Microsoft Office Ribbon Analysis
Introduction to the Office Ribbon - Jan 2007
Microsoft have completely changed the user interface in Office 2007. The new
user interface is called the ‘Ribbon’, and it replaces all the menus and
toolbars in previous versions of Office.
I myself haven't yet tried the new ribbon, but large numbers of beta users have
already provided lots of feedback, and, reading the press, I get the impression
it's generally neutral to positive.
An example of a very positive review is below:
My experience has been that Word went from being frustrating and confusing to
fairly straightforward to use. PowerPoint went, in a single upgrade, from being
the worst widely-available presentation software to being the best.
Here is a more mixed review:
Even though the many aspects of the Ribbon present a significant change for
experienced Office users, the advantages of the new user interface far outweigh
the retraining this new feature will entail. I was initially very skeptical
about this, but the Ribbon offers so many visual cues and smart feature
improvements that I think experienced Office users will not have much difficulty
adapting to it. ...But... Why couldn’t Microsoft leave at least a semblance of
the old menu system in Office 2007 to help people who have extensive
classic-menu muscle memory? ... It seems to me that Microsoft may have drunk its
own Kool-Aid a bit too much when it decided to drop entirely the "legacy"
classic menu system. It might have been better to make that an option that some
of us could turn back on...
With no option to revert to 'classic menus' Microsoft are gambling on users
quickly learning to love the new menu system. If users were to react to the Office
2007 Ribbon in the same way as they did to the now dead Office Assistant,
Microsoft would find itself in a very hot water.
Kingsley Joseph writes:
Short and sweet, the Ribbon and new UI in Microsoft Office 2007 is the ballsiest
new feature in the history of computer software... To clarify the point:
Microsoft Office is a bigger business than most of us probably realize. Office
generated $11.5 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2005, and it'll exceed that
in the current calendar year. But conservatively, you're talking about a billion
dollars a month.
Now, most of us who like to prognosticate and pontificate about software like to
say things like "It'd be easy to just..." or "It's trivial to add..." but the
thing is, most of us aren't betting our entire careers on the little tweaks and
changes we'd like to make to our productivity applications. Try making a mistake
that jeopardizes a business that makes $250 million a week...
Companies as large as Microsoft don't take bet-the-company style risks. What's
more, the market for third-party applications on top of Office is bigger than
most stand-alone software companies. There's a real risk of jeopardizing those
line-of-business customizations that most large organizations use alongside
Is Microsoft right to be taking this kind of risk? Hold on, there is another
By making the Office 2007 significantly different from Office XP upgrade sales
should be much higher. It’s harder and harder to add useful new features to
Word, so concentrating on user friendliness and aesthetic design makes a lot of
sense. Instead of being just another upgrade, there is now an enormous
difference between the old and new versions.
"One of the biggest challenges... is to fight that perception that old versions
of software are good enough... Our business model of course allows you to keep
using Office 2003 - the software doesn't really expire, " said Chris Capossela,
corporate vice president of the Microsoft Business Division.
In addition to the upgrade benefits, after having the market all to itself for
many years Microsoft is now facing real competition for the first time. No one
can compete with Microsoft by building better desktop applications, so now
competitors give away ‘good enough’ versions for free. Sun Microsystems turned
it’s unsuccessful Star Office into the free Open Office, and maintains it with a
100 strong team of paid software engineers and a number of volunteer programmers
(today Office runs at about 400m users worldwide and Open Office is said to have
perhaps as many as 40m users).
Microsoft are allowing other vendors to use the Ribbon for free subject to a
no-compete with Office clause….
The [Ribbon] license is available for applications on any platform, except for
applications that compete directly with the five Office applications that
currently have the new UI (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and
The golden scenario Microsoft will be hoping for is to see widespread adoption
of new menu systems in other applications. By enormously increasing the
complexity of windows GUIs it will be harder for open source to remain ‘good
enough’ to compete with commercial software.
In summary, the radical new Ribbon GUI is not just about improving Office 2007
usability. It's also about giving users a reason to upgrade and differentiating
their product from similar looking competitors.
The ultra-cynical will say that the new interface is actually worse, that
Microsoft's top scientific brains on the Office team fought against the bozos in
the marketing department who wanted the ribbon to drive sales, and the
management sided with marketing wickedly inflicting an injustice on their
customers in a state of full consciousness for the sake of profit.
The realists might say that the influential people at Microsoft are marketing
manager types rather than scientists, and somebody did some blue sky
research which horrified the power users crowd but which was loved by the geeky
dollar signs in their eyes managers, and the managers ignored the objections of
the scientists not because they are consciously wicked but rather just ignorant.
The optimists will say Microsoft’s interface R&D has paid off with an innovative
and exciting new GUI, and Microsoft is bravely and boldly backing it, and there
is no conflict between truth/justice/science and profit.
If the Ribbon fails it very much calls into question Microsoft’s judgment.
Feedback looks OK but Microsoft’s GUI innovation record is littered with failed
attempts to jazz up and dump down their products. For example, Office Assistant
was a flop, Adaptive Menus, Web Folders and file extension hiding were all bad
ideas, and experienced users immediately disable them.
The success or failure of the new Office 2007 Ribbon will have a large and long
term impact on moral, image and revenue at Microsoft. Investors in Microsoft
should be on tender hooks…
PS What's the worst case? Suppose the ultra-cynical are right and a lot of users
hate the product and start complaining that all Microsoft are doing is messing
about making everyone's life worse to boost their sales. The world is a pretty
immoral place, and modern regulators are pretty clueless, but what we are
talking about in this scenario is, speaking as a philosopher who cares about
ethics, an enormous abuse of a monopoly position which any wise statesman would
want to address, not to mention the damage it would do to the American economy
given the vital importance of the PC industry. In other words, the worst
possible case is something like thermo nuclear war on Microsoft by regulators
who want to reform capitalism and keep the US economy healthy. It would be much
bigger than simply forcing Microsoft to give users a way to change browsers
easily, what we are saying is that this company is not fit and proper to run a
monopoly, and can not be allowed to control the design of its own products.
My Ribbon Review - Apr 2007
Microsoft articles about the Office 2007 Ribbon
My first shock came looking for the new edit, replace menu in Excel – I couldn’t
actually find it and was forced to search for it on the internet! By changing all the menu titles and menu contents, the Ribbon
renders all those years of experience with Windows Applications and Office
Applications somewhat useless. If this was shareware I would uninstall
immediately, but coming as it did from Microsoft, I persevered.
The Ribbon also lays menu items out by popularity rather than by logical
connection. For example, I read a Microsoft article about watermarks in Word
saying that research shows it is a feature people love when they discover it,
but which they rarely know exists. So the developers gave it a prominent place
in the new Ribbon, whereas with the old logical menu structure they were limited
to put it in the format, then background, then watermark submenu. So
accidentally finding watermarks is now easier than before, but I found
deliberately finding the edit replace menu is that much harder! (but this watermark
talk sounds like kool-aid to me. how many people really need watermarks? do they
mean people enjoyed playing with it or actually using it? there is a huge
difference between making products fun and making products work)
In fact the edit replace menu now appears on the far right of the ‘home’ menu,
after the font name, size, color, alignment etc options. Clearly edit, replace
is popular, hence it’s place on the first home menu - but for the majority, it’s
less popular than changing font styles in Excel - hence it’s place on the far
right of the home menu.
Here is a screen shot of the new edit, replace menu in the Excel 2007
This philosophy of organizing menus by popularity instead of by logical
connection may appeal to novice users, but it aggravates me as a power user. It
reminds me of the Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer 7 menus which seem
designed to look good and do a few things easily, but actually end up making
life much harder for the power user. For me placing edit, replace to the very
far right after the font styles is also aggravating. As a financial model
builder I don’t think I have ever changed the typeface, but I use edit replace
all the time. I also immediately disliked the way precious screen space on the
eye catching far left is taken up with Cut & Paste icons. Novice users may like
this but power users know it’s much faster to press Ctrl-C and Ctrl-X and will
probably never ever click these buttons. Superfluous sub menu items you never
use, such as copy & paste in the edit menu, aren't in the slightest bit
aggravating; but pointless ribbon items staring you in the face all day long
gobbling up your screen space are extremely annoying.
The size of the Ribbon and the Excel 2007 fonts in general also annoys me. I have four
1600x1200 monitors on my desk at work but screen space is still very precious to
me. Unlike previous version of Office it’s now impossible to run Excel in a
small window – first the ribbon starts compressing menu items, and then it
After a few weeks I abandoned Excel 2007 and the Ribbon. As a power user totally
in touch with my product the only way the new Ribbon can really make me more
productive is to reduce the number of clicks and mouse movements it takes for me
to select the feature I want. The ribbon doesn’t do this at all – it increases
clicks and mouse moves but supposedly makes it easier to discover new things.
That, in a nutshell, is its raison d'être.
Even if, as claimed, the Ribbon brings productivity improvements to the novice
user, I believe that this comes at the expense of the power user. Microsoft’s
claims that the Ribbon will allow them to pack in more features without
overwhelming the user looks extremely dubious to me – I think highly logical
multi level menus offer much greater scope for complexity.
Annoying the power user is dangerous because although they represent only a
small market share, the endorsement of the power user contributes to sales
further down the line. For example, by maintaining its reputation as the
ultimate photo editor used by all professionals, Adobe Photoshop picks up sales
from less sophisticated users who would be in truth better served by a cheaper
and easier to use package. Also the power users are the ones most likely to lead
any move Open Source, which is the greatest threat to Office.
Finally, a small point, but changing the file format at the same time as
introducing the ribbon makes it only harder for corporates to make a gradual
transition to the controversial Ribbon. Office 2007 feels generally rushed and
lacking attention to detail. Only after the support forums were inundated with
help requests did Microsoft release various Ribbon learning tools and better
help files - a mistake that smacks of either enormous incompetence or arrogance.
Office 2007 Sales Are Nothing Short of Spectacular - Jan 2008
For now, Office 2007 sales are nothing short of spectacular.... For the first 10
full months in the market, Office 2007 had a 137.4 percent increase in unit
volume and a 118 percent increase in dollar volume compared to Office 2003...
Office 2007's success is much bigger than retail. According to a CDW study
published this week, by early November, 24 percent of enterprises had already
deployed Office 2007.
So far it's a storming success - much to my surprise! Yet the sale price has
been drastically cut for home users. Also in the longer term upgrade sales are
less important than the number of people switching to Open Office. It would be
interesting to know if Open Office market share is increasing - especially in
education, government and business. In other words, behind these great sales how
many ribbon hating customers have permanently abandoned Office? Also, how are
corporate upgrades compared to non commercial sales?
Negative Customer Feedback - Jul 2009
Taking a look at Amazon.com here is the feedback on Office 2007 Pro
two and a half years after release:
The three most popular reviews begin:
It is said that Microsoft have begun to fight back against negative reviews by
getting MVPs to plant positive reviews.
At ExcelUser I found this:
All hugely negative stuff.
The only major product to have adopted the Ribbon is AutoDesk's AutoCad. AudoCad
users have the option of switching the Ribbon off and reverting to a classic
mode with menus. AutoDesk's CIP statistics collected anonymously from customers
who allow usage data to be sent to be sent back to the software vendor show that
approximately 50% of customers do turn their Ribbon off. In addition AutoCad's
forums show overwhelming negative feedback toward the Ribbon interface.
All in all it looks as if Microsoft have made a mistake of shocking proportions.
Pimped Up GUI - Oct 2007
At one time Winamp was a popular shareware media player, and many users enjoyed
'pimping up' Winamp with fancy looking 'skins'. In truth these skins only made
the product harder to use, but people enjoyed them, and a media player is such a
simple program it hardly mattered anyway. After loosing a little market share
Microsoft began rebuilding its media player and incorporating these ideas.
Today, supposedly sexy looking but impossible to use GUI design is widespread,
perhaps the worst example I have seen is the unusable and downmarket Motorola
Motorola Phone Tools- a 'Pimped Up' but impossible to use GUI
IE7 - Where are the menus? Is it really easy to use, or just "prettier"?
Vista Photo Gallery - Notice the excessive waste of vertical space caused by the
two command bars. This photo does not show it, but often times an ugly 'Make a
Video' button appears when you view photos.
I believe Microsoft is making a huge mistake embracing these new fangled
designs. Making the Office Interface a little slicker and better looking will
help sales, but it must not be allowed to jeopardise the entire product, doing
so turns Microsoft from a benevolent monopolist into a tyranny, with appalling
long term consequences not just for the soul of the company but for its long
term commercial viability because hubris inevitably turns to nemesis. Serious
software for serous corporate users requires a serious, familiar, powerful and
logical interface. Once Microsoft GUI design was unbeatable, today they are
increasingly producing flashy dumbed down designs which ultimately fail both to
be easy to be use and to be stylish. Childish geeky self interest instead of rational businesslike focus has ruined a once great company. With no
obvious competitor Microsoft's irresponsibility has inflicted a bitter legacy on
the world. How can Microsoft turn around? They need a new management culture -
think elite British intellectual and passionate German craftsman and detached
Japanese scientist - not American sales and marketing.