Hands on: Show Office 2007 who's the boss

Three programs tackle Office 2007's locked-down user interface. Two take you back to the menus of Office 2003, while one lets you customize the Ribbon itself.

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Customization with RibbonCustomizer isn't unlimited. You can't change items within predefined groups; for example, you can't customize the Fonts group to remove the superscript button that you never use. That's a restriction imposed by Microsoft's design, not a deficiency of RibbonCustomizer. What you must do instead is create your own group (which is easy), then populate that group with the individual commands of your choice (basically re-creating the Fonts group but without the superscript button).

You also can't rearrange groups on their default tab. For example, you can't exchange the position of the Font and Clipboard groups on the Home tab, because it's on the Home tab that Microsoft defines those groups. However, if you place the Font group on the Insert tab, you can position it wherever you want.

Much like tweaking the contents of groups, the solution to group positioning is to create your own tab to mimic the tab you want to change (the Home tab, in this example) and position the groups in the order you want.

RibbonCustomizer lets you save your customizations so you can share them among machines or users, and a single copy of RibbonCustomizer Professional can be used by one user on all of his or her computers. You can even combine multiple customizations and give that set a name, so you can switch back and forth between layouts; you can also easily toggle between a customized Ribbon and the default Ribbon.

RibbonCustomizer Pro costs $30 and works with Access, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word 2007. If you like the Ribbon but wish Microsoft had put the commands and options in a slightly different order, or if you have custom needs for particular projects where the tool bar icons would work better for you in a different arrangement, RibbonCustomizer is for you.

If your only need is for a set of commands that look like those in Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2003, RibbonCustomizer has an offer you shouldn't overlook. The developer offers a free Starter Edition. If you want to get your feet wet with a retro menu, it's a great way to begin.

Download the Starter Edition, then download the free Classic UI ribbon package (a .RIBX file that is a predefined set of menus) of Word 2003 menus for Word 2007. (A RIBX file for Excel and one for PowerPoint were added just as we went to press and will be included the final shipping edition of Version 1.1, due out shortly.) Then install the RIBX files in the Starter Edition (you can install up to three per application), and you essentially have Classic Menu without the cost.

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RibbonCustomizer Professional

(version 1.1 beta tested)

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pschmid.net Ltd.

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Price: $29.99; Starter Edition is free

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Supports: Access, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word 2007 in English

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Requires: Windows XP SP2/2003/Vista, .Net 2.0 Framework (free download)

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Richard Ericson is the reviews editor for The Office Letter, a weekly newsletter devoted to Microsoft Office tips and tricks.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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