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Doug's Mailbag: Ripping the Ribbon, More

Redmond Report readers have always been vocal about the Office ribbon, whether they love it, hate it or have just resigned themselves to it. This week is no exception:

I've been using the ribbon for a few months. Didn't like it when I started. Don't like it now. Finding things is just too difficult. Remembering where they are hidden is irritating. I realize this is supposed to be progress, but intuitive it's NOT.

Although the ribbon took awhile to get used to, especially for someone like me who was/is used to using the keyboard shortcuts, overall I do like it. I don't think it's the design of it so much as the fact that Microsoft rethought where everything was placed. In the old pull-down menu system, it seemed like it started logical and then some things ended up wherever there was room when Microsoft remembered it at the end of design. The ribbon system is much more logical overall so it's much easier to teach people who aren't power users but still need to get around the programs efficiently.

The only thing I miss is the ability to get to even the most hidden features with keyboard shortcuts. Sure, in 2007, we can still use the ones from 2000 and earlier, but how long will that last? For someone who uses these programs day in and day out for hours on end, it would be nice to give us an alternative to mousing to the expansion arrows in a block or remembering an old bygone era in Office. Maybe in Office 2010.

I love Office 2007's ribbon. We used it in a desktop project we did. I had to really push for it, but our clients have never said they didn't like it, and we were rewarded with a product that still looks current, years later. I have asked other vendors when their software is switching to the ribbon. It is superior. People just don't like change.

I've got Mac Office 2004 (or whatever) at home, Windows Office 2007 with the ribbon at work. I've been struggling with the ribbon for months. In some instances, it's OK. Other times, it just gets in the way -- with locating capabilities as well as execution. Some ribbon operations take more key strokes/mouse movement to achieve the same result. And I still don't know why Microsoft insists on childish icons.

It was a tough transition, but I can't go back to not using the ribbon. I don't even know if I know how to (or even want to) use PowerPoint 2003 anymore. Long live the ribbon.

I've gotten more or less used to it, but I see no gain over the old menu system. In fact, it has the negative of using more space.

Icons by themselves do NOT make anything easier. You still need to learn what each icon means. Personally, I find words easier to comprehend. I believe icons were used on street signs to avoid the need for listing multiple words in different languages. Is this Microsoft's intent -- to save money on language versioning at customers' expense? Or was the ribbon interface simply a me-too idea in search of a use?

I, too, have gotten used to the MS Office ribbon and I find it just as easy to use as the old menu system. However, what I hate about it is the amount of room it takes up, and the inability to move it the way you used to be able to move the button bars (if there is a way, someone please let me know how). With wide-screen monitors having becoming standard, I find there just isn't enough vertical space on the screen these days, and the ribbon just takes up so much more.

It is my humble opinion that the much-touted ribbon is the biggest waste of time since the cavemen discovered that they need to come in out of the rain. Has anyone at MS ever contacted the worldwide software development community to find out if the effort to provide this useless piece of junk is worth the development effort? I'll bet that any software development company that has created deliverable items of software has had many non-complimentary comments on the subject. This piece of unnecessary software has caused us many hours of development time to try to hide, and only eats up valuable desktop and/or screen real estate.

Doug recently asked for for your thoughts on mobile phones. Here are a few of your responses:

I've had a mobile phone since 1990. It was good to have a mobile phone back then, but that's all it was, a phone. In 1990, since I was one of the few with a phone, it was a novelty, but good for business. Now 7-year-olds have cell phones.

I finally an iPhone last year (my wife thought I should be a bit more current, since I am a technology consultant). Well, it's pretty handy. I have total access to the world -- news, e-mail, Web, etc. -- in one well-designed package. And it easily synchs with my Outlook contacts, so it's easy, real easy, to have my Rolodex with me at all times. But I have no desire to run Office apps on a tiny phone -- that's what a computer is for.

My phone, until very recently, was a Nokia 6610. It's a lovely basic phone, with acceptable WAP browser and just enough of a J2ME environment to be able to install and run Opera Mini (the lo-fi version), which is a minor miracle of software. Used it all over the world with the 'unlimited data worldwide' component of my price plan.

A few months ago, I replaced that with a Motorola SLVR L2 that I found in a recycle bin. It was SIM-locked to Cingular, but had a good battery and charger. Cingular kindly set me up with SIM unlock code for it. I added another Web profile to it for T-Mobile browsing, and found that the J2ME environment allowed the latest Opera Mini hi-fi version to install. That combination has been even better than the 6610 -- I was even able to tether it for use as cellular data modem while abroad recently. Sure, no games, no music, no videos, no e-books, no camera, no MS or Adobe apps. But this is a phone, after all, not an iPod or a mobile office. And the display sure knocks the stuffing out of the older Nokia's display.

I have some thoughts about the whole mobile world. First, the little screen just kills me; basically, the only use for a phone is alarm clock and, well making calls. The whole apps idea really does not make me happy. Everywhere I go, I have access to a real computer, anyway, and the few times where a phone would be nice (like on an airplane), I can't use it, so no point. I read e-mails on my phone but responses go something like, 'I read your e-mail. As soon as I get a computer, I'll help you.' And games on a phone is just bad all over -- a little screen with horrible sound.

But besides all those problems, I have tried a few systems. My first phone was a Windows Mobile 5.0, which I upgraded to 6 as soon as I could. Then the iPhone got big, with the developer program. I tried it out a couple of times, and I like the interface, but the system behind it did not make in my top 10 list. The apps had no appeal; everything and more, I could get on my Mobile 6. Then BlackBerry came with out the wonderful Storm that had a screen that clicked, and my wife was amazed by it, so I gave up my Mobile 6 to get a awesome deal at Verizon. Turned out not to be so great: The screen click is horrible, the worst thing I have ever seen. The only good thing about it is the e-mail.

More ribbon rants and raves coming Friday! Meanwhile, tell us what you think -- write a comment below or send an e-mail to [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/24/2010 at 1:17 PM


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