A common question I hear: "Are there dialog boxes in Office 12?"

The answer is a definite "yes."  Dialog boxes remain a part of the Office 12 user interface, and many of the "tried-and-true" dialog boxes from past versions of Office remain untouched in Office 12.  The dialog box has proven to be a useful paradigm for presentation of advanced functionality and thus we've left it to play that role in Office 12.  What we've tried to do through the use of galleries and better-scoped features is to reduce the amount of time you have to spend in dialog boxes, especially for frequently-used functionality.

In today's world of menus and toolbars, the entry points to dialog boxes are divorced from the efficient way of performing commands.  For example, in Word 2003 most people know how to use the Bold and Underline toolbar buttons.  But what if you want Double Underline?  Or Strikethrough?  These uncommon font styles are only available in the Font dialog box, and your knowledge of the location of the Bold button doesn't help you find the related advanced functionality which is located in the "Format - Font..." menu.

Similarly, if all you want is a simple alphabetical sort in Excel 2003, you can use the Sort Ascending toolbar button.  As soon as you want something more complex than that, you have to dig through the menu structure to find the more powerful version, tucked away on the "Data - Sort..." menu.

The Office 12 UI introduces a concept called the "dialog launcher", which formalizes the relationship between the efficient presentation of functionality in the Ribbon and the advanced version in a dialog box.

Each "chunk" in the Ribbon can have a dialog launcher which leads to the dialog box which maps to a chunk's functionality.  In this case, the Font chunk on the Write tab in Word contains a dialog launcher that navigates to the Format Font dialog box in Word:


(click to see full picture)

If you know where the simple version is, you know where to look for the advanced version.  Similarly, every gallery that has a more advanced set of settings or choices in a dialog box contains a dialog launcher at the bottom of the gallery:


(click to see full picture)

As you can see in the previous picture, the dialog launcher at the bottom of a gallery is called "Advanced."  One of the current topics of discussion internally is what to call these and deciding how important it is that they are standardized.  "More Columns", "Advanced", "More", "Columns Dialog Box", and several other variations are all in the running.

Our internal design criteria for when to use dialog launchers is: "only when the dialog box cleanly supersets a chunk or gallery on the Ribbon."  What we don't want is people feeling like they have to check every dialog box in the product as part of scanning for a certain feature.  So, when the mapping isn't totally clean, we don't expose the feature as a dialog launcher and instead leave it as a normal labeled command.

The dialog launcher is a simple concept that helps make the interface of Office more logical.  It was designed to help people become proficient at finding advanced functionality when they need it in Office 12.