Why We Can Do Better than the Ribbon

There’s a bunch of people who like the Ribbon. And there’s a bunch of people who don’t like it and either keep using Office 2003 (or earlier), use alternatives like OOo and LibO, or crankily use one of the ribboned versions of Office.

I actually think the change from Office 2003 to Office 2007 was a positive one. Here’s why:

  • The organization finally makes some sense, and a user can now easily find his favorite commands.
  • It is the one central place to find everything.
  • It brings more functionality.
  • It has some big buttons that are easy to hit with a mouse cursor.
  • It looks good.

None of these things really require a Ribbon. This can all be accomplished with our classic menus and toolbars.

Here is where the Ribbon fails:

  • It’s not very scalable.
  • It’s horizontal, so it’s unintuitive to scroll through and move through.
  • It takes up a lot of valuable screen estate (vertical space is more valuable than horizontal; sidebars would have been better).
  • It’s browsed by icons, not by text.
  • For acceptable scalability, each icon has to have several sizes.
  • There’s an ambiguous “Home” category and “Quick Access” toolbar, which include various commonly used commands.

I’m convinced we can find a better UI than the Ribbon. I don’t think maintaining several different UIs for LibO is a good idea (that’ll just bloat LibO and take up development time) and I don’t think adopting the Ribbon is a good idea either, even if MS’s Ribbon patent gets rejected.

It seems that OOo is going to have both the Ribbon and the old interface (which I think is a horrible idea), and I’m hoping LibO will go another way.

I’d like to hear some comments on this from the LibO leaders: Does LibO plan to work on their own UI if OOo gets the Ribbon?

I’m also looking forward to some UI proposals from others: some people on the mailing list said that they were already working on them. There’s a good chance that the future LibO UI will beat anything MS has. 🙂


2 thoughts on “Why We Can Do Better than the Ribbon

  1. I think that support for user-themes is the best way to go. Having the UI hard-coded means that choice for the UI is limited. People’s expectation for a document writer vary largely: a primary school student may not really need a very complex interface and may do with a “simple theme” rather than an UI with support for custom styles. On the other hand, the styles controls are much more valuable for academics that have to deal with strict styling rules for publication.

    But, of course, if we’re talking about “what should be our default UI?”, I think that going torwards what you’re building there is a very, very good idea.

  2. Please no. The Microsoft Office Ribbon is one of the worse things they’ve done. It makes no sense, and it destroys people knowledge of the software – yes, I’ve heard many that do not like it simply b/c they can no longer find things. It was a terrible mistake by Microsoft and one that the rest of the world should learn not to repeat.

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