Sunday, December 14 2008, 16:35
The UI ribbon, more than just evolution
This move is not a surprise, as the mastermind of the Office 2007 UI, Steve Sinofsky, replaced Kevin Johnson at the head of the Windows division a few months ago. But this will not prevent the controversy, after months of complaints from disappointed users of Office 2007, who were “forced” to use the ribbon and were not able to change back to the more common menu-based UI.
The well-known Office 2007 ribbon
When you think about it, this strong end user reaction is not surprising. The first graphical user interfaces included menus, whether it was MacOS or Windows. Then, when it comes to Office, the first versions for Windows included icon bars, in order to accelerate the most common tasks against the hundreds of possible commands of more and more complex applications. But the icon bars did not replace the menus. And now, menus and icon bars are merged in the same control, the ribbon. This control is not only here to add more functionality to an existing UI; it replaces the whole existing UI by a new one!
Word for Windows with menus... or with icon bars.
It is the first time such a widespread application proposes a user interface without menus, in more than 20 years of mass-market graphical user interface history. And we can expect to see more and more applications using the ribbon, not only from Microsoft. Indeed, the ribbon design and guidelines can be licensed for free (details are available on Microsoft Office website) and a CTP of the ribbon control for WPF has been available for a few weeks (on the same website, after login). As for web applications, they will also have their share of ribbon, since several external developers are implementing a ribbon control for Silverlight. The most famous implementation is Simon Matthews' and is available on CodePlex; as for a very impressive demo, you can go his Silverlight Streaming hosted page.