Linked by Kroc Camen on Thu 31st Dec 2009 14:13 UTC
Microsoft BetaNews writes: "Microsoft executives and product managers -- Chairman Bill Gates, above all of them -- showed great technology vision for the new millennium. The company was right about so many trends to come but, sadly, executed poorly in bringing too many of them to market. Microsoft's stiffness, perhaps a sign of its aging leadership, consistently proved its foible. Then there is arcane organizational structure, which has swelled with needless middle managers, and the system of group competition".
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RE: "Ribbon"
by Bryan on Fri 1st Jan 2010 22:36 UTC in reply to ""Ribbon""
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Ultimately, I think they made the right call by not supporting a classic UI mode. From an engineering perspective, a compatibility mode would have entailed having to essentially maintain two separate interfaces, which isn't something they wanted to commit to doing, especially over the long term--it would be expensive, complicate testing, and not add any value to the product. Even if they just implemented the "there but hidden" menus like they do in IE, it would still have to be maintained as functionality was added and would create conflicts when mapping keyboard shortcuts to ribbon tabs and commands.

You also have to look at it from a holistic product design perspective. Microsoft *wants* users to be as efficient and productive in Office as possible. The ribbon, in concert with all the other features introduced, was designed to enable that kind of an experience. If they had added a compatibility mode, most users (or their admins) would have simply ticked that checkbox rather than deal with a new interface, effectively erasing much of that work. This would have left users comfortable, but still frustrated by the deficiencies the menu/toolbar interface. So Microsoft made a bet on the ribbon, not as a capricious exercise of monopoly power, but on the conviction that the long term benefits would outweigh the short term inconveniences. Indeed, I think part of the reason they made this bet is that they realized they couldn't take their market dominance for granted. In an era that insists on open formats, users and businesses have unprecedented ability to choose the most appropriate tool for their needs. The ribbon UI, to the extent it meets its goals, is currently a significant differentiator that none of Office's competitors have yet matched.

That isn't to suggest the change comes without any pain. Power users who have built up over a decade of muscle memory around the old interface have had a particularly hard time adjusting. But Microsoft's research indicated only a small percentage of users were able to achieve that kind of mastery; again, the new UI makes that level of achievement more accessible inasmuch as you now longer have to wade through dozens of menus, toolbars, and task panes. If you make the investment to learn how to leverage the new interface, you will ultimately be more productive than you were in the old one. Provided Microsoft doesn't make a habit of these kinds of significant redesigns, I don't think that's an unfair tradeoff. (And my own anecdotal experience suggests that even this transition isn't as hard for most people as you might think. The most common question I've gotten: "Where's the file menu?")

As for neutral sources, I have none. Jensen Harris's blog (or the presentation Kroc links to below) details the impetus, principles, evolution, and design of the ribbon UI within the Office team. There simply isn't anyone who could provide that level of insight without having worked for Microsoft or been closely affiliated with them during the design process. I'm sure if you want to wait long enough, an objective third party will come along, do a study, and spoon-feed you exactly what you're supposed to think, but genuinely neutral sources are pretty hard to come by in any but the most trivial subjects these days. We are each the result of our experiences and prejudices, which are reflected in our ideas. Ultimately, the onus is on us to apply our faculties of reason to take those biases as a given, understand an argument, and rationally think it through from its assumptions to its conclusions, questioning each piece. You can simply dismiss the blog I pointed to if you so choose, but ad hominems, kneejerk reactions, and willful selective ignorance in no way make you any more correct.

Based on my own experience, both in attempting to understand the how and why of the new interface, and actually using it since Office 2007's public beta in 2006, I believe the ribbon is a definite improvement over what it replaced--not necessarily ideal mind you, but a substantial and measurable improvement. I'm willing to change my mind, but only in the face of convincing evidence.

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