Joe, you asked what I would have done.
I'll assume you meant what would I have done about reducing the number of requests for existing features and making Office more accessible to beginners, since those are the only two rationales for the Ribbon that have come up.
Regarding feature requests, I would have analyzed the requests for each feature to determine what prevented users from finding it. Then I would have tried to change each feature's concept and interface to reduce or remove the barriers.
That would be a lot of hard work, but it would be productive work. The Ribbon is not a productive change from this perspective.
Regarding new users... the first thing I'd do is find out whether there really are any new users to worry about. Twenty or even ten years ago there were, but I think that time has passed -- at least in the United States and most of the industrialized world. I think the number of people who do not use computers and will ever be willing and able to use them is now rather small.
(I'm excluding kids from this. Back in the day, kids learned to program 6502 computers in machine language. Kids can learn anything they want to.)
I recognize a relatively large class of people who have learned to use computers but just barely understand them. They will benefit the most from an improved interface. The catch is that they will also be confused the most by any type of change. To be productive, not counterproductive, changes directed at these users must be incremental; they must improve the interface that the users know, not replace it with one that is completely different.
So what I'd do for these users is essentially the same as what I'd do for people who wish they had features that already exist. I'd look for ways to improve the concepts that underlie the application's features, and the interface that overlays them, to make the application more intuitive and accessible. Again, there would be no single change that makes everything good. There would be an accumulation of incremental changes. Again, it would be a lot of hard work, and it wouldn't give the marketing wonks anything to crow about, but it would yield a program that is really easier to learn and use.
If I found that non-kid new users actually were a significant class, I might introduce something like the ribbon for them -- but I would view it as an improved set of training wheels. I would never, ever interfere with established users' use of the menu system. On the contrary, I'd look for ways to encourage Ribbon users to graduate to the menu system.
Note that by taking this approach I'd eliminate the need for the Ribbon to support all of the application's functions -- which would enable me to make it a lot simpler and easier for its real audience to use.
Last edited by jsachs177; 2012-03-05 at 19:13.
Thanks for the post. I LOATHE the ribbon. A lot. I use loads of modified toolbars in Word and Excel (about 150 in each of small 'straight' MS tools and customised macro-driven icons around the screen), and find that the ribbons slow me down immensely. The arbitrary way that 2007 tools were clustered did not match my thought patterns, so I spent inordinate amounts of time hunting for tools and functions, trying to remember what MS called the blasted things so I could find them in Help(less). I understand that 2010 has some toolbar customisability, but as I am still trying to amend my new PC which is currently not letting me actually have administrator access to allow me to load my software (another frustration story completely!), I can't yet comment on that. However, the way the ribbons are created is what I find inefficient: why can't I have the option to see all my regularly tools at once, as I once did - all 150 of them?
It's been around ever since Office 2007. Personally, not only do I like it but, I'm pleased as punch to see it in Windows8 in all Windows Explorer windows. It's there, expanded if & when needed. W/ Quick Bar personalized, ends up offering things @ one's fingertips & functions & navigating smooth. Myself, I've never experienced Ribbon specific glitches.
Why the new UI.
So, you'd introduce a new method to discover features in addition to the menus and toolbars? What would this new metaphor be? Adaptable menus? Microsoft has been there, tried that, got crucified for it. An agent to help with features? Oh, like Clippy et al - another beating for Microsoft. What about Task Panes? Another been there, tried that moment. It is not as though Microsoft has not made an effort to try various avenues to make product usage better. Making interface changes is NOT easy. It is very difficult and not undertaken lightly.
The user base for Office could not keep growing if there were not new users all the time. Are the numbers of new Office users the same as 10 - 20 years ago? Probably not. I don't know. I'm pretty sure Microsoft has an idea though. Since it appears that you disagree with Microsoft's analysis of the UI usability, changes required for each version, and all the other reasons stated in the Jensen Harris posts it is easy to say incremental change is easier for everyone. But the suggestion is "I'd change the feature's concept and interface". If you change the feature's concept is it the same feature? Have you added yet another new feature? What is the basic interface metaphor you propose? Would it be different for every feature?
Once again I'll say making UI changes is hard. Introducing even more usage metaphors would make the suite less usable than it was at the time.
Joe, I know you're engaging in this discussion in good faith, but it's very frustrating for me, because you clearly "don't get it."
No, I don't. I've already discussed this in general, although not in this particular context. I understand that Microsoft does a tremendous amount of research into usability for every innovation it introduces. I also know that this research produces results that are, in balance, worse than doing nothing. Just working with the products demonstrates that.You imply that Microsoft did not do any research into the reasons that features were not being discovered.
I don't know why Microsoft's large investment in usability research produces negative results. I can draw theories from the histories of other institutions that have done similar things, such as the American automotive industry. The reasons why it is so aren't really important here. It demonstrably is so.
It seems to me that Microsoft has assumed the role of Aristotle in this debate: if they said it, it must be true. Heavy objects fall faster than light ones, rotting meat creates flies by spontaneous generation, and the Ribbon is an improved user interface. The Authority always provides plenty of logical arguments that its supporters can cite to refute their opponents, and the contrary evidence is simply given no weight.
I'll add that to my round tuit list (which, I warn you, is already pretty long). However, a quick Google search shows that he is not, shall we say, an impartial observer. I'll have to consider what he says in light of that.If you've never read the blog posts by Jensen Harris about the Ribbon I'd urge you to read them. Links can be found at Why the new UI.
No, that's exactly what I would not do. The last thing the computing world needs is more feature discovery methods to learn. It needs features that are easier to discover.So, you'd introduce a new method to discover features in addition to the menus and toolbars?
The answer to that question is really the same as the answer to the previous one, but stating it in more than one context may make it clearer. The basic interface metaphor I propose is WIMP (although I think it's more a paradigm than a metaphor). Changing the paradigm is the last thing I want to do.What is the basic interface metaphor you propose? Would it be different for every feature?
WIMP has worked well for about thirty years. There are good reasons for that. Don't change what ain't broken.
I'll entertain a better paradigm for generalized computer interaction when one is proposed, but so far it ain't been. The Ribbon doesn't even come close enough to make fun of, except for the fact that the 800 pound gorilla of the computing world is trying to force it on us.
Last edited by jsachs177; 2012-03-08 at 12:17.
These don't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive options. Microsoft could make a lot more users happy if they offered a choice of menu and ribbon.
Reflections on our first conversation by Steven Sinofsky. As with Jensen Harris, he is hardly unbiased. But that does make what he saying about satisfaction and usability wrong. BTW, Jensen Harris was on the Ribbon design team in Office and now works in the Windows division. I'd not expect his posts to be unbiased. Nor would I expect a post by any designer or programmer to be unbiased about their product.
I fully expect that you'll dismiss what Sinofsky has to say in the fourth paragraph about user satisfaction and product usability.
Gentlemen, I think it's time to dial it back a notch or two. I believe we know what both of you think of the ribbon. As Joe mentioned earlier, Office 2010 is most likely the latest version of an ever changing product that will continue to evolve as continued feedback is received by MS on this product. Perhaps in a future version there will be options to use either the ribbon UI or a menu driven UI. In any case there are 3rd party alternatives that can be added that allow a menu driven alternative now. Perhaps those that truly hate the ribbon should really be looking at those alternatives.
My perception is that Microsoft has taken the route of listening far too much to novice users, and in some way sort of emulating the Mac' user experience. This has clearly alienated the power/long time users who feel insulted by this approach. As John259 stated, "Microsoft could make a lot more users happy if they offered a choice of menu and ribbon". I still use Office 97 on XP, and to keep up to date, Libre Office on Kubuntu (dual boot system - i7-2600K CPU). So my choice of not using the ribbon is to stay away completely.
I think it's pretty obvious from the poll that the majority of the people who read this forum are those power users we have heard from in the discussion. I also noticed many of the respondants have very few posts. I would hope the discussions here would cause them to think about adding more to these forums, not only in the Office Applications Forum but in other areas. We can always use more informed opinions and assistance in solving these sometimes very complex problems as they come up. Thank you all once again for taking time in your busy days to respond. Please come again, and often!.
Ted, I think this is a useful discussion, and I don't see any problem with continuing it as long as we remain respectful of each other.
Joe, I do not claim that the Ribbon is terrible. I maintain that the Ribbon is useful (although not necessarily optimal) for certain classes of users (whom I believe are a relative minority, but that's another issue). Nor do I claim that anyone who disagrees with me does not "get it". I observed that you do not "get it," not because you don't share my opinion of the Ribbon, but because you have misinterpreted my reasons for believing as I do.
I read the Sinofsky piece. I didn't come away with any strong opinion about it; he didn't seem to be stating anything in particular for me to agree or disagree with. However, I was struck by the following statement at the end of the section:
I was struck not by what he said about the topic, but by the very fact that he mentioned the topic as a matter of concern. It made me realize that a lot of Microsoft's UI engineering is not about usability at all, but about aesthetics. One of their goals is to improve their products' functionality and usability, but another is to add sizzle, generate excitement, and persuade people to buy the New Thing whether it's really better or not. Inevitably, the two goals get confused in their minds, and even more in what they write for external consumption.We’ve been looking at this [feedback on the color palette of the Metro UI]... We actually added intensity and pixels... because of feedback we received... We’ll continue to look at this area of course, but want to avoid “churn” at a stylistic level because so many third-party products tend to mimic the Windows experience without utilizing the built-in metrics and system settings to obtain the palette (so things can look awkwardly different).
I'm not saying this cynically... at least not entirely. I understand that Microsoft is as much a marketing company as a technology company, and given the realities of the market it's in, it has to be. It must do a certain amount of sizzle making to succeed in the marketplace. But I also recognize that what helps Microsoft succeed does not necessarily help anyone do their work.
I also understand that to whatever extent a given innovation is motivated by a desire to make a product look cool, the debate about whether it improves or degrades usability is off point, on both sides of the issue.
I'm not sure where this is going to lead us. Perhaps we'll develop a whole new class of software to make Microsoft's products usable, as we once developed anti-virus software to make them safe. Or, perhaps we'll move toward a world where advanced users "graduate" to Linux and Open Office as a matter of course.
Personally, I won't be ready to do that until Open Office and the Linux application world in general become somewhat more mature. I hope I can hang on with Windows, if things go that way, until they do.
How is this a useful discussion then? I am genuinely curious as you seem to have denigrated anything that might resemble empirical discussion, as being biased, without an alternative that I can see.
Microsoft MVP - Excel.
I won't partake of the argument, thanx, just the same but, I'll pass.
I've always wondered why a few ppl hate Ribbon. Never have been able to reckon what is sposed to be bad (about it).
Oh, well, no worries... back to your argument/arguing, have fun w/ that.