Ribbon UI and impartiality

Hopefully most of you know I am not a fan of the Excel 2007 User Interface. There are plenty of people like me that think its a bit of a disaster. Not just the way it works (or doesn’t), but also the lack of a way for us to leverage our knowledge of previous version UIs. I also see the ribbon as a potential barrier to adoption by clients, so learning it doesn’t represent a good investment of my time and effort from a business POV. I think E2007 has some great features, completely ruined by the Ribbon.

Of course there are also plenty of people who like the new UI, and think it is a genuine improvement. I could suggest a relationship whereby the deeper your knowledge of the product, the more you will dislike the Ribbon. But I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions so I won’t push that theory.

I sort of wonder if I should be impartial like a journalist is meant to be, or because I’m not a journalist, I’m just some bloke with a blog, whether I can be as opinionated as I like (and accept to consequences in the comments!). What do you think?

Should I give it both barrels or pretend to be professional and balanced?

Of course a key aspect of the journalistic reviews is that they focus on Word because thats what they work in. I have yet to see a proper impartial review of Excel 2007 from someone who earns a living using Excel. Anyone got any links?
One point I would like to make though is this:

Nothing anyone says or writes anywhere is ever likely to convince me the current ribbon will improve my user experience with Excel. I have used it and it was my worst computing experience ever, and I have had some pretty bad computing experiences. I totally accept that for other people it may work well. I suspect for them, nothing I write will convinve them its pants. So maybe we should call a truce?

I really believed we would get a compatibility option (like there still is for Lotus 123 FFS) either at release or at SP1. I thought MS would say ok we think the ribbon is better but to help our customers migrate we’ve brought back the classic UI as an option. They could have done it quietly to not lose face, or with much ‘listening to our customers’ fanfare as a great marketing tool.

I now realise the ribbon is here to stay, MS won’t introduce a classic option. This is what finally convinced me:

Forrester research

I’m quite sceptical on the research because I havent read the real thing. I still don’t think the ribbon is a net gain, but I now realise that someone at MS truly does believe it to be a step forward for everyone. Just like they can’t convince me, I’m pretty certain I can’t convince them.

I have another post about one particular downside to this situation. But in the meantime, its no great issue as I have no Excel2007 clients or potential clients. Anyone else got much 2007 work on?




13 Responses to “Ribbon UI and impartiality”

  1. Marcus Says:

    “Forrester found that it usually takes about two weeks for average users to feel comfortable enough with Office 2007 to acquire the same amount of productivity they had had with Office 2003…”

    Hold on a minute. A typical user has to invest a fortnight simply to gain the ‘same’ productivity levels. Shouldn’t there be a productivity increase? Where’s the ROI?

    I’ve not played with MSO 2007 at all and have yet to hear the slightest whimper for potential work. A bank I’m working at now has a blend of MSO 200 and 2003. I’d give it at least 24 months before (if) a 2007 migration occurs.

    Regards – Marcus

  2. Simon Says:

    Imagine trying to find a spare 2 weeks to get up to speed in between the business as normal fire fighting. Evenings and weekends?

  3. MikeC Says:

    I like the presentation of the article:

    “The Office 2007 reports were much less mixed; they found that, for example, more than 75 percent of information workers and more than 70 percent of IT decision makers variously found Office 2007 is easy to learn, allows people to work more efficiently and more effectively, makes it easier to create high-quality documents, and generally has an improved look and feel.

    Advanced users were more likely to strongly agree with positive statements about Office 2007. About 60 percent of respondents said Office 2007 has made them more productive than Office 2003.”

    “75% of data entry clerks like it because it’s tailored for low-level expertise and makes life easier for them. 70% of management who never do anything with it but read reports like it because it looks prettier. 60% of advanced users like it because, well, they just do, apparently. Note that we’re deciding what an advanced user is here, I reckon someone who knows what a SUM formula does must qualify… But dammit, regardless of how we skew these figures, we can’t get them to say that more advanced users prefer it than newbies. Well, hopefully nobody will notice.”

    I especially like the follow-up part to Marcus’ quote: “IT decision makers estimate that it takes less than that”.
    Of course they do. They don’t have to do it themselves, so, hell, a day to learn a new system is generous…

    I tried with Office 2007. I really did. But every time I load up 2k/2k3 again, it’s like coming home to a long-lost lover.
    (Without the kisses, though. Unless I’ve been fighting with 2k7 for more than a day, in which case I think kisses are perfectly justified…)

    Good weekend folks,

  4. Jon Peltier Says:

    Impartiality? What’s the relevance of that? Aren’t all software debates akin to religious battles?

  5. Biggus Dickus Says:


    It does seem odd that there is stil 1-2-3 Menu compatibility but not Excel 2003 compatibility. Understandable but amusing really.

    I do not think MS is going to give up on their Ribbon so I feel I have to work with it. I AM doing work in E 2007 and so far it is ok to work in (not great, not bad, just acceptable – just another interface to me) BUT I haven’t done any UI stuff. I think in the end my UI customization for ’07 will consist of getting rid of everything and relying on Command Buttons on the document for management. Actually that would suit me just fine… We’ll see.

    I am supposed to be on vacation (in the mountains of Britich Columbia) so haven’t been blogging lately. When I get home I hope to get the SP1 of ’07 installed to see what the changes are. But frankly I’m probably still under NDA (as would be anyone using it) so tough luck – I won’t be able to say anything about it anyway ;-) ….


  6. Simon Says:

    Dick re NDA
    Have you seen that scene in the station in Oceans 12 where Brad Pitt says
    ‘look, its not in my nature to be mysterious, but I can’t tell you that, and I can’t tell you why’? Always makes me smile.

  7. Harlan Grove Says:

    I accept the Forrester research’s *OFFICE* acceptance figures, though it’s NECESSARY to note that Office is MORE THAN just Excel and Access. I’d be willing to stipulate that fewer than 25% of Office users are proficient at using Excel, and that fewer than 10% of Office users know how to build robust applications in Excel that other people besides themselves could use. I have no trouble whatsoever accepting that people who spend hours each day using Outlook and PowerPoint and minutes each week using Excel (when they can’t avoid it) may very well find the ribbon to be a more ‘productive’ UI for the programs they mostly use. If the bulk of one’s job is selecting just the right type of shimmering, undulating text effects, the ribbon may well be a much better UI than classic menus.

  8. Dick Kusleika Says:

    I’m one of those advanced users that likes the ribbon. I don’t like it from a developer standpoint, but I do from a user standpoint. It took me about 3 weeks to get proficient. That doesn’t mean I didn’t get any sleep for 3 weeks. It means I used the program as I normally would and gradually got more comfortable with the locations of the commands. Two weeks doesn’t mean 336 hours.

    As for lost productivity, is everyone using the same apps they did 10 years ago? Personally, I’m using a different ftp client, news reader, rss reader, email client, browser, and a host of other apps. Not one of them had an identical UI to the program it replaced. I assume the new programs offered me some benefit that was greater than the “pain” of switching. And the UI change was probably the least painful point.

    I don’t think the ribbon is as great as it could have been. And I don’t think it’s as bad as some make it out to be.

  9. Jon Peltier Says:

    BD –

    That 1-2-3 compatibility was provided to lure customers away from Lotus (“Transition” settings, to transition from 1-2-3 to Excel). It wasn’t a menu compatibility either, was it? It was more to do with keystrokes and formulas.

    In fairness, the keystrokes in 2007 are compatible with prior Excel versions. Alt-E-S-V still does paste-special-values. Not menu compatibility, but the same compatibility that prior Excel versions had with 1-2-3.

  10. Jon Peltier Says:

    Dick K –

    Gains in productivity in my email program, rss reader, etc., do not make up for my loss in productivity in Office 2007. The mouse clicks I save in some programs, cannot be used to offset the additional mouse clicks which are required in 2007.

    It’s not the ribbon per se. I know my way around the ribbon well enough. The occasional time I spend hunting down a little-used command in 2007 occurs hardly more frequently than in 2003, and sometimes the amusement when I see where it is is worth the effort (e.g., do you know where Copy As Picture is located? Under the Paste control on the Home tab, next to Paste As Picture.)

    Unfortunately the development of the ribbon removed some flexibilities from the old UI, and it also led to many dialogs being redesigned. The intent of the dialogs seems to have been, dispense with best practices, throw away the old layouts, add tabs as much as possible to the dialogs, replace listboxes and option buttons with dropdowns (i.e., add a click right there), and disconnect entry boxes from related controls (in 2003, you can click on an axis scale parameter box and edit it, without unchecking Auto, and if you uncheck Auto, the value in the entry box is automatically highlighted). These are some of the things that have reduced user efficiency.

  11. Dick Kusleika Says:

    I don’t mean to say that gains in other programs offset O07. Rather, switching apps brings UI changes that are at least as painful as upgrading existing apps. I didn’t hear any uproar when people switched to Firefox, just discussion of the benefits. Maybe the expectation in upgrading is no learning curve, and the reality with O07 departs significantly from expectation. While the expectation when switching vendors is different and more closely matches the reality. Or maybe my thinking/analogy is wrong. :)

    You bring up two excellent points: The ribbon is the front man of the UI changes, so much so that UI and ribbon became synonymous. While I like the ribbon, there are other aspects of the UI I don’t like and don’t feel compelled to defend. And the non-ribbon UI changes cause just as much, if not more, pain than the ribbon. For me, that they turned Tools > Options on its side isn’t just putting lipstick on a pig. It’s taking an already lipsticked pig and merely changing the shade.

  12. Jon Peltier Says:

    I think what people expect in an upgrade is

    (a) little or no learning curve
    (b) improved features and functionality
    (c) improved performance
    (d) greater user productivity

    My impression here is that Office 2007:

    (a) failed but not badly
    (b) passed but barely
    (c) failed moderately or miserably depending on your balance of tasks
    (d) failed moderately

    In 2007 I have an occasional “Wow” moment, but these are far outnumbered in quantity and outweighed in effect by the moments of frustration, either waiting for that chart to finish redrawing or counting clicks beyond what my activities ever required before.

  13. Simon Says:

    Thats an interesting point about expectations. And switching v upgrading. Another issue is core v non core. I spend most of my working day in Excel or VBA or some form of Visual Studio or Access. Moving stuff in these will have a big impact. I have a browser open all day too, but they all have the same core browsing functionality, and I probably use 10% of their features if that.
    Yet another issue is interaction – I mainly interact with the web pages in a browser not the browser commands (beyong fwd/bck etc). In Excel I use the menus/toolbars most of the time.
    You are spot on about upgrading v switching, I love discovering how OO Calc works, but I resent having to re-learn how Excel works just because someone decided to move things around to suit a different type of user. I see the OO effort as developmental (good), the O7 effort as running repairs (bad).
    Jon, Harsh but fair, I’d say they did worse in a) than your view.

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