Yesterday, I walked you through some of the history of the status bar.  Today, I'm going to write about what we've done in Office 12.  It's not a radical departure from previous versions, but there are some nice improvements.

I mentioned yesterday that in thinking about the status bar for Office 12, the first conversation we had was "do we need it at all?"  We looked at the various scenarios that required the status bar, those that used it but didn't need to, and features that could be made better through using that space.

We came to the conclusion that it did make sense for the Office 12 frame to contain a status bar.  There were many "status-like" items that needed a place in the UI--document load information, printing status, long recalculation in Excel, and other background tasks.

There are also a number of add-ins to Office that people have written which expect the status bar.  One could have imagined trying to integrate every piece of status into a separate place in the UI (as someone mentioned yesterday, perhaps putting page number in the scrollbar, for instance), but in the end we decided to stick with simplicity and leave a status area at the bottom of the screen.

But at the same time, we knew that these "in-progress" status updates wouldn't always be up, and we didn't want the status bar to be just a wasted piece of screen real-estate with just the words "Press F1 for Help" showing most of the time.

So, we started to think of how to use the space in a way that made sense with the rest of the Office 12 design.  First, we made the decision to use the right side of the status bar area a place to host view switching, window switching, and zoom control--basically, everything that controls how your window looks.  We thought it was consistent to have these "window frame commands" near the scroll bars and it gave us an ideal, standard place to host these controls in a way that increased the usable density of the UI.

The next thing we needed to work out was scalability.  One of the reasons the previous Word status bar was so cryptic (with lots of three-letter acronyms like TRK, EXT, and OVR) was that the status bar was pretty much fixed-size... it had no way of scaling up to show more information.  We needed to work on a way to show information in a more clear way while still permitting "urgent" messages to be visible when necessary.  (And, of course, letting the status area grow to two lines was not a realistic or desirable option.)

The Word 2003 status bar had some fairly cryptic acronyms: REC, TRK, EXT...

Once we had a design that allowed the status bar to scale well to different types of data (an algorithm I won't get into here), we started brainstorming what data people might want to see along with their document.  We wanted to keep the default list set of items short and manageable, while allowing more expert users the ability to customize and add more items over time.

Word count was the first thing that jumped to mind; why should people have to open a separate window or click "Recount" when the word processor should just know at all times how many words you have written?  Word count is in the default status bar in Word 12, and as you select text, it updates to show you also the number of words in your selection.  You can click on the number of words (which lights up like a button) to bring up the full Word Count dialog box.  Many parts of the status bar can be interacted with to reveal more information.

Word count as part of the default Word 12 status bar

In Excel, knowing the average, total, minimum, maximum, and sum of any selected numbers seemed like a handy shortcut.

Handy math as part of the Excel 12 status bar

If you're someone that misses all of things that used to be on the status bar (such as knowing whether Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Overtype mode are activated), you can add them to your bar.  We make these much easier to decipher compared to their cryptic current-day formulations.  To customize the status bar, you simply right-click on it to reveal a list of items to add or remove.  (A cool feature of this is we show the values of the customizable items right in the menu, so you could just use right-click to see how many lines you had without actually adding them to the status bar.)

Right-click the status bar to see what you can add or remove

Finally, key reading scenarios (such as the full-screen reading experience in Word 12) have no status bar at all, so that you have the maximum space available to focus on your document.