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Are you still frustrated by the Office ribbon? Then here are two quick, easy and free alternatives

18 May 2011, Mike Williams

Microsoft’s decision to ditch the menus in Office 2007 didn’t exactly meet with universal approval. To put it politely.  Some loved the new ribbon, but others were annoyed about the loss of a familiar interface, and even today it’s still an issue for many.

If you’re less than happy with the Office ribbon, though, you don’t have to live with it. Install a free (for personal use) alternative like UBitMenu or Classic Menu and you’ll immediately gain access to the traditional menus and toolbars, in at least some Office applications: it’s like 2003 all over again.

While this sounds potentially risky, the programs don’t hack your Office installation or employ any other dubious low-level tricks.  In fact, they don’t remove the ribbon at all.  Instead, both tools simply add a new ribbon tab to your installation, called Menu or Menus; clicking this reveals most of the old menus and toolbar buttons, which work more or less as they always did.

And while this is perfect for ribbon haters, as they can simply click the Menu tab and leave it selected forever, it can also be a useful addition for anyone who was familiar with the old Office interface, and occasionally still has trouble finding a particular function: you can carry on using the ribbon as normal, just switching to the menus whenever you have a problem locating something.

So what’s the best way to bring back the Office menus, then?  That depends on what you need.

UBitMenu is strong on compatibility, as one download works with both Office 2007 and 2010.  The free version only adds menus to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, though (a separate Outlook 2010 add-in is available at a fee, see the author’s site).

Still, the add-in supports all the main menus (File/ Edit/ View/ Insert/ Format/ Tools/ Table/ Window/ Help), as well as a good set of toolbar icons, which even includes the drawing tools.

Meanwhile the current edition of Classic Menu only works with Office 2010 (although there is a separate 2007 edition available).  However, the free version works with OneNote, as well as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  And if you’re willing to pay, then the commercial editions support every Office application.

And the add-in doesn’t have as many toolbar icons as UBitMenu, relying more on menu functionality instead. Which is great if you mostly used the menus anyway, but could mean actions take an extra couple of clicks.

Our preferred choice would probably be UBitMenu, then, but there’s little in it, and Classic Menu is great too.  So the best idea might be to install both: you can run them alongside each other (on Office 2010 installations) without problems, see which one works best for you, then remove the other once you’ve made up your mind.

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