One of the efficiency affordances added to Office over a decade ago is the Recent Documents list.

At the bottom of the File menu in Office 2003, you'll see your four most recently-opened documents listed; you can click one of them to open the file directly. Looking at customer data from Office 2003, it becomes clear that this is one of the most broadly-used features in all of Office.

And it's easy to see why it's so popular; many people use the same documents over and over again, so having two-click access to open them from within Office is a big win.

At the same time, the feature as it exists in Office 2003 has its shortcomings. First, there are only four documents in the list by default. Although you can change this number in Options, most people don't realize that it's mutable and suffer through having too few entries in the list. In particular, if you regularly open five or six documents instead of four, the list becomes very unstable because a few of the documents you're looking for are always missing.

Second, it's too easy for the entire list to get blown away. Because the list is so small and because there's no way to specify that you want to keep a document on the list, your "favorite" documents get pushed off in favor of documents you intend to read only once--say a README file for a piece of shareware you downloaded. It's a bummer when the weekly sales report you edit each week gets bumped in favor of some e-mail attachment you're never going to read again.

Third, it can be hard to tell the difference between similarly-named documents, and it's virtually impossible to determine where a document is located. Because the File menu is space-constrained, you see a lot of file names like C:/D…/…/My…/Sales Figures for M... with no way to see the full name or path to the file.

In the Office 2007 UI, we wanted to build a better Recent Documents feature which corrected these deficiencies--preserving the simplicity and efficiency of two-click open, but adding fundamental improvements along the way.

When you click the Office button in Office 2007, the Office menu appears, containing a two-pane view somewhat similar to the Windows start menu. When the menu appears, the right pane is fully consumed by the Recent Documents list. We designed the list to be friendly, clear, and self-explanatory; it turns out that some people didn't use the File menu list in previous versions because they didn't understand what it was for.

By default, the list shows as many documents as can fit in the menu… 17 in this picture, but you can crank it all the way up to 50 if you want.

Although the pane is much wider than the Office 2003 File menu, there still might be a time when a document name is cut off. The good news: you can hover over any document in the list to get its full path in a tooltip, including where it's located and its extension. An example tooltip: D:\Work\Shared\Work Hours Schedule.docx.

Most importantly, you can "pin" items to ensure that they stay in the list forever. Click the little pushpin icon next to any file and it will stay available in the list no matter how many other files you open in the meantime. This is useful for those documents you open again and again.

We designed the Office 2007 Recent Documents list to make it more useful than ever before: four times more room in the list for documents, the ability to see the full document and path name, and pushpins to keep your favorite documents on the list forever.