Letters from Readers
Ribbon Brings 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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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