When I speak to friends about upgrading to Office 2007 or thinking about upgrading to the new Office 2010, I often hear complaints about “The Ribbon” – the new way Office shows menus and toolbars in each of the Office products. As I’ve been using Office 2010 since the technical preview came out and was on Office 2007 well before that, I can barely remember life before “The Ribbon.” But I understand that a change in user interface can be a bit frustrating at first.

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Office Live Labs, the folks who brought you PowerPoint Plex, the Envisioning videos we keep going on about, and much, much more, have now come up with a game – Ribbon Hero – that helps you familiarise yourself – and your students – with The Ribbon features and functionality in Office 2007 or 2010. Here’s how the good people at Live Labs describe the game:

Ribbon Hero [is] a free prototype app that works with Office 2007 and with Office 2010 beta. The new prototype is designed to test the effectiveness, feasibility and appeal of delivering Office training in a game-like setting.  The heart of Ribbon Hero is a set of challenges that users play right in the Office applications. These challenges expose users to features that they might not be aware of and which can help users get their work done faster.

In addition, Ribbon Hero awards points for using both basic features, such as, Bold and Italic, and for using the features introduced in the challenges.  Ribbon Hero does some analysis of the person’s usage patterns to prioritise the order in which it presents challenges.Capture4

Ribbon Hero integrates with Facebook, and I’ve been watching my friends increase their scores as they play the game in PowerPoint, Excel or Word. It’s become quite popular – with over 32,000 downloads in the first three weeks after release. I installed it for free HERE and tried it for the first time today.

When you install Ribbon Hero, it appears as an add-in inside Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and you get an icon for it – where else? – on The Ribbon. When  you click on the icon, you’re offered your first set of challenges, which you can attempt to complete with or without the helpful hints.

I opted not to play the Facebook version of this game, as I don’t want to suffer public embarrassment for my Office skills (or lack thereof). But I can see how it would be fun to set up a little competition among your students.

You can read more about Ribbon Hero on the Office Labs blog, or watch the short videos to see how it works.

And finally, to download free Office 2010 beta visit www.microsoft.com/2010

Have fun!