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 And if you're interested in my thrice-weekly newsletter, you can visit

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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Reader Comments:

Wed, Aug 29, 2012 Tom Alexandria, Virginia

I'm a software developer. I support a workforce with very clear production goals. They are very much like piece workers in factory. Slow them down and it takes money out of their pockets. Micro$oft has robbed us blind. The idea that not wanting to change something that has been working for you just means you're mired in the past is asinine. I have not talked to a single person who doesn't want to hurt the morons that invented the ribbon interface. I'm a competent, award winning software developer and I would be ashamed to associate my name with something that just clearly exudes arrogance and says "screw the customer" so clearly and loudly. I remember taking business classes and talking about good will as an intangible asset. You can't put a dollar value on good will, but lose enough of it and your business is gone. If I was given a choice between Linux and Micro$oft tomorrow, Micro$oft can kiss my big, fat, flabby, ornery ass. The ribbon is "New Coke". Bring back the classic interface, you jackasses.

Tue, Feb 14, 2012

I tried. I really gave the ribbon a shot. Even after trying I am disappointed in the Ribbon. I found that it creates more key strokes (e.g 4-6 versus 2-3 on the menu)than the menu bar for the common tasks I use. It forces me to the mouse more than I would like (keyboard is much faster). I really thought they had got things right this time. As a 20+ year PC user, I was hoping that they did. Windows 7 is awesome. I was hoping the Office suite would be too. I am seriously considering a switch to Apple.

Wed, Dec 22, 2010 F. Microsoft

The "ribbon" is a fat screen-wasting familiarity-breaking productivy-losing arrogantly-forced and ignorantly-"invented" toolbar and nothing else. Love it or hate it I'm telling you it's BACKWARD progress to break years of familiarity and cost millions of people millions of combined hours "relearning" the "new" way FOR NO @#$%^&* REASON. Code all the #$^&*@ ribbons you want but preserve the existing, known, familiar, practically-standard way of doing things you money-loving arrogant microcrap IDIOTS.

Tue, Aug 24, 2010

Funny all your comments are pro-ribbon except one when Google is full of "i hate the ribbon" searches and comments. Try using MS Access with the ribbon. Try simply putting a border around your fields or grouping with next or using two of you most common commands in a row. EVERYTHING is a minimum of 2 clicks. Walk around and see if your peers haven't simply pulled out every command that was readily available on menu in 2003 and simply recreated the menu. If you make a change and find all your customers rebuilding your "new improved" product back to the old version, you have a problem, you have made a mistake, and you've give Open Office, Apple, and Linux more market share. Good luck with that.

Wed, Aug 4, 2010 Robert Sullivan

".. approach the ribbon with a clear mind you will find it is quite simple to use, very intuitive. Sure the original 2007 version with it's Orb was a little "crazy" but the new 2010 looks corrects alot of those issues." That's exactly it. It is *not* intuitive in the least. I find myself resorting to the help to do the simplest of tasks. And yeah, the Orb is an example of terrible UI design, that exemplifies the issues with Office - I want to saveAs, who in the blazes would *hide* it in the mysterious Window Orb? What were they smoking when they came up with this? I'm sorry, they blew it, it is not intuitive, not easy to use, not an improvement. The real innovation is done somewhere else.

Wed, Jul 21, 2010

So much easier to use? Heck I threw into the garbage office 2007 and reinstalled 2003. MS has really done it this time. They have tried to copy the Mac UI and left the majority of users who use their PCs for work out in the cold. I want my drop down menus and classic menus back. I cannot spend all my time just trying to figure out how to do something when I could be using my time for work.

Tue, Jul 20, 2010

Well the proof is in the sales Office 2007 uptake was poor, Office 2010 uptake is still poor.
I can 100% guarantee you as an IT manager we will NEVER implement as software product that would significantly increase our desktop support costs and reduce productivity.. not to mention the amount of hate that would be piled onto IT for implementing such a very stupid idea as the ribbon and no menus.
We would love to buy and upgrade to newer versions of Office, just a pity Microsoft won't listen to its customers.
We will remain with Office 2003 until Open Office offers a better alternative or Microsoft gets rid of the arrogant moron that is trying to force its customers to use something as pathetically stupid as the ribbon.

Mon, Apr 26, 2010 Michael Proctor Australia

I personally think the change is warranted. The biggest issue faced by the user is their "habits" they are use to the Menu system, that doesn't mean it is good, it just means they have adapted to it. This doesn't help new users though who don't have preconcieved ideas on how it should work. If you just "wipe" what you know about Menus and approach the ribbon with a clear mind you will find it is quite simple to use, very intuitive. Sure the original 2007 version with it's Orb was a little "crazy" but the new 2010 looks corrects alot of those issues. All in all I think the Ribbon has it's place and I think it is a move in the right direction. I have worked with Office menus for over 10 years, sure it was odd using the Ribbon for a couple of months but I can now do everything I did before only quicker.

Thu, Apr 22, 2010

I always enjoy reading about how some users just get all gushy about the ribbon interface. It merely proves P.T. Barnum's proposition that "... there is a customer born every minute..." In this case, change customer to sucker and you have it. It seems that the most vocal of the ribbon interface supporters have no appreciation for the people-ware investment in the highly (overly?) evolved menus and their work-related learned paradigms. Despite the "Oh it's so much easier to use..." phenoms of the ribbon sect, three sequentially executable keystrokes are far more efficinet, repeatable, and effective.

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