When you come to a program for the first time you want the interface to be accessible. You want clear, unambiguous instructions and uncluttered, straightforward commands. What you don't want is to scramble blindly around on a computing wild good chase, clicking irrelevant tabs and searching through endless drop down menus.

Previous versions of Microsoft programs stood accused of doing exactly that. Locating a seemingly simple command was like playing with Russian dolls; opening up more and more toolbars and task panes before eventually arriving at the desired option. This 'burial' of vital actions could become highly frustrating - especially to those not well versed in the particular program - as well as wasting valuable time and effort that many professionals can ill afford.

Well, Microsoft appear to have listened. Their latest suite of programs comes equipped with the Ribbon, a fresher, more concise and more aesthetically pleasing version of the forbidding grey toolbar of yore. For the first time all the fundamental commands and formatting options you could want can be found in one place, logically assembled and organised.

In this article we will be talking specifically about the advantages of using the ribbon in Excel but it is important to remember that this revolutionary new interface is also present in Access, Power Point, Outlook and Word.

Instead of the limitless hiding places present in Excel 2003 all commands are now grouped under a series of seven tabs - Home, Insert, Page Layout, Formulas, Data, Review and View. All the main formatting functions can be found under the Home tab. Say you are working on your spreadsheet and you want to align some data in a cell you can now just click on the Home tab and choose the appropriate alignment option from the menu. Similarly if you are looking to include a pivot table in your work you can select it from the Insert menu. This more organised method of grouping eliminates the need to prefix every command with its specific function eg. Border Shading can just become Shading since it is grouped with other Border commands.

Another advantage of the Ribbon is that it knows when it is not wanted. The increased workbook size of Excel 2007 means that you have the capacity to create some pretty enormous spreadsheets. When working with such a volume of data you really need to use the whole screen and a toolbar hovering around the top can be an unnecessary distraction. Now you can hide the Ribbon and give yourself the maximum amount of screen space to work effectively.

On a similar note there are two additional sets of tabs that only appear when required. These are the Contextual Tools and the Program tabs. Contextual Tools can be accessed when you click on a particular object in your spreadsheet, eg. a chart. From this tab you can alter the design and style of the chart in question. Program tabs appear when you are ready to author a particular piece of work. Once again this streamlined approach to the user interface reduces clutter and confusion from the program.

Whilst the Ribbon makes Excel 2007 more accessible in the long run it is a big change for those used to working with the 2003 version of the program. Therefore to fully acquaint yourself with the new possibilities that the Ribbon offers a form of training course would be highly recommended.