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Microsoft Office Ribbon feature

The new ribbon menu system in Microsoft 2007 suite software.

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Fail: the worst Office 'improvement' in its history.

  • Aug 31, 2009
  • by
The ribbon is an electronic haystack that expertly hides needles.

STOP READING NOW for those of you who don't use 2007! Yes, please stop reading now and save yourself the torment of even thinking about all your beloved, well-positioned menu items being mercilessly ripped out and shoved into an non-sensical organizational mess. 

For the rest of you who have been victims of the Ribbon, let me preface this review by saying that I took HCI (Human Computer Interaction) at college and have endless wonder and admiration for new user interface (UI) designs that work. I love the simplicity of many innovative browser ideas (like dates that become calendars when you click them, or message boxes that dim the rest of the screen), because I see many online companies analyze how/where users click and figure out better ways to make it easier. Pure joy. Excellence. The spirit of adventure.

What I don't like is corporate HCI - by which I mean the need to change things to justify a new version without actually giving the user anything. Google doesn't do this. Amazon doesn't do it either. Only version-centric software monoliths love this idea such as, for instance, Microsoft. The ribbon is one of the worst "UI improvements" in many, many years for reasons such as...
  1. Users have no chance to go back to what they're used to.
  2. It takes more clicks and mouse movement for the same result.
  3. It uses more screen real estate.
  4. VBA developers cannot produce ribbons natively (they can produce menus).
  5. Shortcut keys are based on recall, not recognition (ie. Alt+E for the "Edit" menu is obvious, whereas Alt+E, S, <Down arrow>, <Down arrow> <Enter> is really not).
  6. The ribbon changes on context continually, thus hiding things from the user all the time (while contextual menus aren't new, the ribbon makes help desk work a complete nightmare).
  7. Every user I talk to hates it. Which seems to be a hint.
But Microsoft claims - through 'studies' - that their users just *love* the Ribbon. Really? Are they sure? I want to see those test results since it seems tantamount to saying that drowning victims enjoy not having to moisturize. I think it's misleading at best.

The ribbon is a big fail. Even if I'm overstating the issue, the very *very* large trend towards touch and voice systems will ultimately make it the "Windows ME" of interaction.

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James Beswick ()
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Microsoft, Productivity, Office, 2007, Ribbon, Bad Software


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