Barney's Rubble

The Great Ribbon Debate

I love Redmond readers, especially those of you who subscribe to my Redmond Report newsletter. All I have to do is ask a question and I get flooded with expert answers.

Recently I asked about the Ribbon interface -- which is now 3 years old -- and 30 of you responded. You'd think that after three years on the market, IT would be used to the Ribbon. Nothing doing. Of the respondents, 20 of you dislike, despise or are at least disappointed in the Ribbon. Eight love or like it. Two didn't quite know how they felt. And even the biggest Ribbon fans admit it took some getting used to.

Let's start with the good news. Reader Mike hated it at first blush, but gave it a fair shake. "I decided there had to be a rhyme to the unreason. So I looked at it from a 'what's the paradigm' standpoint. Once I did that, the organizational structure seemed more cohesive. I can find more features more easily than with the previous interface," Mike explains.

Randy, who teaches college, is another fan. "Normally, after students use the Ribbon and find the logic and elegance of context-sensitive tools, they quickly become advocates. I hope the Ribbon survives and becomes the model for future interfaces," he says.

Ribbon backer Heidi believes the Office interface started out simple, but as features grew its logic broke down. The Ribbon is a fresh start, and far more organized.

Now here's the flip side.

In 2007 I traveled to Redmond and attended a reception at a fancy local winery. While enjoying some superb Syrah, I started talking to an Office product manager and mentioned I was getting reader feedback about the Ribbon. He was curious, so I fired up my BlackBerry and read him messages that had just come in. You guys were brutal, universally despising the Ribbon. Good thing there were still casks of wine left!

That irritation still lingers. Readers such as Michael see the Ribbon as change for change's sake, and he wishes the Ribbon could have been "organized around the old menus."

Erik has a more mercenary view: "One good thing about the Ribbon is it keeps entry-level positions available in IT as scores of curmudgeonly users need assistance figuring out how to do Office tasks they've done for years." Erik finds himself Googling to figure out where old functions have found a new home.

Others complain the Ribbon takes up too much space. I'm not sure about the technical feasibility, but many of you wish Microsoft could at least maintain the "classic menus" as an option.

What are your favorite and least-favorite software interfaces? Answers welcome at dbarney@redmondmag.com. And if you're interested in my thrice-weekly newsletter, you can visit Redmondmag.com/newsletters.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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