A Numbers Game

On Wednesday, I mentioned that as part of the keyboard work we've done for Beta 2, controls on the customizable Quick Access Toolbar are auto-assigned KeyTips.

For example, the first item in the QAT can be accessed by typing ALT+1, the second item can be accessed by typing ALT+2, etc.

Because you can add and remove buttons, galleries, groups, and all other Ribbon controls to the QAT, and because you control the order of the items within the toolbar, you can in effect customize the ALT+Number shortcuts to be anything you like, just by adding the control for the feature you want to access to the QAT.

One of the interesting things you might wonder about when you see Office 2007 in action is what happens after you've added nine controls to the Quick Access Toolbar, and all of the ALT+1-9 shortcuts are used up.

The answer is that we keep numbering, and the tenth feature gets the access key sequence ALT+09, the eleventh feature gets ALT+08, the twelfth gets ALT+07, and so on.

So the sequence goes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 09, 08, 07, 06, 05, 04, 03, […]

On first glance this might seem a highly irregular sequence--why not continue with 01, 02, 03, 04?

It all comes down to efficiency; two main factors went into our thinking. First, the number of controls people have on their Quick Access Toolbar is a curve. The vast majority of people will end up with the default number of icons (currently 4.) And the next highest is likely to be 5, then 6, then 7, etc. So there will be far more people with ten commands than twenty commands. Exactly how big that discrepancy is remains to be seen in the data as more people use the product.

Secondly, in the standard keyboard layout for virtually all locales, the number keys are arranged at the top from 1 to 0. This means that 09 is far easy to type for most people than 01, because 0 and 9 are located directly next to one another and 0 and 1 are located at the furthest ends of the keyboard. So, we assign the most efficient possible remaining KeyTip sequence (09) to the tenth-most-important button on the QAT, and we assign decreasingly efficient sequences (down to 01) to the eleventh and beyond.

You might be thinking: "ah, but on the NumPad, 01 is actually worse than 09." Well, the truth is that the NumPad won't work for these shortcuts; they must be typed using the main number area on the keyboard. Office has long-standing keyboard shortcuts for some of the Alt+NumPad entries, and others are used in Windows to generate special characters (such as Alt+0169 on the NumPad to generate the copyright symbol.)

What comes after 01? Sign up to receive Beta 2 and find out...