Office 12 to Feature 'Super Tooltips'

Tooltips, those little yellow popup boxes that provide information on a button or menu option, have become an indispensable part of the modern user interface. Now, Microsoft is looking to extend their usefulness by introducing what it calls "Super Tooltips" in the upcoming release of Office 12.

The next-generation Office suite from Microsoft is already slated to bring a major UI makeover. Standard toolbars have been replaced with task-oriented "Ribbons" that include features pertinent to the current job. But such a change will require a learning curve, which is where the new larger tooltips come in.

To start, each Office 12 tooltip will contain the feature name and keyboard shortcut if it exists. Beyond that, a short description of the option informs users about what it does.

"We've written these in the form of: "This is the right feature to use if you want to [tooltip text here]." The concept is to give you the idea of what a feature is for without needing to look it up in help or in a manual," says Jensen Harris, head of Microsoft's User Experience team.

But text can only go so far. Some Super Tooltips will include images to help explain what an option does in relation to the document. "Someone might not know what a "caption" is, but when they see the little picture with a line of text saying "Figure 7: blah blah blah" under it, they suddenly understand what it is," notes Harris.

Options leading to dialog boxes will include images in their tooltips as well. For example the Fonts tooltip shows a small image of the Font dialog box. "Early in our research for Office 12, we discovered that a lot of people identified dialog boxes by their look alone," said Harris.

Unlike current tooltips, Super Tooltips will not cover up the command. Instead, they will appear in a box directly below the Office 12 Ribbon.

Office 12 tooltips will also connect directly into the suite's help system. After the Super Tooltip pops up, a user can simply hit F1 to load up more information on the feature. This, says Harris, does away with unnecessary searching of help contents that only wastes time.

Even disabled features will take advantage of Super Tooltips. If an option is grayed out because it cannot be used, the tooltip will explain why. "The long-term is goal is for you never to be stuck and confused, wondering what magic trick is necessary to enable a command," promises Harris.

Those dismayed about having large boxes appearing throughout Office 12 worry not: Super Tooltips can be disabled and Office will revert back to "command name only" tooltips.

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