Ribbon UI

I had a couple of ribbon UI experiences over the weekend.
neither involved computers or Excel directly, which is probably appropriate for a bank holiday weekend.

We got some Cadburys creme eggs for Easter, anyway it turns out I’m the only one that likes them, result! Initially they were on the table with the kids eggs, then my wife ‘put them away’. Later on I went looking for them, not on the table, not in the chocolate box, not in any of the usual hiding places. Eventually I found them – in the egg basket with the real eggs! Now I’m not saying thats wrong, but it certainly reminded me of the frustration of trying to find commands in Excel 2007. It may be a valid classification or grouping, and logical to some people (word/outlook clickers!), but to others it makes no sense at all.

In the other ribbon story we visited my parents over the weekend. From what I understand my Dad is exactly the type of user the ribbon is aimed at. His opening comments? ‘Thanks for suggesting OpenOffice, its superb, does everything I need. Does anyone seriously need Excel?’

My thoughts exactly, The ribbon is aimed at a bunch of users who are more than happy with a free office suite from the cover of a magazine. Thats going to be a tough sell, even if a trial version of MS Office is on their new PC. Sadly in targeting these novice level users, the ribbon alienates Microsofts most loyal users, the power users that have taken the time and invested the effort to learn the 97-2003 interface. And of course there are plenty of people who need specific Excel features not found in other spreadsheets, the biggest one I suggest is VBA, which is not getting the attention it deserves (/requires!)  in my opinion.

Oh and I haven’t finished the creme eggs yet. I hope you are having a good break if you are having one.

8 Responses to “Ribbon UI”

  1. Harlan Grove Says:

    VBA is not a wonderful programming language. I’d prefer Ruby or R. The VBE *IS* a very good IDE, but how many MSO users use it? How often would your Dad use it?

    Inertia keeps most MSO buyers buying MSO. [Tangent: I can’t figure out why anyone buys MSFT Works. OpenOffice has it beat on price AND features. Maybe MSFT doesn’t actually charge OEMs anything for it.] VBA/VBE is a very useful part of MSO for those who want to use it, but how tiny a fraction of the MSO user base would that be?

    When it comes to locking in customers (and separating them from their money) few companies can equal MSFT. If they believe the ribbon UI will be more effective at locking in their customers than VBA/VBE (I know I’m making this premise up myself), they know what they’re doing.

    Maybe the next version will change things, but since there’s no way to hide the ribbon completely in MSO 2007 using VBA, as it was possible to hide all menus and toolbars in MSO 97 through 2003, MSO 2007 isn’t able to serve as as general an application development platform as earlier versions. I’d infer from that that Microsoft doesn’t see that ability as broadly useful even to MSO developers. It seems MSFT is saying ‘You vill use der Ribbon, und you vill LIKE IT, Ja!’ If Mac MSO is losing VBA soon, how long will it last in Windows versions?

  2. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    I believe I read it at Patrick Schmids blog or site that only 3 % of those who use MS Office are developers and the remaining are end users. In view of this I decided to take a practical point of view on the subject.

    Hopefully MSFT can provide us with more flexible APIs for the Ribbon UI so that we can control it better then what we actually can do today.

    I fully agree that for many computer users OO should be the preferable office suite. The present IDE in Excel is from 1993 and compared with .NET’s IDE I go with the later.

    Kind regards,

  3. Simon Says:

    Harlan, if as you suggest MSO is not exactly a compelling purchase (and I can’t disagree), where does that leave little independent developers like me hanging onto MS coat tails? [Dangling dangerously I fear!]
    I intend a few posts around their strategy, as I think its fascinating.
    I don’t find VBA a thing of beauty either, but it gets the job done.

    Dennis, Oh yes I definitely prefer any version of Visual Studio over the VBAIDE. I mainly use VS6.0 and VS2003, I should probably look at 2005, I used RC1, but havent bothered since. I’m not even sure I have a valid copy.

  4. Roger Says:

    I am not a developer nor am I a programmer, but I have learned to create many macros that automate many complex (as well as many very simple) operations that has saved many man hours and man days worth of work at the companies for whom I have worked. I suspect that there are probably more XL users out there like me than there are developers and programmers that work with VBA like this every day. We use the built-in macro language very productively every day and I would hate it very much if MS eliminated the built-in macro capability and made macros possible only by purchasing an separate programming language.

  5. Marcus Says:

    Most of the Easter eggs in our house ‘disappear’. The boys get so many from various family members I’d have to buy shares in a dental practice to justify keeping them all. Also having previously worked in a chocolate factory which made Easter eggs, I can attest to their nutritional content.

    Other than reading a few articles I haven’t really looked at MSO 2007. When (if) demand starts to kick in, (in 12 to 18 months) then I’ll give it more attention.

    Contrary to others, I think VBA is a great language. No it’s not elegant or overly powerful but it is fit for purpose. How entrenched would MSO be if VBA was a ‘real’ programming language. How many accountants, engineers and other would be boffins would it deter? Not only is it fit for purpose, but it is simple enough to induce widespread usage – enough so that it would be a logistical nightmare for many corporates to even consider alternatives to MSO. Until a competitive product supports VBA line-for-line, MSO will stay well entrenched.

    It’s interesting getting Roger’s perspective. Would Roger fall into that 3% or would we need to broaden our definition of ‘developer’?

    Cheers – Marcus

  6. Simon Says:

    ‘fit for purpose’ – spot on!
    VB’s strength was always that non devs could pick it up be productive pretty quick. Yes it has an uppper limit, but it still adds massive business benefit overall.
    I’m not convinced any of the alternatives (.net/VSTO/VSTA) will be as easy to pick up. But VBA will be around for a while yet, and the longer there isn’t a compelling alternative, the more dependent orgs (and devs) will get on VBA, the more entrenched it will become and the longer its life will extend.
    we discused developer types ages ago and I don’t think we settled on a definition. Roger sounds like a dev to me.

  7. gobansaor Says:

    VBA has one other advantage over .net/VSTO/VSTA; the code cannot be hidden. This in effect turns the world of VBA macros into an enormous “open source” project. Need a working piece of code or an example to build on, no problem, there’s hundreds if not thousands of Excel-focused websites and blogs to search for a match.

    VBA will be around for a very long time; the removal of VBA support from the Mac seems more to do with the difficulty of maintaining two separate code bases see (http://www.schwieb.com/blog/2006/08/08/saying-goodbye-to-visual-basic/) rather than a strategic abandonment of VBA. In fact I guess the main reason was to make the Mac a less appealing platform to corporate types.

    Even in VBA’s “mature years” some new kids on the block continue to include it in their technology stack. Porto (http:www.protosw.com) a “mashup” add-on to Excel uses – what else – VBA as its macro language. I’ve just completed my first Proto VBA module by porting an old Excel VBA module see http://www.protosw.com/mods/lib/view/446. There’s life in the old dog yet.



  8. Harlan Grove Says:

    Re gobansaor, specifically the link to the article on VBA and Macs, one thing caught my eye in that article: ‘There is no other software on the Mac that also uses VB…’ Has it been Apple that’s prevented Microsoft from offering VB for Macs? Lack of widespread VB use would hardly seem to be a serious excuse.

    Anyway, I guess this means udfs are history for Macs. That’s something OpenOffice BASIC supports, though it only returns scalars.

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