The OpenOffice.org team has been experimenting with a new user interface for the suite of programs, and they’ve presented the first rough prototype of this new interface, more specifically for Impress. The general gist? It’s Microsoft Office 2007’s ribbon interface.
The ribbon interface raised quite a number of eyebrows around the world, with many wonderingwhether it would be wise to ditch the old established
garbled mess user interface of menus and toolbars in favour of something completely new. It was all additionally surprising as Microsoft generally isn’t the company to change a winning team.
The design goal behind the ribbon interface was to more easily expose users to all the functionality of the various programs in Microsoft Office, without overwhelming them. The ribbon exposes functionality organised in sections, and these sections are then organised in tabs. The interface is also context-sensitive; an additional tab can appear when you are manipulating an object like a chart or picture, which contains editing controls specific to said element.
The revamped Office 2007 user interface drew praise all around the world, but at the same time, people who were too entrenched in the Office 2003-type UI were intimidated by it, and declared it a failure because they had to re-learn their ways. However, if you actually take the time, and have an open mind, I can’t imagine it not becoming clear to you that the ribbon is miles ahead of any other office suite UI out there.
So, the OpenOffice.org guys over at Sun are working on prototyping a new user interface too [.odp]. They have more or less the same design goals as the Microsoft Office team had, and what do you know, they come up with prototypes that are about as close to the ribbon interface as you can get. They’re also using tracking data, similar to how Microsoft tracked user data in an opt-in fashion. The OOo guys will make this data available to the community.
As you can see, this early prototype (it’s a prototype, people!) shows an interface that is an almost exact copy of Microsoft’s ribbon interface. As someone who loves the ribbon interface, I see this as a good thing – but I’m not so sure the larger community will agree with me. You can test a prototype, but it requires Java.
From here on out, the new interface will be tested with actual users, while also working on improving labelling and tool organisation. They still have a long way to go, but it’s good to know the team is working on improving the user experience in OpenOffice.org.