Ribbon positions

In all the ribbon discussions I have seen there seems to be 3 possible positions.

  1. Overall it was a bad move – the cons out weigh the pros
  2. Overall its was good, adds useful functionality without taking away anything important
  3. The ‘it happened get over it’ crowd.

Obviously I am in the first group, but I completely respect those that hold the second view. I think this comes down to personal priorities. Its a fact of development that there is a broad range of customers with a broad range of requirements. Its no surprise what works for one won’t for another.

The third group though, state the obvious and add nothing to the debate. Its not a problem to not care about a discussion, there are plenty of debates going on that I don’t care about. I just don’t bother joining in where I’m not bothered.

This third group seem to have limited options themselves and are perhaps unaware of options that are available. For example I am considering the option of moving more into Excel to OpenOffice Calc conversions because I think the ribbon is boosting that market. Others have moved into the ribbon replacement UI business for example. I’m also thinking about some more web-centric stuff too.

I do think its worth discussing the ribbon and the breaking UI changes MS are introducing throughout their products. Microsoft are listening and given enough encouragement could (possibly, maybe) be persuaded to change course.

Those who are less familiar with Microsoft may see it as a single entity with a single point of view. In fact like many organisations Microsoft is made up of people, and those people often have different points of view. There are people within the Office team that think a compatibility mode would have been a good thing. Just as there are people who are convinced the ribbon is the ‘one true way’.

They are currently part way through developing Office 14, if the community kick off enough, and if the ribbon can be blamed for weak sales, who knows what delights might await us in O14? I’m not holding my breath of course, neither am I sitting back.

I don’t think MS could back down and re-introduce commandbars. But they could open the object model back up for us devs to put them back. (In a no loss of face stylee).

Of course the fact that there is already a booming market in ribbon replacement UIs for Office should be cause for some rational thinking at MSO HQ.



8 Responses to “Ribbon positions”

  1. Rob Bruce Says:

    “I don’t think MS could back down and re-introduce commandbars. But they could open the object model back up for us devs to put them back. (In a no loss of face stylee).”

    Or they could add a COM wrapper around the ribbon. I reckon that would take a decent MS developer about a week. Add a week for design and integration and two weeks for testing and you’re talking a month of developer time – negligible in Office development terms, albeit a complete guess on my part.

    To be honest I would regard this as an adequate compromise on MS’s part. I’ve been using XML for eight years or so, and I’m hugely enthusiastic about its use in the appropriate circumstances, but this isn’t one.

  2. Biggus Dickus Says:

    Sorry about the formatting. Here is a formatted version (can the WebMeister please remove my previous attempt?) :


    I am completely on-side with your concerns here. I am commenting on your last two Blogs in one here.

    I can’t help but believe that you didn’t get this new gig because of the way people put no value on the skills required, or the complexity involved, in doing quality spreadsheet work. To me THAT is the biggest concern right now as people ask for more and more, faster and faster for less and less….. Another day…

    But adding the new functionality (?), features and bugs of Excel 2007 (yes I have found a few idiosyncrasies between code running in Excel and Access 03 and 07) makes it even harder to come up with a realistic quote. Of course the other question is “Should your client have to pay for you not knowing Excel 2007 or should you?”. It depends on what you can get away with I guess.

    I’m afraid that to say that MS should provide training is not going to fly. Many of the techniques and skills needed to learn to create quality macro-driven spreadsheets in Excel 2007 have not been invented yet. In the end they have to be learned by people like us. The reason I choose not to be an MVP (if they’d even have me ;-)) is the fact that the skills and tricks I learn are MY intellectual property and SHOULD be my “value-add” in the market-place.

    Just like I believe MS should provide me with the necessary “technical” documentation and bug fixes I need to do my base job as part of THEIR cost (something that is really only provided on-line now), I also believe that I personally have an obligation to develop my own “professional” skills in application of technology, wrapped in my knowledge of businesses and business processes.

    So even if MS provided training for guys like us, Simon, it wouldn’t help us much. What we need to do is learn it on our own – and unfortunately all too often that will mean that our clients will have to pay for our learning as we confront things in the course of our development. We have to find clients that appreciate the new capabilities of the new versions (?) and who accept that while there aren’t a lot of people out there with the skills to make them work, WE have a greater chance of succeeding and so they accept our learning as part of the deal. This has happened to me before.
    Over time those of us who learn well (for whatever reason) should benefit from all our skills we develop. But simply, if the clients won’t pay, then we will have to go work bagging groceries at the local Tesco I suppose, considering we have no other skills ;-).

    The fact that so many of the skills you and I have developed over the past decade are suddenly devalued or eliminated is galling of course (in fact it SUCKS) but it is the reality we are in. To suddenly go from “Expert” to “Newbie” is not pleasant.

    Of course we could bitch to MS, but I have learned that the old songs “I fought the law and the law won !” or “When I fight authority, authority always wins !” or even “You can’t fight city-hall !” all play in my mind. I do not have a David complex anymore (maybe it’s because I’m older than you are ;-)). Goliath has a BIG FOOT. I’ve been stepped on too many times I guess.

    So as much as I appreciate your concerns about the Ribbon I am firmly in Camp 3 and will probably stay there.

    Yer pal:

  3. jonpeltier Says:

    Here’s the deal. Microsoft rolled out the ribbon, or steamrolled it out, or whatever. No amount of whining is going to bring back the same command bar infrastructure we and our clients all know and love. Also, I don’t see the validity of Open Office and Linux for 99% of the population from which I draw my clients. Therefore, I’d be foolish to choose any position other than 3, ‘it happened get over it’ . Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Is it stating the obvious when it’s pointing out what some prefer not to recognize?

    95 percent of your Excel/VBA skills were not obsoleted by Excel 2007. You can write a bitchin formula in 2003, right? Still can. You can put together a For-Next loop in 2003, right? Still can. Some things have been improved for the better: conditional formatting, pivot tables (and PTs still have a “classic” interface option), and more that I can’t think of.

    Parts of the UI really are bad, but the ribbon isn’t the worst of it. The worst that I’ve encountered is in formatting of charts, which went from okay (but not great) in 2003 to pretty poor in 2007. For me, that’s an opportunity. I’ll take some of the little things I’ve designed over the years and combine and expand them into a new chart UI which will help users of 2003 and 2007. Maybe I won’t sell a lot of them, but it’s still a market.

    The ribbon, inefficient as it is to use, is not terribly hard to work with. It’s XML, which is easy enough to write, and there are simple tools to help. Sure you can’t use VBA directly, but most custom interfaces are static anyway, and by the time you learn the easy techniques, you’ll know where to look for the hard ones. Ken Puls’ web site and the new book he co-authored are great references, as is Ron de Bruin’s site, and more sites which you can find from these two. With a little help from these guys, and maybe two evenings of swearing at my laptop (who doesn’t swearr when they program??), I had learned enough to build decent 2003/2007 combination UIs.

    The day you’d rather whine than learn new stuff, that’s the time to hang it up. You have to eat a bit of learning, but that’s how it goes. I think my clients respect me when I say, I don’t know how to do it, but I’ll figure it out, and then I come back the next day and drop it into place. (And reuse it continuously from that day forward.)

  4. Simon Says:

    your wish is my command re deletion.
    Good point on rephrasing the question.
    I don’t expect them to pay, just making the point – they caused the need for training so they carry some responsibility.

    The fact is I invest hundreds of hours each year and thousands of pounds each year on developing my skillset. Where I invest is based on where I see the best opportunities. (Inside and outside of IT)

    I share your concern on getting clients to see the value we add, I guess thats business. Shelf stacking @ Tescos is another option for sure, (we don’t get many bag packers over here).

    Great IFTL ref – here are the masters:

    (hot fuzz is a good film too)


  5. Simon Says:

    I don’t mind the ribbon itself, its low value breaking changes, and devaluing our investment in learning their product that pisses me right off. That undermines the whole ‘expert’ ethos.

    I’ve discussed before the skills that I have been able to develop during the consistent phase of Office. If they are going to shuffle the UI each version, thats a chunk of time wasted each release.

    I love learning me, but I expect some payback. You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff I have learnt in the 2 years the ribbon has been around.

  6. jonpeltier Says:

    “I don’t expect them to pay, just making the point – they caused the need for training so they carry some responsibility.”

    I don’t think I follow. When Microsoft first came out with Excel, they certainly caused a need for training. Did they provide that training for free? Only the user manuals which used to ship with the product, and those weren’t free, just “included”.

    “… but I expect some payback.”

    My payback is helping ongoing and new clients. I don’t foresee clients in Open Office, but rather in MS Office, so I’ll keep learning whatever they dump on us. I won’t always like it, and I’ll tell them. But users will keep upgrading, and so shall I.

  7. dkusleika Says:

    If you want to change MS, you have to understand their motivation. They wanted a UI they could patent so that OO couldn’t look like MSO without paying a license fee. That’s why they made the ribbon and, in my opinion, it’s the only real reason. If you believe that, then you’ll quickly join us in the #3 camp because you’ll realize efforts to change MS are fruitless.

    I spend two days a year telling MS what I think of their software. I doubt I’ve had much impact. Beyond that, just tell me how it works. If I don’t like it, I’ll find a workaround or another development platform. In that regard, it sounds like you and I have the same attitude.

  8. Simon Says:

    Dick, yeah same attitude (and same reality to an extent), possibly seeing slightly different opportunities.

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