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: Good ideas, bad implementations
by Bryan on Fri 1st Jan 2010 03:45 UTC in reply to "Good ideas, bad implementations"
Member since:

Honestly, I think you're just pulling out canned criticisms and hurling them without any attempt at cogent thought.

Microsoft's done a lot of work to reduce the impact of background processes in Windows 7. In some cases, this means multiple background tasks have been merged into a single processes. More extensively, they leveraged Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) to implement services triggers, so that background processes can be started and stopped dynamically in response to system events rather than have to load on startup and poll continuously. The processes that remain are there for a reason--it's not just "bloat". Keeping a system trim on resource usage is important, but you have to make sure you don't lose sight of the difference between fat and muscle.

As for Office, the old binary formats open just fine in the public Office 2010 beta, and Microsoft released a compatibility pack years ago that will allow any version of Office all the way back to Office 2000 to open up the new XML formats. While it's not completely seamless--older versions can edit all the features of the newer formats--it's been pretty smooth considering the logistical and engineering challenges involved.

I'd also take a moment to rant againt the idea that the ribbon interface is inferior to the combination of menus and toolbars it replaced. Far from it: the ribbon is a more effective interface. And I don't mean that in a subjective way, but rather an objective way backed by usability studies and hard data. To understand the thought that went into the evolution of the ribbon, I would recommend you spend some time browsing Jesen Harris's blog (

Briefly, the previous interface had become to cumbersome and complicated to support the number of commands available in applications as such as Word and Excel. To find a command, you'd have to search through menus and submenus, toggle toolbars on and off, and make sure all of their commands weren't getting trimmed. With the ribbon, in contrast, you can scan through each tab and quickly get a pretty good idea on what an application is capable of. That doesn't mean you'll know about everything (some commands, such as image tools, only show up in contextual tabs), or even that you'll instantly know how to use each one effectively, but you won't get lost like you would in previous versions. In effect, the ribbon takes a superset of the commands that were previously available and makes them more accessible than ever by minimizing what you might call the "cognitive surface area" of the user interface.

Add to that other enhancements that came at the same time--better tooltips, live preview, contextual help, and far better keyboard navigability for all commands--and the experience presented in Office 2007 and onwards is emphatically better than its predecessors--or its competitors, for that matter. If you want to suggest that these enhancements aren't worth the premium Office costs over its free competitors, you can certainly make a legitimate argument there, but there's no question Office's interface is better at this time. What's more, the team at OpenOffice is understands this, and has taken early steps to evolve their interface in a similar direction--as can be seen in a prototype screenshot here: "Intuitive" is an ambiguous term at best when applied to user interfaces. Actually, Microsoft has shared data points showing that customers using Office 2007 use the Undo command far less often than those using older versions, which indicates they're having an easier time gaining mastery of the new UI and getting the results they want.

The only real disadvantage the ribbon has is lack of familiarity. If this has been developed at Xerox PARC along with so many other interface elements we take for granted today, no one would bat an eye. When you take a step back, the ribbon really isn't that big of a departure from what we're used to--it's basically an amalgam of a menubar and toolbars--but still a clear break from an interface people had grown accustomed to over the decades of Office's history. People are frustrated because it's disorienting, but that doesn't mean the new interface isn't effective once you take the time to learn it. It's similar to the problem you often see in OS debates: "When I want to do Task A in Windows, I do X, but in Ubuntu I have to do Y; therefore, Ubuntu is inferior." Familiarity doesn't not equal usability! You have to take the time to understand the tradeoffs between different design choices. Mindless zealotry get you no where.

Reply Parent Score: 5

by fossil on Fri 1st Jan 2010 15:30 in reply to "RE: Good ideas, bad implementations"
fossil Member since:

What many have found most objectionable is that the "Ribbon" has been crammed down their throats, "You will do things the One Microsoft Way!" Had there been an option to use menus, there would have been 99% LESS bitching. Of course Microsoft has such a locked-in monopoly, they simply don't have to care. There's been a lot of lost productivity in my office due to ... the "Ribbon" ... long time users hate it. I've been lucky enough to escape it thus far. I find it interesting that you consider the blog of a Ribbon developer hosted on a Microsoft site an objective source of data on the efficacy of the "Ribbon." Can you cite any neutral sources?

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE: "Ribbon"
by Bryan on Fri 1st Jan 2010 22:36 in reply to ""Ribbon""
Bryan Member since:

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.

Reply Parent Score: 2

JAlexoid Member since:

Microsoft has shared data points showing that customers using Office 2007 use the Undo command far less often than those using older versions, which indicates they're having an easier time gaining mastery of the new UI and getting the results they want.

I would like to see the scientific reasoning behind that conclusion. Because it sounds, that they got a bunch of data, and the one that was more convenient, was chosen.

Reply Parent Score: 2

Kroc Member since:

And you are the one to speak for an entire team of intelligent, experienced engineers who spent three years designing and user-testing a product using literally billions of data collected from real users across the globe? When it comes to showing the reasoning they’ve got the upper hand over your comment. You should watch this to get an idea of quite just how much they did to get to the new UI

Reply Parent Score: 1

marcp Member since:

Well, you are certainly right about one thing: there is something about services management - it works better. The problem is that it won't be even noticed by a regular user. Also - it doesn't change the fact, that most of these services are really obsolete. Just take a look at them and you'll probobly see what I mean.

MSO interface ... honestly? it's very subjective. I obviously said what I think about it, but I'm sure that some users like this new look. There's only one more thing to say - and it was already said - Microsoft doesn't give you a simple choice. You can't just turn off this feature: you are forced to use it. Moreover - you can't do much about it [you can't change the code]. Why do I have to suffer and pay for this kind of suffering? fortunately I don't have to, and I hope I never will [again].
MS isn't choosing the best option. It chooses the most profitable option. There's no reason, or logic behind their choices, really. There's *only* money that make them do what they do.
Now - there's nothing wrong about earning money in a clean and honest way. The problem starts right behind that line

You were alsa talking about zealotry ... I just put out my own thoughts. It's no zealotry, no "I want you to think like me", so there was really no reason for you to call it a *zalotry*.

Reply Parent Score: 1