You may remember that last week I described the textual separators that we use in Office 12 menus to improve a few specific scenarios.

Another way we've enhanced menus is a design we call "rich menus."

The idea is simple: include descriptive content within the menu itself to help people find the right choice. Although Super Tooltips provide another mechanism to add descriptions to commands, rich menus are ideally suited for short menus in which the feature names themselves wouldn't necessarily be successful at conveying what a feature is for.

Take, for example, the very useful Freeze Panes feature in Excel. This feature makes it possible to "freeze" part of the grid on the screen so that you can see it even as you scroll a different part independently. It is frequently used to keep a set of title cells in view as the data scrolls next to it.

Many people wish there was a way to do this in Excel, but can't figure out how. Even if they stumble upon the "Freeze Panes" item on the Window menu, clicking it provides no real hint of how it is to be used. Turning it on doesn't make it clear what it's used for and, in fact, can make it seem like your spreadsheet is broken.

Although power users couldn't live without Freeze Panes, few people stumble upon it and are able to use it by themselves. Eventually, someone shows them what it's for and how to use it, or they are motivated to read a book or web site in which they are walked through how it works. In fact, thousands of web pages are devoted to imparting the trick to the uninitiated.

In Excel 12, here's what you see when you click the Freeze Panes button in the Ribbon:

This screenshot illustrates a couple of different parts of the Office 12 UI.

First, it's a rich menu, meaning that a short description follows the name of the feature. This makes it straightforward for someone to discover what a feature is used for.

Second, following our design tenet of trying to make it easy to get the most commonly sought-after results in a single click, you can now freeze the first row or column, regardless of the selection. This is the most common use of Freeze Panes, and through this menu, many people will be able to use the feature who never could figure it out before.

Third, it shows the textual separators again, in this case separating the two different classes of "Freeze Panes" functionality.

All of these enhancements conspire to help people use a part of Excel they might not otherwise have been able to figure out.