A Ribbon Runs Through It

Apparently Microsoft has been working on a game to help people learn how to use Office’s Ribbon. Ah yes, UI innovation that’s so powerful that — years after release — it’s now getting turned into a game to help people learn how to use it.

Meanwhile Scott Fulton points out the the Ribbon in the upcoming Mac version of Office is — for Mac users — a non-solution to a non-problem. It seems to me that it’s a non-solution to a non-problem in Windows as well.

My main experience with the “ribbon” thus far is using Outlook and I can’t think of a single thing I like about it. It’s modal, it makes some easy things difficult and some difficult things impossible, and it wastes vertical screen real estate. On the Mac it will have the added virtue of wasting even more vertical screen real estate (because the Mac version won’t replace the menubar).

I think the main problem with the ribbon is that it was intended to replace both menus and toolbars. But toolbars have the virtue of being customizable (so if you know you’re using certain commands a lot you can make them available all the time) while menus have the virtue of being non-modal (i.e. you don’t need to click through each “tab” to find out what’s available).

The big problem with the ribbon, at least in Word and Outlook, is that Microsoft never figured out that the basic problem with their word-processing UI is they bury the useful formatting commands (assigning styles) in the “power user” area and make the stupid formatting commands (e.g. the bold button) available in the most convenient area. If they could simply have moved the style-based formatting commands front and foremost then they could have stuck with toolbars OR made ribbons less annoying.

But at least we’ll be compatible with VBA viruses again.