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Office UI Customization Overview

You can programmatically customize the user interface (UI) of Microsoft Office applications by using Visual Studio Tools for Office. The UI features that you can customize include the following:

  • Actions panes or custom task panes.

  • Smart tags.

  • Custom Ribbon tabs.

  • Outlook form regions.

  • Menus and toolbars.

  • Shortcut menus.

Comparison of UI Features

The following table compares the main UI features that you can customize in Visual Studio Tools for Office projects. Some UI features can be customized only in some installations of Visual Studio Tools for Office. For more information, see Features Available by Product Combination.

Actions pane Smart tags Custom task panes Custom Ribbon UI Outlook form regions Menus Toolbars

Supported project types.

Document-level customizations.

Document-level customizations.

Application-level add-ins.

Application-level add-ins.

Application-level add-ins.

Document-level customizations.

Application-level add-ins.

Document-level customizations.

Application-level add-ins.

Supported Microsoft Office applications.

Excel 2003.

Word 2003.

Excel 2003.

Word 2003.

Excel 2007.

InfoPath 2007.

Outlook 2007.

PowerPoint 2007.

Word 2007.

Excel 2007.

Outlook 2007.

PowerPoint 2007.

Word 2007.

Outlook 2007.

Excel 2003.

Outlook 2003.

PowerPoint 2003.

Visio 2003.

Word 2003.

Excel 2003.

Outlook 2003.

PowerPoint 2003.

Visio 2003.

Word 2003.

Can the component contain controls?

Yes; Windows Forms controls.

No.

Yes; Windows Forms controls.

Yes; dedicated Ribbon controls.

Yes; dedicated Outlook controls.

No.

Yes; buttons.

Actions Panes and Custom Task Panes

Task panes are user interface panels that are typically docked to one side of a window in a Microsoft Office application. Almost all Microsoft Office applications include built-in task panes. An example of a task pane is the Help task pane in Word.

Visual Studio Tools for Office provides two different ways to customize task panes:

  • You can add an actions pane to a document-level customization. By default, the actions pane is displayed on the right side of the application, to the right of the document. However, the actions pane can be displayed to the left, top, or bottom of the document as well.

  • You can add a custom task pane to an application-level add-in for the 2007 Microsoft Office system. Users can dock custom task panes to different sides of the application window, or they can drag custom task panes to any location on the window.

Actions panes and custom task panes provide functionality by hosting a variety of controls to help users with tasks such as data entry. Compared to a toolbar, actions panes and custom task panes provide a much larger area to include text and controls.

For more information about actions panes, see Actions Pane Overview. For more information about custom task panes, see Custom Task Panes Overview.

Smart Tags

Smart tags are strings of text that have type information attached to them; when a text string that matches the criteria appears in a document, it is recognized and the user is able to perform actions appropriate for that type of string. For example, you could create a smart tag that recognizes stock symbols. When the user types an uppercase string of four letters, a list of stock-related actions, such as looking up a stock price on the Internet, could appear.

You can use Visual Studio Tools for Office to add smart tags to Word 2003 documents and Excel 2003 workbooks. For more information about smart tags, see Smart Tags Overview.

Outlook Form Regions

Use form regions to add custom functionality to standard Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 forms. You can create form regions that extend any existing form with additional fields or controls. These adjoining form regions are displayed at the bottom of the first page of a form, and each adjoining form region is collapsible. You can also add a separate form region that is displayed as a full additional form page and that can appear on any existing standard form or custom form.

For more information, see Outlook Form Regions Overview.

Custom Ribbon UI

You can customize the Ribbon UI to expose functionality that you add to applications in the 2007 Microsoft Office system. The Ribbon is a way to organize related commands (in the form of controls) so that they are easier to find. You can create your own Ribbon tabs and groups to give users access to functionality that you provide in an application-level add-in. Most of the features that were accessed by using the menus and toolbars in earlier versions of the Microsoft Office system can now be accessed by using the Ribbon.

For more information, see Ribbon Extensibility Overview.

Menus

You can add a menu to the menu bar of a Visual Studio Tools for Office solution and create a customized caption for the menu. You can add menu commands to new or existing menus, as well as remove them. However, customization must be done programmatically. You cannot modify menus or the menu bar from within Visual Studio at design time. For more information, see How to: Create Office Menus Programmatically.

Toolbars

You can add a toolbar to your Visual Studio Tools for Office solution to provide the user with easy access to tools and other document or workbook features. You can customize the toolbar in the same manner that you would customize the built-in toolbars by adding or removing buttons. You can also customize the location and the docking properties of a toolbar through code. However, customization must be done programmatically. You cannot modify toolbars from within Visual Studio at design time. For more information, see How to: Create Office Toolbars Programmatically.

Shortcut Menus

A shortcut menu appears when you right-click in a document in Word or a worksheet in Excel. You can set a shortcut menu to appear after an event takes place in a document, such as when a user right-clicks a document, workbook, or host control. You can add a number of different menu commands just as you would for a menu on the main menu bar. You can change a shortcut menu's location and size through code. For more information, see Walkthrough: Creating Shortcut Menus for Bookmarks.

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