Letters from Readers

Ribbon Brings Unwelcome Changes

Unwelcome Changes
In a recent Barney's Rubble column, Doug Barney wrote about the Microsoft Ribbon interface and the opposing user views about its usefulness ("The Great Ribbon Debate," April 2010). Here's my two cents.

When I first installed Office 2007, I thought the Ribbon was a pain. I couldn't understand why Microsoft needed to change things again. (If you remember, the Ribbon has changed with each of the releases of Office since Office 1997.)

The Ribbon has made Word and Excel easier to use for newbies; however, for someone who's been working with Word and Excel for years, the Ribbon has become a big pain in the neck. Older users now have to go hunting for things they used to know where to find.

One of the complaints I've heard from our administrative people concerns hidden dialog boxes. They tell me there are some dialog boxes that are so well hidden they have to go digging to find them.

However, the biggest problem we've come across is the Microsoft implementation of OpenXML for Word, otherwise known as the .DOCX format. When you use Change Tracking Mode with .DOCX files, there seems to be a problem with Word determining which changes are the current changes depending on the user viewing the document. We used .DOCX for about two weeks until we realized that Word documents were getting corrupted, and then switched back to .DOC formatting. It will sure be nice when Microsoft gets this fixed.

Jeff Hall
Minneapolis, Minn.

I think the Ribbon is a disaster, and that all the Microsoft Office products for which the Ribbon was introduced are failures. A product is a failure when users go shopping on the Internet to find add-on tools to make it look like its previous iteration: in the Ribbon's case, the classic interface.

Duro Musa
received via e-mail

The Ribbon seems to be a good idea, but Microsoft often introduces new technologies and leaves us old tech guys behind. After the changes, most users get lost and can't find what they want until tech support is able to assist them.

How hard would it be to have the old, clunky menu and the Ribbon, and slowly phase out the old menu in later versions?

Edwin Matos
received via e-mail

I've been using PCs since they were invented. WordPerfect was my favorite word processing software; I used to send e-mails to Bill Gates telling him to buy it. He ignored my good advice and continued to produce software that's less and less user-friendly.

I use Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Because of the Ribbon, I spend hours searching for functions that used to be useful, but are now hidden in the depths of Ribbons, sub-Ribbons, menus and so on.

Microsoft has lost touch with reality. This is the problem with monopolies: I as a consumer have no choice but to use their products. I could use OpenOffice or another open source solution, but then I'd have to format my files to be compatible with Microsoft products, which everyone else uses.

Computers were supposed to make life easier. When folks found that they could make bundles of money by capturing a market, computers became profit engines for the companies and the end user was forgotten.

Robert T. Kambic
Baltimore, Md.

Defending the Ribbon
Based on the fact that Barney only received 30 letters -- with no statistically correct sampling -- I'm not sure I agree with his conclusions. You're more likely to hear from angry, unsatisfied users rather than the happy majority, who actually like the Ribbon. (For the record, I based this statement on my opinion, not a scientific poll.)

From what I know, the Ribbon wasn't created by Microsoft alone; it was the result of extensive usability research. Also, complaining a UI has changed is pointless, and I'm actually glad that, at last, something new came to the Office UI. If people spent a fraction of the time they spend complaining instead learning the new features, they'd gain more.

Classic menus wouldn't be able to contain all the new features. If you don't want to change, just stick to the old version. True innovation is disruptive.

Wanderlei Santos
Chicago, Ill.

About the Author

This page is compiled by the editors of Redmond magazine from your letters. Write to us at letters@redmondmag.com and if your letter is printed in the magazine, you'll be entered into a drawing for a free Redmond T-shirt.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, May 31, 2011 F. Microsoft

Lack of UI choice and preservation of familiarity is the greatest offense. The "ribbon" is nothing more than a clever marketing catch-word and a fat (uncustomizable) toolbar borne out of an excess of money, time and arrogance. Not to mention just the right shade of baby-blue. Preservation of UI familiarity and choice would have been the non-arrogant thing to do. If the "ribbon" was a choice AND not the default I guarantee you 80% of the users would not use it. That of itself is very telling. People need to get a clue.

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 Tom Stone Wisconsin

I hope someone at Microsoft steps forward and actually admits inventing the ribbon or at least made the commitment to convert everything to it. Then we could all go after that jerk with a vengeance and make him or her pay for the lost productivity and frustration that it has caused. I hate it. My clients hate it. Almost anyone who has a brain hates it. The only ones who have benefited from the ribbon are training vendors and support agencies that charge you to relearn products you should already know. Now we have other companies following in Microsoft's footsteps because they are afraid of rocking the boat. Granted the menu structure in Office 2003 and earlier was a convoluted mess but it could have been fixed by simply re-organizing the structure. Office 2010 adds ribbon tabs which succeeds in breaking up the ribbon into smaller chunks of confusion. Because .Net almost forces a ribbon interface upon developers, All of the newer .Net apps are coming with the ribbon. It's like some kind of mass hysteria. How can we stop the madness!

Tue, Jun 29, 2010 David C. Wood Gaston, Oregon

Having been a software developer for 20+ years, I have an opinion too. Mush-brain home users and the kids that cannot read need software they can use but Microsoft should consider the rest of us that can read and write. Microsoft is no better arranging anagrams that they were at arranging menus. Office 2003 is good enough for me. I can design my own menu's like a snap, VBA is tremendous for extending Office 2003 products. If MS ever wants to sell a newer version to me they will have to add an option to use the old more logical hierarchal menus and make it easy to build custom menu's again. I am willing to bet the bunch that is pushing this interface are foreign born progressives and likely socialists.

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