The Office 2007 Ribbon UI – My Impressions

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.

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18 thoughts on “The Office 2007 Ribbon UI – My Impressions

  1. the ribbon isn’t adaptive?
    i swear by all that’s holy that my ribbon added a few functions that i’ve used oh so often (like superscript and underscript)
    or maybe it’s my imagination..

  2. I have tried Office 2007 on a test server at work, and can’t stand the ribbon. It takes me a lot longer to do some of the basic things that used to be quite fast in previous versions. I can’t find a lot of the things I need.
    I used to be able to build my own floating toolbars of the commands I used to use the most, and drag them around into the positions that made them easy to get to. Now, apparently Microsoft has decided that I should be flogged over this use of a feature they were touting as a great enhancement to productivity – and it was. Now, they believe customizability is a bad thing, and they take it away from us.
    I will NOT be putting this garbage on my own home machines. I have Office 2003 on one machine, and OpenOffice.org on another. Unless Microsoft releases a service pack that fixes Office ’07 to give back the classic UI, they will not see another cent from me from Office sales. I just can’t work effectively with ’07.
    BTW – The File menu isn’t actually gone as the original post states — they disguised it as a round “Office Button” that a lot of people don’t realize is a button and not decoration… really “discoverable”, Microsoft… way to go! So we’re told now that menus are bad, but context menus are ok, then they give us one little menu, but don’t make it look quite like a menu… I think it must have been the same people who came up with the design of Vista… Don’t know what they’re smoking over at MS, but keep it away from me.

  3. Hmm . I haven’t had much exposure. But that is mostly caused by the fact that *when* i’ve encountered O2007, I was seriously slowed in my work, so that pretty much keeps me from even trying it out :)
    Not to mention licenses.
    I stick with O2003 and OOffice like Mike :)

  4. The ribbon is without a doubt the most hideous thing Microsoft have introduced yet.
    I still hate the “XP look” they brought in years back, I didn’t like it when they changed Visual Studio 2003 to 2005 (they moved all the menus and remove key functionality only to put it back in in SP1), and now I hate the “ribbon.”
    There was NOTHING wrong with the old style menus. This is just another example of incredibly bad US design inflicted on the rest of the world. Ever heard of “global” user groups Microsoft? Now I can’t find anything I need easily so what have I done? I’ve had to recreate the menus and hide the ribbon bar. But why should I have to do this – why can’t we have a classic mode like Windows? The whole thing smacks of a rushed botch job, like so many MS releases.
    Wait for menus to come back in SP1…

  5. The ribbon enormeously improves productivity, stop whining about the half day it takes you to adapt to it, really. You’re smart, surely you can find where the BIG BUTTON is for whatever task you want. If not, try hitting F1 whenever you feel the frustration coming up…
    I work with the ribbon for 2 months now, and I can’t stand earlier office versions anymore, menus just lack this “action-orientated” thing ribbons have with them.
    Want to do something basic? Sure it will be in “home”. Something fancy with VBA? Surely it will be in “developer”. Want to “review” your document? Work with its data? Guess where that’ll be…
    Also, of course they replace the menus as well. Press Ctrl+F1 and you’ll readily appreciate this.

  6. GH wrote: “Wait for menus to come back in SP1…”
    They didn’t change anything with SP1!
    Beginners and intermediate users mostly love the new design because they discover features.
    I hate it. Taking away customisation was going too far. MS forces you to do it their way – my way is much better. So go back to Office 2003 if you can.
    Nevertheless, Office 2007 has been a success financially for Microsoft. They’re working on similar changes to Windows!

  7. Hello, i found this new style a friendly UI, what you need is to get used on it guys, always the people that get used on something, they found some hardness on the new things, and they start to scream :P.
    i am a programmer, and my opinion is that this UI is much friendly than the menues style.
    But, I agree with some guys here that Microsoft is obliging us to use there ways!!!
    I am suffering from the buys inside of some Controls in microsoft visual studio for example ‘:( .
    Anyway, guys you will change your opinions when you get used on this UI
    regards,

  8. I have to use O2007 at work – but continually find things that are much harder to get to, and much less intuitive than they were with the menu interface – I’m not impressed.
    In my last job, I worked tech support for a major manufacturer – one of the most common things (easily 20 times a day) for us to do was to verify the version of Office being used: click on ‘Help’, then ‘About…’ (by clicking and holding on Help, then releasing on About, it became effectively a single-click operation – that has now become a four-step process: click the ‘Office Button’, click the ‘Word Options’ button, click the ‘Resources’ category on the left side of the Options Dialog, then click the ‘About’ button. Then, once you’ve verified the version (with build number, all service packs, any add-ins, etc….), it now takes 2 clicks to return to the main application screen! If this is what is passing as an ‘usability improvement’…

  9. The Ribbon in Microsoft Ofice 2007 is a great improvement! The Ribbon showed me features and stuff that I could never find using the menus. And also, customizability is still part of Microsoft Office 2007. You can create your own tabs and commands using the steps that Help gives you. Microsoft has a Quick Access Toolbar that you can put commands on. There is also an add-in out there that allows you to change the Ribbon.
    Microsoft implemented the Ribbon into Office 2007 because they were running out of room on the menus and toolbars. In Word 1.0 (released at least 15 years ago) had only 100 commands, all of which you could see on the menus and toolbars. In Office 2003, there were over 1,500 commands, which were all crammed into the same menus and at least 20 toolbars. In Office 2007, they created the Ribbon so they have room for all of those commands.
    Also, there are add-ins that include the standard menus (File, Edit, View, etc.) and the Standard and Formatting toolbars on the Ribbon.

  10. Everyone just likes to bash new things. They like it, but they want to follow the crowd and bring down new stuff. The Ribbon is one of the best things M$ did!

  11. “Everyone just likes to bash new things. They like it, but they want to follow the crowd” […]
    If you read my blog any more than this post, you’d see I was one of the last to bash new things. This post was written after using Office for a while and from the view point of the experience I have with UX.
    A year and a half later and all of the things I wrote there still ring true.

  12. I didn’t buy it. I won’t buy it. But I have to use it with me students. Some of the students have the original and some have this godforsaken ribbon.
    I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.
    When I’m trying to explain how to do someone I know perfectly well how to do on the original but I’m having to demonstrate with this deplorable ribbon, everyone is confused and I feel like a fool. I hate MS for this.

  13. I hate the Ribbon. That’s OK, because Microsoft hates me, too.
    I still have a working 486 with DOS 6.22, Win3.11 and Word 6.0, I do all my important works on that. It never failed me!

  14. I’ve been using the Ribbon for 2 years and I still can’t stand it. My biggest complaint is that it now takes more clicks to find what I used to be able to get in one (if you can even get it at all without custimazation. A better approach would have been to either:
    1.) Let the users decide whether they want to use it, even it’s the Ribbon by default.
    2.) Left the menu’s for us old school power users.
    3.) Let us customize the Ribbon itself so we can make it look like the old toolbars. :P
    What was wrong with the toolbars?.. I could pick and choose the ones _I_ wanted. I still want that functionality back. Office is still my product of choice, but I can’t help but feel slighted and annoyed. I like change… but I don’t like change for the sake of change and I certainly don’t like change when it’s less efficient for _me_ than it used to be. I do like change when it benefits me, this, does not.
    If someone likes the Ribbon, great, more power to you, I’m glad you like it. Myself, I’d rather have a choice on whether to use the old format or the new.

  15. I simply hate this toolbar/ribbon replacement.
    It’s a waste of time, horribly disorganized and has the complete opposite effect on the user interface then what is described by Microsoft.
    It uses far to much space. I don’t know why I need to see a 96×64 px image of a chart with both a label and description all the time.
    Additionally you cannot relocate the stupid thing at all. So for example you place the toolbars you use on the left side (which I personally do because I perfere more vertical space) you cannot do it at all.
    The simply fact they did not make this “optional” or customizable is insane. The entire development and planning group should be fired.
    The ordering of the items is also retarded. The Top contains an “Area”, which then has “sub areas” which are labeled across the bottom for some reason, then the 3rd level is above with both a mixed vertical and horizontal ordering. Then most of these still end up with a Menu? Your eyes simply do not track this rediculas order naturally in the same tree like way of a normal menu.
    Darren (.Net Developer, Embarassed by Office 2007 changes)

  16. We have used Access for development since office version 95, version 2007 is without doubt technically superior in many ways – good job MS.
    But the user interface is terrible, it looks like something from a Fisher Price activity center, all that is missing is the little squeaky noises when you click on the Office button and the “Fluent user interface” – large ribbon to most people.
    Very sad they they did not include the option to change to the traditional toolbars. Hopefully in the many coming versions of Office they will address this shortfall.

  17. I absolutly H A T E the ribbon. I cannot find familiar menu items and it has cut productivity by 90% for me. I am using a tool that supposedly translates and shows me where the new commands are, but it doesn’t go deep enough amd I spend ages hunting thhrough every single item hoping to find what I need.
    I no longer accept jobs in Excel 2007 and tell clinets to revert to 2003.

  18. The ribbon is fantastic in my opinion; I’ve developed a similar component which I’m using in my own applications and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive from all my customers. It’s intuitive and despite what’s been said actually fosters exploration of the available options. Far from the 99.9 / 0.1 this article suggested I’ve seen massive improvements in feature usage. That said, I agree that customisation would have been a good option, however, I believe they’ve added that feature in 2010. The biggest irony was in who repsonded best to it, new or intermediate users ran with it almost immeadiately whilst the more experienced users were more ‘stuck’ in their ways and initially disliked it.

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