One of the most disconcerting things about software upgrades is when they change the interface. No, wait–change is much too mild a word. How about “totally overhaul” or “completely revamp” or just plain “screw it up”?

A lot of Microsoft Office users who upgraded from 2003 to either 2007 or 2010 would probably use “screw it up” to describe “The Ribbon.” So many users were so incredibly unhappy with the change that at least one company put out a plug-in that switched the command interface back to 2003’s familiar look. And the upcoming Office 2013 promises even more interface change.

But there’s good news: if you’re using Microsoft Office 2010, you can modify the Ribbon pretty radically in all the major applications. (Still using 2007? Sorry, no Ribbon-modification for you.) If you’re one of those who finds the Office Ribbon far too cluttered, here’s how to customize it.

Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows.

Here’s Where You Start: The File Tab

No matter which Office application you’re using, this feature will be found on the File tab under Options. Once you reach the Options dialog box in any Office application, you want to go to Customize Ribbon.

The list of possible commands will be on the left. (“Popular Commands” comes up by default; use the drop-down to get to the list of “All Commands” if you don’t see what you’re looking for.) The current configuration of the Ribbon is on the right. As with most Windows programs, clicking on the plus sign next to the groups expands the list of commands. For example, in the Word Options window above, clicking the plus sign next to “Review” shows the list of command groups; to see the individual commands under each command group, click that plus sign.

Clearing Commands Off the Ribbon

Okay, here’s the bad news: you can’t pull individual commands off the Ribbon. The good news is, you can remove command groups. For example, if you don’t see yourself ever using the Citations and Bibliography section of the References tab, you can select that section on the right and click “Remove” to get that off your Ribbon.

You can also remove entire Tabs from the Ribbon if you want to do some radical clean-up. Just use the method above, but select the Tab name (like “References” or “Mailings”) rather than a command group underneath a Tab.

Adding Commands to the Ribbon

If there’s a favorite feature or command you’ve been searching for on the Ribbon but can’t seem to find, you can place it on any Tab on the Ribbon in your own custom command group. First, select the Tab and create a custom command group for it on the right (you may want to rename it, as I did mine below). Then, find the command on the left and select it (you may have to choose “All Commands” from the drop-down to find it). Once you’ve selected the command, the “Add” button should be enabled. Click that, then click OK to exit. You should now see the new command in your Ribbon.

As you can see above, you can even add your own personal Tab to the Ribbon!

Adding Keyboard Shortcuts in Word

If you’re just plain sick of searching the Ribbon endlessly for that one command to, say, format an envelope, and you’re really more of a speed typist than a mouser anyway, you may develop a fondness for another feature on this dialog box: Customize Keyboard Shortcuts. (See that button just below the commands list on the left?) Click on that button, and you’ll get an opportunity to make your own keyboard shortcut.

Just find the right command by (1) clicking the Tab it’s found on and (2) scrolling down to find the command itself, (3) press the key combination you want, (4) assuming it’s not already assigned to something vital (check what’s next to “Currently assigned to:”), click “Assign,” then (5) click “Close” to finish. Keep a keyboard shortcut cheat sheet nearby if you need it!

Don’t Forget the Quick Access Toolbar

For even easier access to favorite commands, you can always stash a few in the Quick Access Toolbar which sits just above the Ribbon by default. For more information on how to customize the Quick Access Toolbar, click here.