In 2007 Microsoft took the bold step of completely changing the user interface of their Microsoft Office suite. Gone were the familiar menus like File, Edit etc. and in their place stood something no-one had ever seen before: the “ribbon”.
It’s now been 3 years since this change and I’ve met few people, if any, who really “get” this style of user interface (even amongst writers in the technical writing community). So this got me thinking – what are the benefits to this new user interface? After a bit of research and some careful thought, I came up with a small list of benefits that the ribbon provides:
• Menus that were once buried are now visible and easily accessible (assuming you know which tab to visit)
• Most items are now “result oriented” meaning they provide galleries of options, often with live previews when you hover the mouse over them, showing how their functionality will affect your document. At the very least, each item now has an icon to help you visually identify the command or feature you want to access.
• There is now one single unified user interface. Prior to this all items existed in either a menu item, a toolbar, or both. Tracking down the correct toolbar to display was often a matter of trial and error. With the ribbon, everything is shown in one massive toolbar, separated by tabs.
• Related commands are now grouped together under labelled groups. The rough equivalent of this grouping mechanism in the old menu system was through the use of separator bars between menu items, which didn’t really emphasize the fact that items were related.
• Hierarchical menus are now eliminated. In the old system this meant navigating through menus and submenus to find what you were looking for. And if you clicked on the wrong submenu, you’d have to restart the navigation process all over again. Everything on the ribbon is always visible, so there is no hierarchy to wade through.
So there you have it. Microsoft does in fact know what’s best for us 🙂 and after thinking about these benefits I’ve started to appreciate the user interface a bit more. I’m certain there are other advantages to the ribbon as well and would love to hear your feedback on what your experience with the ribbon has been. If you are interested in learning more, or are perhaps developing your own ribbon based application, check out: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc872782.aspx