Office 2013 can leave you tied up in ‘ribbons’

FI-Log-On-With-Larry-SchneiderDear Larry,

I just upgraded to Microsoft Office 2013 mostly for Word and Excel and now I’m totally lost and can’t find commands where they used to be. Is this the same program?


Dear Frustrated,

Microsoft has long been aware that the system of housing program commands within a cavernous menu structure was quickly reaching a dead end. As programs became more sophisticated and the number of necessary commands and options grew geometrically, menus soon became overcrowded.

Microsoft tried to alleviate this problem with the concept of personalized menus in Office 2000 whereby only the most important menu choices or the ones you frequently relied on were initially shown.

Starting with the 2007 version of Office, Microsoft elected to start over and invent an entirely new interface. The objectives were clear: Try to make the myriad of commands and options more accessible, and beyond that, more discoverable to users.

To do so, they took all the commands hidden within the old menu system and various toolbars, rearranged them with some sense of organization, converted them into giant toolbar buttons with images and labels, and presented them in a tabbed format so that only one category of buttons would be viewable at any one time. Thus came the Office Ribbon.

If you’re new to Word or Excel or one of the other Office products, the concept quickly becomes second nature. But for those of us who have long been accustomed to performing a task in a particular way, the new Ribbon takes all the controls we once knew and tosses them into a stew.

Fortunately, there are a couple of things you can do to help soften the blow.

First, you can hide the ribbon. Why have it constantly in your face when you don’t need it staring back at you? To minimize the ribbon, simply right-click your mouse anywhere on the ribbon, then left-click Collapse (or Minimize) the Ribbon. At least what you’re left with is something that looks a little like the old Office menu bar. When you need to call up a command, simply click the tab that (you think) contains the command you’re looking for.

Hopefully, after a while, you’ll get the hang of where to look. If you want to restore the ribbon to the way it was, right-click it and uncheck the Collapse (Minimize) option.

Here’s a second method to help mitigate the pain. See that Quick Access Toolbar just above and to the left of the ribbon? You can right-click that toolbar and select Customize Quick Access Toolbar and fill it with many of the old commands you know and love.

For instance, I’ve customized my Word toolbar to contain the commands for formatting fonts and paragraphs, borders and shading, and others. I’ve even chosen the option to move the Quick Access Toolbar below the Ribbon to make Word 2013 look a little more like earlier versions.

Last but not least, for those brave souls out there running Office 2010 or 2013, right-click the ribbon and left-click Customize the Ribbon. With a little practice, you can rearrange the Ribbon commands exactly to your liking so you end up with a Ribbon of your design and not of Microsoft’s.

The downside, of course, is that if you use Office on other computers, you might have a difficult time finding things again.

I suggest you make up a cheat sheet for yourself with a list of all the Word/Excel functions you use and where to find them on the Ribbon. And as you learn new commands, keep your cheat sheet up to date. That’ll solve the problem of answering the question, Where was that “add a picture” function again? (The answer is Insert Tab, fifth button from the left.)

All things considered, it’s not Microsoft’s fault. Change for the better is inevitable and a necessary evil. It’s just a little tougher on us older folks who hate learning new tricks.

This is Larry Schneider, logging off.


Larry Schneider is the owner of Accent on Computers, a Greenwich-based consulting firm now in its 15th year of business catering to individuals, businesses and professional offices. PC and Mac services include computer setup, training, troubleshooting, virus resolution, networking, Internet, database and programming. Call 203-625-7575, visit or send email to [email protected]

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