After a few hours of working with Office 2007’s Outlook, PowerPoint and Word (I have yet to find a reason to open Excel), I have come to a very disturbing realization about the new Ribbon interface.
Let’s start from the beginning: The new interface shows a host of buttons for common actions, according to categories and subcategories. These buttons are big and spiffy and are supposed to show you common actions, according to studies conducted by Microsoft. As a GUI aficionado, I was excited about this leap in usability and was all too eager to try it out. (On a side note – I was also sure the GUI would be adaptive, but I guess that was simply wishful thinking)
Before I start giving some reasons for and against the new interface, I want to point out the most glaring error in judgement the new UI presents. The Ribbon is not a replacement to menus, it’s a replacement to the toolbar. You only get buttons that are bigger, nicer-looking and, glaringly, less. However, the Ribbon has replaced the menus too. What you’re left with is less functionality.
Admittedly, you can access the functionality that has ‘disappeared’, but for the inexperienced user, it’s just not there. This will cause the 90/10 principle (90% of the users use 10% of the code) to turn into around 99.9/10, since it’s so unintuitive to try and get to the other 90% of the application that most users will simply not bother.
A few more points I wanted to make:
- Con: Categories? The Ribbon’s categories offer zero improvement over menus. The Edit menu has now simply been renamed to the Home category, the File menu has left the application entirely and moved to the context menu (double clicking the context menu still closes the application — phew), etc..
- Con: Where Is It?! I still can’t find out how to change the color of the borders for an entire table in Powerpoint without resorting to manually using the Draw Table tool. It took me an age and a half (about 10 seconds) to find the Properties dialog (it’s under the Context Menu->Prepare(?!)->Properties). It’s things like these that make you miss menus most.
- Con: No Turning Back? There’s no way to return to the menu-driven GUI, that has been around since Windows 1.0. This means that you have two choices: Either get with the program or revert.
- Pro/Con: Outlook Left Behind? It seems Outlook’s main window has been left untouched by the Ribbon and seems to be as it ever was – functionality-wise. I’m happy about this, since I find the classic GUI familiar.
- Pro: Fast! What I love most about the new UI is that it takes me less time to do the most common things, because things are categorized into smaller groups of buttons.
This is not the way to introduce breaking changes to an interface – this type of change is best introduced gradually and without forcing the user. It would have been best to use the Ribbon as a default GUI, but to allow a way to return to the ‘classic’ mode for users that don’t like the new paradigm. Eventually, these users will start warming up to the new GUI, allowing the next version of Office to retire the menus altogether.
It seems that for me, since Office XP was introduced, there has been little to no reason to upgrade.