tab when Excel's window is narrower.

Figure 2-3: The Home tab when Excel's window is narrower.

Figure 2-4: The Home tab when Excel's window is very narrow.

Tip If you would like to hide the Ribbon to increase your worksheet view, just double-click any of the tabs. The Ribbon goes away, and you'll be able to see about five additional rows of your worksheet. When you need to use the Ribbon again, just click any tab, and it comes back. You can also press Ctrl+F1 to toggle the Ribbon display on and off.


In addition to the standard tabs, Excel 2007 includes "contextual tabs." Whenever an object (such as a chart, a table, a picture, or SmartArt) is selected, tools for working with that specific object are made available in the Ribbon.

Figure 2-5 shows the contextual tabs that appear when a pivot table is selected. In this case, Excel displays two contextual tabs: Options and Design. Notice that the contextual tabs contain a description (PivotTable Tools) in Excel's title bar. When contextual tabs are displayed, you can, of course, continue to use all of the other tabs.

Figure 2-5: When you select an object, contextual tabs contain tools for working with that object.


For the most part, the commands in the Ribbon work just as you would expect them to. You'll encounter several different styles of commands on the Ribbon, as described next:

■ Simple buttons: Click the button, and it does its thing. An example of a simple button is the Increase Font Size button in the Font group of the Home tab. Some buttons perform the action immediately; others display a dialog box so you can enter additional information. Button controls may or may not be accompanied by text.

■ Toggle buttons: A toggle button is clickable and also conveys some type of information by displaying two different colors. An example is the Bold button in the Font group of the Home tab. If the active cell is not bold, the Bold button displays in its normal color. But if the active cell is already bold, the Bold button displays a different background color. If you click this button, it toggles the Bold attribute for the selection.

■ Simple drop-downs: If the Ribbon command has a small downward-pointing arrow, then the command is a drop-down. Click it, and additional commands appear below it. An example of a simple drop-down is the Merge and Center command in the Alignment group of the Home Tab.

When you click this control, you see four options related to merging and centering information.

■ Split buttons: A split button control combines a one-click button (on the top) with a drop-down (on the bottom). If you click the button part, the command is executed. If you click the drop-down part, you choose from a list of related commands. You can identify a split button because it displays in two colors when you hover the mouse over it. An example of a split button is the Paste command in the Clipboard group of the Home tab. Clicking the top part of this control pastes the information from the Clipboard. If you click the bottom part of the control, you get a list of paste-related commands. See Figure 2-6.

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Figure 2-6: The Paste command is a split button control.

■ Check boxes: A check box control turns something on or off. An example is the Gridlines control in the Show/Hide group of the View tab. When the Gridlines check box is checked, the sheet displays gridlines. When the control is not checked, the sheet gridlines are not displayed.

■ Spinners: An example of a spinner control is in the Scale to Fit group of the Page Layout tab. Click the top part of the spinner to increase the value; click the bottom part of the spinner to decrease the value.

CROSS- Refer to Chapter 22 for information about customizing Excel's Ribbon.


Some of the Ribbon groups contain a small icon on the right side, known as a dialog launcher. For example, if you examine the Home Alignment group, you'll see this icon (refer to Figure 2-7). Click it, and it displays the Format Cells dialog box, with the Number tab preselected. This dialog box provides options that aren't available in the Ribbon.

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Figure 2-7: This small dialog launcher icon displays a dialog box that has additional options.


In previous versions of Excel, end users were free to customize their menus and toolbars. Things have changed in Excel 2007. Although the Ribbon can be customized, it's a task best left for a knowledgeable developer. In Excel 2007, the only end-user customization option is the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT). Normally, the QAT is displayed on the left side of the title bar. Alternatively, you can display the QAT below the Ribbon by right-clicking the QAT and selecting Place Quick Access Toolbar Below Ribbon.

By default, the QAT contains these tools: Save, Undo, and Redo. You can, of course, customize the QAT by adding other commands that you use often. To add a command from the Ribbon to your QAT, right-click the command and choose Add To Quick Access Toolbar.

Excel has commands that aren't available in the Ribbon. In most cases, the only way to access these commands is to add them to your QAT. Figure 2-8 shows the Customization section of the Excel Options dialog box. This is your one-stop shop for QAT customization. A quick way to display this dialog box is to right-click the QAT and choose Customize Quick Access Toolbar.



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Figure 2-8: Add new icons to your QAT by using the Customization section of the Excel Options dialog box.

Figure 2-8: Add new icons to your QAT by using the Customization section of the Excel Options dialog box.


At first glance, you may think that the Ribbon is completely mouse-centric. After all, none of the commands has the traditional underlined letter to indicate the Alt+keystrokes. But, in fact, the Ribbon is very keyboard friendly. The trick is to press the Alt key to display the pop-up "keytips." Each Ribbon control has a letter (or series of letters) that you type to issue the command.

Tip It's not necessary to hold down the Alt key as you type the keytip letters.

Figure 2-9 shows how the Home tab looks after I press the Alt key to display the keytips. If you press one of the keytips, the screen then displays more keytips. For example, to use the keyboard to align the cell contents to the left, press Alt, followed by H (for Home) and then AL (for Align Left). If you're a keyboard fan (like me), it will just take a few times before you memorize the keystrokes required for common commands.

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Figure 2-9: Pressing Alt displays the keytips.

Figure 2-9: Pressing Alt displays the keytips.

After you press Alt, you can also use the left and right arrow keys to scroll through the tabs. When you reach the proper tab, press the down-arrow key to enter the Ribbon. Then use the left- and right-arrow keys to scroll through the Ribbon commands. When you reach the command you need, press Enter to execute it. This method isn't as efficient as using the keytips, but it is a quick way to take a quick look at the choices on the Ribbon.

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