Napoleon Bonaparte is reputed to have said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Judging from scuttlebutt on the web, Office users have been struggling long and hard to cope with a new colored ribbon.
Author Robert Benchley once said, “The biggest obstacle to professional writing is the necessity for changing a typewriter ribbon.” The modern equivalent may be that the biggest obstacle to professional work in Office 2007 is an arbitrarily changing ribbon.
Simon Murphy has hosted a week’s worth of commentary about the Office UI Ribbon, aka the Office Fluent Interface. This last has been modified to Effluent Interface by its biggest “fans”. Simon uses the phrase frequently, and so do several of his readers, but I think I may have actually coined the term in a comment on Simon’s blog.
Simon has pulled no punches about this glaring new interface, and he attracts substantial commentary supporting and expanding on his views. Simon’s readers do not consist of ordinary crybabies; they include the most experienced and advanced Excel users on the planet, and these experts have opinions which should be heard. Simon’s topics over the past week include:
- Ribbon lovers week
- Excel 2007 ate my work
- Ribbon Will it – won’t it control thingy
- Ribbon tab based litter
- Ribbon screen stealer
- Ribbon Style Princess
- The ribbon file blunderfest
Jimmy Pena covered the ribbon in his blog recently, in a post bemoaning the fact that Microsoft has had to release add-ins to help users find where their favorite 2003 commands have been hidden in 2007:
I’ve covered the ribbon in a few of my own blog entries:
- A Belated Review of Excel 2007
- Changes to Charting in Excel 2007
- What happened to my favorite Excel 2003 Chart feature?
I don’t totally hate the ribbon, in fact. It’s relatively easy to work with as a designer. The XML is relatively straightforward, and there’s a tremendous resource for dealing with the Office 2007 ribbon interface, RibbonX: Customizing the Office 2007 Ribbon, by Robert Martin, Ken Puls, and Teresa Hennig. It’s the book I use most often lately. It would be easier to work with custom ribbon layouts if you didn’t have to close the workbook containing the XML code to edit it, and if the editing tools were more fluid in their behavior. But you can in fact interface the ribbon with VBA, with a little effort.
As a user, however, I think the ribbon is a mistake. The ribbon has morphed into a variable toolbar with large, sparsely positioned buttons. Too few controls are available at a time, and too many are hidden arbitrarily, by the Microsoft philosophy that “These are the controls we know you need for what we know you want to do now”. There is no built-in way for the user to customize the ribbon and show the controls the user knows he wants for what he is actually doing, though third-party developers have tried to fill this gap. And the ribbon isn’t even the most frustrating part of the new interface. Many new dialogs have become awkward and unwieldy, requiring the work of one Excel 2003 dialog tab to be spread over two or more (in one case SIX!!) dialog tabs.