Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Microsoft Ribbon, what’s up with that?

Microsoft has created some great tools over the years, but the ribbon isn’t one of them.

Two trends make me wonder if the good people at Microsoft have been paying much attention when it comes to user interface:
  • Over the last ten years, the proliferation of LCD screens that are generally wider than they used to be.
  • HD TV has made the 9:16 aspect ratio much more common for lots of people.
Enter the ribbon. Putting aside the task-centric structure for a moment, the ribbon takes up valuable screen real estate and cannot be moved. On a laptop, the result is a smaller effective work area that is cluttered, visually noisy, very short and very wide. This is not useful for most work.

Other companies, like Adobe, have figured this out. These companies seem to realize that people have work to do, and that those people may want to customize the software interface to more effectively do their work. For these crazy need-to-get-work-done people (aka “users” or “customers”), these companies have built “palettes” into their software, allowing people to move and resize those palettes in a way that makes sense based on their needs.

Heck, Microsoft has done this before. Office Mac 2008 had (wait for it) a “Format Palatte.” It wasn’t perfect, but it was on the side, and you could move it. I guess that camp lost the UI Battle of Redmond. Pity.

The ribbon does reveal additional functions, as it was designed. But it does an equally good job of hiding existing functions from people that regularly use them. I’d argue the net effect is neutral at best (gain some things, loose others).

So now the ribbon infects everything and appears to be here to stay. I wonder how much productivity in business has been and continues to be lost because of the ribbon?

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