First of all, due to a glitch in the system, Howard's article about the philosophy behind Themes in Office 2007 got posted very late yesterday. It's well worth the read, so if you didn't catch it yesterday, you might consider checking it out today.

The team has been enjoying the interesting discussion around keyboard accelerators in Office. If nothing else, the various ideas posted and the ensuing discussion exhibit how complicated even seemingly simple design decisions can become when many people are affected by and care about the outcome.

Something that came up as a point of interest in the comments was the difference between keyboard shortcuts and accelerators in Windows. I thought I'd take a few words today to talk about the difference between them.

Simon in the comments explained it quite well, so I'll start with his description:

  • Keyboard shortcuts: these are the individual keystrokes (or combination of keys pressed simultaneously) used to access commands. They appear to the right of the menu item. For example, to access Undo using a shortcut, you press Ctrl+Z.

  • Keyboard accelerators: these are the little underscores on menus and menu items. They are used to navigate menus. For example, to access Undo using accelerators, press Alt, then E, then U - three separate keystrokes.

Both of these explanations work for a program based on menus and toolbars.

In a Ribbon-based app, keyboard shortcuts remain the same as they were in previous versions.

Keyboard accelerators, on the other hand, have evolved into KeyTips in the Office 2007 model. The trigger key is still ALT, like with accelerators, and the idea of pressing subsequent letters to "navigate" the UI is still present. The major differences of KeyTips are:

  1. Every control gets a key (even unlabeled ones--something impossible with menus)

  2. We can assign keys not in the label of the control. This is because we have, in rare cases, as many as 50 controls available at once. Interestingly, certain international versions of Office have done this for years by putting the accelerator in parenthesis after the command name like this: Command Name (X)

But the user experience of KeyTips should be pretty similar to accelerators--press ALT, and follow the keys on your screen to get to the command you want. Memorize and repeat for efficient access.

I look forward to walking you through the improved Office 2007 keyboard model closer to Beta 2.