Whatever happened to Tools|Options?

In the course of writing this blog,  between comments and direct emails, I would estimate that I have fielded over 1,000 questions.  Of those, only one had anything to do with Tools|Options, which I found to be a surprisingly low number, given how often I hear people comment about it when I am talking to customers on the road.  Like most of the UI in Office2007, Tools|Options has had a significant makeover (it is gone, really, replaced by a new design).  Today I want to give an overview of those changes.

To start, let’s see where the functionality that was Tools|Options is located in the world of the ribbon.  When you look at the contents of the File menu, you will see that there is an “Excel Options” button right next to “Exit Excel”.

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When you press the button, you will see the new and improved experience for setting options in Excel (the examples I will walk through are all Excel, but the same thing has been done in Word, PowerPoint, Access, etc.).

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One of the key things we are trying to do with the dialog is expose of the more important settings in the dialog clearly so they are easy to find and easy to set.  Over the years, we have added many settings – some more useful than others – and as a result, it has become difficult for all but the most stalwart users to locate the interesting settings from the pile.  This new design puts the most commonly changed settings up front, clears out settings that are infrequently changed to the “Advanced” tab, and allows us to categorize the rest into recognizable sections. 

Another thing that you may notice are small “i”s besides some of the items.  Hovering the mouse pointer over these icons will display a super tooltip providing a reasonable amount of information on what, specifically, the setting does.

Tomorrow, I will go through all the different tabs on the options, but before I signed off for the day, I wanted to point you at a post in Jensen Harris’ UI blog.  The design I describe above is actually the second redesign of Tools|Options as part of the Office 2007 release.  As those of you that used our first beta may remember, the first redesign of Tools|Options contained something called “expert mode”, which was our first attempt to simplify the whole experience.  It didn’t quite work out the way we had envisioned, though, and after significant feedback from beta participants, the UI team came up with this second design.  You can read all about the process it in this post.