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Utility Spotlight: Help for your ribbon-phobic users

The light-hearted Ribbon Hero 2 can help your users work more easily with the Ribbon interface in Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010.

Lance Whitney

Are you still grappling with users who haven’t quite gotten the hang of finding the many commands woven into the unique Ribbon interface in Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010? There’s a free utility from Microsoft that can show them how to take full advantage of the Ribbon interface. This could help improve productivity and potentially reduce your help desk calls.

This training tool comes in the form of a game. Ribbon Hero 2 offers a series of tests to teach people how to accomplish their work using the Ribbon in the latest two versions of Office. The utility integrates directly with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. It encourages users to perform specific tasks and provides hints along the way when needed.

With its own unique sense of humor, Ribbon Hero 2 even revives Clippy, the infamous cartoon paperclip that either amused or annoyed users of older versions of Office. This time around, though, your role is to aid Clippy by carrying out a series of tasks in order to score points and learn to use Office more effectively.

Save Clippy

Download Ribbon Hero 2 from its dedicated Web site. You can save and then run the file RHSetup.msi. At the last screen in the installation process, you can choose to launch the program immediately. You can also launch it afterward from the Start Menu via a shortcut in the Microsoft Office Labs folder. From the program’s main introductory screen, you click Play to get started (see Figure 1).

You can save the Ribbon Hero 2 game for later, or get started right away.

Figure 1 You can save the Ribbon Hero 2 game for later, or get started right away.

A rolling comic strip highlights the history of Clippy, following his initial hiring and subsequent firing at Microsoft. It’s then up to the user to help Clippy find and succeed at a new job by tackling various tasks in Office. You can bypass the comic strip by clicking the Help Clippy button.

Microsoft Word then opens with the first challenge: Beef up Clippy’s resume by changing the document’s font from Comic Sans to Calibri (see Figure 2). Following the instructions that appear on the right sidebar, you can dive in to try to complete the assignment on your own. If you select the wrong icon or command, the program lets you know you’re going down the wrong path and suggests trying a different Ribbon tab.

Changing fonts is one of your first tasks in Ribbon Hero 2.

Figure 2 Changing fonts is one of your first tasks in Ribbon Hero 2.

If you’re in the dark from the get-go, you can click the Need a Hint button. Ribbon Hero 2 will display a tip below each instruction. When you successfully resolve a task, Clippy cheerfully offers his congratulations and doles out a total score based on how many hints you needed (see Figure 3).

Ribbon Hero 2 scoring is based on how independently you complete the tasks.

Figure 3 Ribbon Hero 2 scoring is based on how independently you complete the tasks.

After completing the task, click on Continue to start the next assignment. That also brings up another comic strip detailing the next phase in Clippy’s advancement. Thankfully, you can click on the Continue button a few times to bypass Clippy’s story and move on.

You’ll eventually come to a screen that takes you to a depiction of the Middle Ages. Here you can hover around castles and knights to view and choose from a variety of tasks, such as how to generate SmartArt in Word, create a pie chart in Excel and conjure up animations in PowerPoint (see Figure 4). Select a specific task and the game will launch the associated Office application.

The Middle Ages part of Ribbon Hero 2 has you complete more-advanced tasks.

Figure 4 The Middle Ages part of Ribbon Hero 2 has you complete more-advanced tasks.

After you accomplish each task, the game brings you back to the Middle Ages screen to pick a different assignment. A checkmark indicates which tasks you’ve completed. After vanquishing all the tasks in the Middle Ages, it’s on to Ancient Egypt (see Figure 5). You’ll have a whole new series of tasks amidst the Sphinx and Cleopatra. Finishing each level throughout history successfully brings you further along in time until you’ve completed all six levels.

You move through different periods of history as you complete more-advanced tasks in Ribbon Hero 2.

Figure 5 You move through different periods of history as you complete more-advanced tasks in Ribbon Hero 2.

One obstacle to Ribbon Hero 2 is that the program wants users to select the Ribbon to accomplish tasks. If a user tries to complete an assignment using the pop-up menu or keyboard shortcuts, the program is apt to reject the solution. That’s the whole point of the game, though, to make people more comfortable with the Ribbon.

You can launch Ribbon Hero 2 from its Start Menu shortcut or directly from Office. It’s compatible with Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP, and requires Office 2007 or 2010. An icon for the program appears at the end of the Home Ribbon in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Beyond opening Ribbon Hero 2, that icon displays the number of points racked up so far by the user.

Upper management may not want you or your users frittering away all their time playing Ribbon Hero 2. However, it can certainly be an effective and even entertaining training tool, especially for people still intimidated by the ever-present Microsoft Office Ribbon.

Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.

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