Turn off “auto-hide menus” in Office

This is one of those features that a lot of people love to hate, where you have to wait a few seconds or go to the little chevron on the bottom of the menu to expand it:

It doesn’t bug me too much – except when it hides the MRU (most recently used) list in any Office application, which drives me batty. It makes sense on some levels – if you remember the Tools menu in Outlook 97, it was a scary long list of many many options, intimidating to many users. So hiding things that aren’t frequently used is one way to help that (of course, another way is just smarter menu usage in general, and Outlook 98 did have a much cleaner look than 97).

If you don’t like this feature, you can turn it off:

1. Right click on a toolbar in any office app and choose Customize
2. On the Options tab, check “Always show full menus”
3. Click Close

This is a global setting, so turning it off in one app turns it off for all Office apps.

Comments (11)

  1. travis says:

    I may be in the minority on this, but I actually like the chevrons. I noticed that it doesn’t happen to my Start menu (in XP) anymore. It used to happen in Win2k, and now I can’t find the option for the life of me to [re]enable it in XP.

  2. Joe says:

    Agreed. How did that feature get past usability testing. Example, use the "Draw" menu in Word and click on "Group". Group gets added to your frequently used menu options – but "Ungroup" doesn’t.

    And then trying to turn it off – why Tools/Customize/Options rather than Tools/Options?

  3. Anne STanton says:

    Personally I hate them. Just adds another step when I am speed scanning 🙂

    So I turn them off.

  4. Jerry Pisk says:

    I wonder if long, intimidating menus were really the reason. Because hiding some items, based on a guess of how often a user might want to use them is probably the worst solution to the problem. How about re-organizing the menus so they’re not confusing?

  5. KC Lemson says:

    Joe: Well, all of the toolbar options are in that place. As to why they didn’t make toolbar options available via the tools options dialog of each app, I don’t know for sure, but I have a guess as to one related issue: The code that does toolbars is shared among all the office apps (mso#.dll). The code that does tools options is unique to each app.

    Jerry: Like I said, reorganizing is also an option. One thing to keep in mind though is that almost no one is happy when they upgrade versions to find a different menu structure, or really any type of significant UI change. So there’s always going to be a struggle between improving the UI (anywhere in the app, not just toolbars) and not pissing off the existing users who had gotten used to the existing UI, as theoretically bad as it was.

  6. kip says:

    A companion "trick" is to use the "save my settings" wizard that is part of the Office 2003 tools. I’m a "auto-hide menu" hater, and every time I would re-format or re-install Office I would have to remember where all of those silly switches were! Now I just run the wizard. Saves me probably hours for each time I fool around enough to have to re-install Office

  7. Jerry Pisk says:

    If nobody is happy when their menus change with an upgrade how exactly are they going to accept that their menus change every time they use the product?

  8. KC Lemson says:

    I believe that with this feature enabled, the menus will eventually reach a state where they are static and specific to the user.

  9. t31os says:

    Lifesaver!!!… googled it and this page came up first…….

    Hate them goddamn menu’s hiding….. you’re a lifer saver, as i just spent 15 mins looking over and over again in the options….. lol


  10. MR says:

    The UI debate is one for usability experts to ponder over, I doubt any user will ever be happy with where things are or where they went. But there is a message here to Microsoft UI designers: stop helping me by trying to anticipate where I’m going–it’s always wrong. This is the reason why I hate personalized menus, why Autocorrect drives me insane, hidden systray icons in XP, etc. There’s an unavoidable Murphy’s Law factor.


  11. KC Lemson says:

    MR: I hear you on the first couple, but I find autocorrect to be one of the greatest features across all of Office. And actually, the hidden icons have grown on me, I now use that to keep things like anti-virus (that I don’t need easy oneclick access to but I like to be able to quickly see that it’s running) out of sight, out of mind.