Since I tend to reopen files repeatedly, I like Microsoft Office's list of recently used files that appears at the bottom of the File menu in Office 2003 apps, and on the right side of the window that opens when you click the Office button in their 2007 counterparts. (These documents are also accessible via the My Recent Documents button on the left side of Open and Save As dialog boxes in Office 2003.)
What I don't like is the default of four documents that Office 2003 shows on the File menu. Since I'm likely to cycle through more than four files at a time, I reset the number to the maximum of nine. Of course, many people prefer to show no recent documents in this list. Fortunately, changing this setting is a breeze.
To change the number of files shown in your recently opened list in Office 2003 apps, click Tools > Options > General, and change the number in the "Recently used file list" up to the top limit of nine, or down to zero, if you prefer to see no files listed. (See below for a Registry tweak that disables this feature in all Office applications.) When you're done, click O.
The list of recently used files is enhanced in Office 2007 by adding these entries to the right pane of the window that appears when you click the Office button. You can show as many as 50 files in this pane, though they may not fit (my version of Office 2007 defaults to showing the 17 most recently opened files).
The file names are now easier to read because they're no longer truncated by the narrow width of Office 2003's File menu. You're also able to keep certain files on this list by clicking their pin icon on the right. Normally, the least recently used file would drop off the list automatically, as the maximum number of files was reached.
If you find the "Recently used file list" option grayed out in Office 2003, it could be due to a setting in the Tweak UI add-on for Windows that disables this option. To enable it, double-click the Tweak UI icon in the Control Panel, choose the IE tab, and check "Add new documents to Documents on Start Menu." Microsoft has more information about this in a Knowledge Base article.
Another way to customize your list of recent documents is via a Registry tweak. Just be sure to back up your Registry by creating a restore point before you make any changes. Microsoft provides step-by-step instructions for clearing your list of recently used Office files via the Registry.
Tomorrow: tweak Windows XP's list of My Recent Documents and Vista's Recent Items.