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Microsoft turns finding Office commands into game

The latest project from Office Labs lets users try to be a "ribbon hero" by knowing where Office hides all of its various commands.

Ribbon Hero turns trying to find commands in Office into a game, with users earning points by using more of the program's capabilities. Microsoft

I'm not sure it's exactly the approach I would take, but Redmond has decided to make a game out of what I find to be one of the most significant annoyances in Microsoft's Office--finding the command one is looking for.

Introduced on Tuesday, "Ribbon Hero" is aimed at turning into a game the often frustrating task of finding commands on Office's Ribbon toolbar, which debuted as part of Office 2007.

In a blog post, Office program manager (and self-described casual games enthusiast) Jennifer Michelstein said Microsoft was trying to see if the company could tap into the trend of using games as a means of training.

"We set out to understand whether elements of game play (things like scoring points, competing with friends, and earning achievements) could motivate people to explore more of the app, learn new features, and ultimately become more productive," Michelstein wrote. "Could we do it in a way that fit well into the regular Office workflow, without being too much of a distraction?"

Ultimately, Microsoft decided to put it out there and see.

Users can earn points in Ribbon Hero in one of two ways. The first way is just by using Word, Excel, or PowerPoint and using commands. A small number of points are awarded for basic commands, while more complex features earn more points. A second way to earn points is to complete various challenges. It also taps a Facebook connection to let users share their score and see how they stack up against their friends.

Ribbon Hero requires Office 2007 or the Office 2010 beta and works with either 32-bit or 64-bit versions of Windows Vista or Windows 7. It works from within Word Excel and PowerPoint.

Michelstein said the idea came from watching Office users take 10 steps to do something that could be done more easily in one or two.

"When I meet Office users, I often hear them say things like, 'I want to be more productive, but I don't want to take the time to learn new features,'" Michelstein said. "I love watching people's reactions when I point out a quicker way of doing things."

I'm curious what the readers think. Is this the right way to go, or should Microsoft really be using its energy just making the program simpler to begin with?