Ribbon screen stealer

We all know the ribbon is just a fat clumsy toolbar. And if you followed the big marketing push to try and convince us it is not big you’ll know that it is apparently 140 pixels deep.

Heres the odd thing though – the smaller your screen, the bigger the ribbon gets. Not just bigger relatively – bigger really.

ribbonheightwidthAs the screen gets narrower the ribbon extends itself down over another few lines of your work to make sure you can still see all those critical formatting options. (at the expense of a few rows of your irrelevant spreadsheet)

In the real world people run their screens at different resolutions. I guess a 19 or 20″ inch screen is pretty much standard. But that doesn’t mean everyone is running 1280 x800 or better. oh nonny no.

And the ribbon being the ribbon the controls adjust in completely random ways to ‘accommodate’ different screen resolutions.

I had a support call;

“Please can you tell me where on earth they have put the bloody fill options?”

Well Derrr!  – “Certainly – Home tab, right hand side, where it says Fill”

“I don’t see it”

Eventually I went to see, sure enough, he was running a lower resolution than me and his UI just showed the buttons not the text (as above).

I seem to remember reduced support costs due to consistent UI control layout as being one of the fantasy benefits claimed for the fail UI.

From personal, enterprise support experience the ribbon will increase support costs (dramatically), and it is not consistent and stable, and it will present differently on different peoples machines, and there is no way to ‘reset to default’ unlike in Excel classique. You have to physically go to the users machine, or remote to it to work out what they are seeing.

So two big problems with the big fat clumsy toolbar

  1. It gets bigger vertically as screen resolution decreases
  2. It shuffles commands even more between different screen resolutions
  3. Its HUUUGGE



33 Responses to “Ribbon screen stealer”

  1. Gordon Says:

    Still on 2003 here so can’t join in, but I’m liking the Ribbon rants.

  2. Charles Says:

    Measuring from the top pixel of the excel window to the first available pixel of row 1 (top of row 1) using Screen Ruler on my system (1600 x 1200 Large Fonts) I get

    Excel 2007 257 pixels
    (whole screen displays down to row 39)
    Excel 2003 141 pixels
    (whole screen displays down to row 45)

    Don’t know where MSoft get the idea that the ribbon is only 140 pixels deep.

    Or put it another way: In Excel 2003 I could get an additional 4 rows of toolbars into the space occupied by the ribbon (I usually use 1 or 2 rows of toolbars).

  3. Simon Says:

    Than ks for checking properly Charles
    From the bottom of the title bar to the top of the formula bar maybe? or maybe I got it wrong?

    257 is MAD – thats basically half a netbook screen!

    I worked out in 2003 in the same space as the ribbon I could have 97 useful commands versus the Ribbons 43 mostly irrelevant ones. Progress…

  4. Charles Says:

    Using standard fonts (96 dpi) rather than large fonts (120 dpi) I get

    Excel 2007 212 pixels row 54
    Excel 2003 111 pixels row 60

    Note that the Excel 2003 measurements at both font sizes include 1 row of toolbars so Excel 2005 can have 5 rows of toolbars in the space occupied by the Ribbon.

    To be fair my Excel 2007 measurements include the QAT below the ribbon, moving it above the ribbon gets me to 186 pixels and 56 rows visible at standard font size , but then I have to move the mouse much further to get to my frequently used commands.

  5. Bob Phillips Says:


    Thanks for the Screen Ruler hint, very useful.

    On my system (1920×1600, small fonts) it takes 190 pixels by your measure. But all Excel has a formula bar and column headers, so measuring just the ribbon is only (I can’t believe I used only!) 139 pixels on mys system – so I agree with MS.

    By your measure, by usable space on 2003 starts after pixel 190, so it is no different. But … in 2003, I have 3 toolbar rows that practically service my whole needs, I never have to switch to something that isn’t visible yet, I don’t have crap taking up huge chunks of the toolbars (like the Styles group) and so on.

    If they had mad the good changes to 2003 (pivots, tables etc.) think of that.

  6. Bob Phillips Says:


    I have just counted. On a mzixmized Excel 2003, I have 2003 commands, and I reckon there is space for another 70-80. Considering that this includes some wide drpdown and textbox commands, and that I leave some unused commands, I think I could get the 120 most necessary on two rows, save vertical space (which I am not doing now), and have absolutely EVERYTHING I need. I am convinced.

  7. Bob Phillips Says:

    That should have been 120 commands not 2003, even 1920×1200 can’t do 2003!

  8. Omar Says:

    Well, I’m going to take a different viewpoint. I made the switch a couple months back. I don’t ever want to use 2003 as my production version again. Sure, the 2007 interface takes a bit more space. I don’t see it as being perfect, but I find myself not having to repeat certain steps nearly as much.

    For those of you measuring how much space your toolbars take in 2003, remember you are in the 1 in 1,000 category. Look at the screens of the normal users. I see review toolbars taking entire rows. I see a publish to pdf toolbar with 3 buttons taking entire rows. Sure, those of us who understand what is going on can keep things tight, but the normal user has 5 or more rows of toolbars. And, every screen is different, so you can’t tell them over the phone where to find the button either.

  9. jonpeltier Says:

    Omar –

    I want some of what you’re smoking.

    You want to talk about repeating commands? In 2003, create two similar XY charts. Double click on the X axis of one, format the Patterns (line, tick marks, tick labels), the font, the number format, the scale. Select the Y axis of this chart, press F4 to repeat, select the X axis of the second chart, press F4, and finally select the Y axis of the second chart and press F4. To format one axis, I need N clicks. To format four axes I need N + 6 clicks.

    Try to do the same in 2007. First you will discover that F4 if you’re lucky repeats the absolute last individual formatting option you’ve selected, not the entire visit to the formatting dialog as in 2003. So to format 4 axes in 2007, you need 4N clicks, and more if you don’t remember exactly everything which you have done. A busy trip to the formatting dialog may lead to 30 or more clicks. And formatting lines in an axis in 2007 takes more clicks than in 2003, because there are more tabs you have to visit. So instead of 30+6 or 36 clicks in 2003, you’re talking at least 120 clicks in 2007, and probably more. So where have I reuced repetition in 2007?

  10. Charles Says:

    Currently I believe that over 90% of screen vertical resolutions fall in the 768-1024 range: so the ribbon cost of 75 additional pixels only represents a reduction in useable space of 7-10%: not a disaster but not a cost that can be ignored.

    Overall the net cost of the Ribbon to the millions of Office users world-wide is probably something like $100 to $1000 million per year.
    (assume an average office worker costs $250/day with all the overheads included – assume 2-5 days lost because of retraining and productivity loss – assume 500 million existing Office users – assume 10% migrate per year then offset with whatever you estimate the benefits to be)

    It would have been much simpler and more cost-effective to build into Office a better Toolbar manager that solved the 5 wasted rows of toolbars problem and the inconsistency beween machines problem. I could probably design and write one in VBA in a few days.

  11. jonpeltier Says:

    I wrote a Review of Excel 2007 last year, and I showed an image of the top left corners of the Excel 2003 and 2007 application windows (http://peltiertech.com/WordPress/wp-content/img200804/XL_2003_2007.png).

    2007 takes up significantly more space. Excel 2003 with title bar, menu bar, and THREE toolbar rows requires 130 pixels. Excel 2007 with title bar (QAT) and ONE ribbon requires 145 pixels. But the formula bar and column headers in 2007 also require more room, so the infrastructure at the top of the Excel window takes up 166 pixels in 2003, 189 pixels in 2007. Plus I’m not locked into having everything on top. Usually my third row of toolbars is at the bottom of the window, and you can see in the image I cited that I’ve docked a third toolbar along the left edge of the window. Plus the toolbars and selected formatting palettes can be floated into position above the sheet.

    The density of controls in 2003 is twice that of 2007, and most of them aren’t hidden to show other controls as you perform other tasks. My Excel 2003 setup has 130 controls in the toolbars. The Excel 2007 Home tab has 41 controls if you count the big Normal-Good-Bad-Neutral style picker as one control. That’s actually 3x the control density.

  12. Omar Says:

    Jon, primarily my view comes from dealing with auto-filtered lists. I often need to look at several individual items in a list. I used to have to do gymnastics in the custom filter box to get just what I want to look at. Now I just click once to unselect, then click once each for the items I want to look at. I no longer have to worry about text that looks like numbers and sometimes are treated as numbers in the custom filter box, and sometimes need to have quotes around them because they are text.

    Granted that’s not a ribbon issue. I like the Page Layout tab as I can make changes on one sheet at a time without constantly going to the File/Page Setup menu. Having the formula auditing and name manager tools front and centre on the Formulas tab saves me time. When I’m in that mode, I can leave the ribbon set on the Formula tab for some time. Having basic formatting controls show up on the right click menu allows that.

    These are just a couple examples of how the UI of 2007 has helped me get my work done more smoothly. I suppose if my normal routine was affected as badly as yours, I would have a different experience.

    What’s most important to me is that my boss made the switch very easily and loves it. He’s a competent user, but definitely not a developer. That’s made my life a lot easier.

  13. Bob Phillips Says:

    I am amazed to see such an unadorned QAT Jon. Mine is stuffed with commands, including a Switch Windows button as I hate having to go to View and find the bloody thing just to get another workbook (I know I could Alt-Tab, but that is slower as I have many workbooks and other apps). I still have the Alt- shortcuts I guess, but for some reason 2007 makes me use these less!

  14. Harlan Grove Says:

    Omar –

    There’s a legitimate difference of opinion about whether defining names and writing formulas should happen at the same time or be done as distinct phases of spreadsheet development.

    Further, as typical users never define names, the placement should reflect the needs of the top, what?, 15% by skill set of spreadsheet users.

    I’ll agree that there are many useful features in Excel 2007 (several stolen outright from Gnumeric and OpenOffice Calc – specifics upon request), but almost all the TRUE improvements are either in the worksheet itself (more rows/columns, more levels of nested function calls, more built-in functions) or in new dialogs, and neither of those groups of improvements requires the ribbon.

    Tangent: Excel 4 and prior had different menu layouts, and there was a formula menu in that menu layout. In retrospect, putting the Name submenu into the Insert menu was also stupid. Also, FWIW, when Excel 5 came out MSFT provided a command to change back to the Excel 4 menus. Backwards compatibility! What a concept! Any chance the decision to provide it back then might have been due to the fact that Excel/Office didn’t have > 95% market share back in the early 1990s? Or how about the decision to impose the new UI with no possibility for backwards compatibility now is strongly motivated by the desire to resist Office’s market share ever dropping below 90%?

    Back on topic: for those Excel users who might want to see more rows than columns, is it truly outside the programming capabilities of the Office UI team to allow the ribbon to be vertically oriented and docked along the left side of the screen rather than always horizontally oriented and docked along the top? Is it truly impossible to allow for old style toolbars in conjunction with the ribbon other than the fact that doing so would allow an obviously perverse group of advanced users to scrap the ribbon and use a hacked classic UI in Excel 2007?

  15. Harlan Grove Says:

    Jon –

    The direct link to your screen image doesn’t seem to work, but I went to your site and found your review, and it showed the image.

    One thing I noticed in the image was that Excel 2007 uses more dead space in the worksheet frame. The Excel 2003 image shows row numbers/column letters using 10 pixels in height with 3 pixels above and 3 below the numbers/letters. So 10 useful pixels and 6 dead space pixels for 16 total pixels on the vertical. The Excel 2007 image shows row numbers/column letters using just 9 pixels in height but 6 pixels above and 4 pixels below the numbers/letters. So 9 useful pixels and 10 dead space pixels for 19 total pixels on the vertical. Getting picky, almost a 20% increase in dead space along the vertical.

    So not only does the new UI take up more vertical space, Excel in particular is afflicted with more whitespace between rows. That begs the question whether the ribbon UI team or the Excel development team was responsible for that bit of inefficiency. Maybe it’s needed to display the new & improved conditional formatting symbols. What a @#$%&*= waste!

    Looks like Office 2007 redefined visual efficiency as giving the minimum screen space to distracting and probably irrelevant user content.

  16. jonpeltier Says:

    Omar –

    You seem to like the ribbon mostly because it’s packaged with the improved features of Excel 2007. The ribbon itself is no great shakes. Any particular tab that has useful combinations of controls could be replicated in 2003 using a custom toolbar with built-in commands and buttons that run custom VBA procedures.

    As I tried to indicate, I find Excel 2007 so painful to use because of its horrible inherent inefficiencies, that none of the enhanced features are sufficient to make me switch.

  17. jonpeltier Says:

    Bob –

    My QAT is sparse for a few reasons. First, I don’t use 2007 much, so I haven’t really spent the effort to populate it.

    More important, I despise the entire concept behind the QAT. It seems to have been added as an afterthought:

    “Those crybaby developers want their custom toolbars. Well, maybe we can let them stick a few buttons up in the menu, where they won’t disturb our glorious ribbon.”

    So I am philosophically opposed to using the QAT.

  18. jonpeltier Says:

    Harlan –

    I didn’t even get into the row spacing. I felt my rant was going a bit long. The default font in Office 2007 has more open space between lines, which is reflected in the wasted space you’ve described. In the extra rows that appear in Excel 2003, based on this wasted line spacing, I could afford to insert even a fourth row of toolbar buttons.

    I honestly don’t know what the designers were thinking. Maybe they had some graphics designers (“artistes”) deciding that we needed more white space for our ideas to flow…

    My thought is that the Office interface astronauts came up with this scheme and enforced it on the product groups. These groups were so resource starved because of the requirement to embrace this interface switch, that they couldn’t give us more than, what, three new functions, and they couldn’t actually debug the chart module before it was released.

  19. Harlan Grove Says:

    Jon –

    There’s some way to use anything other than Calibri as the Office 2007 UI font? Where would I change it? Or do you mean the font used in the worksheet frame is the same as used in that workbook’s Normal style?

  20. Bob Phillips Says:

    Harlan, the direct link picks up the closing bracket, remove that and it works fine.

  21. Simon Says:

    Bob – why would the average Excel user need switch windows? How many shopping lists do you think the ribbonneers could manage at once??
    I always put my wbs on the windows taskbar so that didn’t hit me so bad, but I got plenty of complaints from people who don’t work that way. Seems that command is not as discoverable as it could be

    Jon – “Glorious ribbon” that is just how I see them too “who do we think we are wanting to mess up their work of art”.

  22. Omar Says:

    Jon, I appreciate your thoughts on this issue. As a user, I’ve made the transition from Lotus 123R23 through Quattro Pro 4 and 5 and the various Excel flavours. I liked all of them in their time. I guess I was ready for something different than the menu/toolbar combo that I’ve been using too long. I definitely feel that MS has got a 1.0 version of something good going on here.

    “You seem to like the ribbon mostly because it’s packaged with the improved features of Excel 2007.” Yes, that is partly a fair statement. There are a number of places that Excel has improved things that aren’t strictly in the ribbon. That said, I generally like the ribbon.

    One of the areas that I spend considerable time in is MSQuery. The lack of any improvement in that area frustrates me as much as anything about 2007. Your thought might be that at least they didn’t wreck it? Well, they might have. I’m exploring those right now to determine if I’m missing something. I seem to get configuration different choices depending on whether I set up the data link in 2003, versus starting fresh in 2007.

    My main intent of commenting on this particular blog post was to bring some balance to the discussion. I don’t get too hung up on how many rows I can see at once. I sometimes feel thankful that the state of the art isn’t the old 8 columns by 20 rows that I started out with.

  23. Simon Says:

    Thanks for joining in, a bit of balance is always welcome.

    Lots of us here have come from DOS and we’ve seen expectations increase at at least the same rate as the tech has ‘improved’. Blunders like the ribbon make it hard for us to satisfy user expectations, which leads to the disbelief and frustration you see here.

    If it works for you, that is great.

  24. Bob Phillips Says:

    Simon, I too put my windows on the taskbar,but I end up with so many they invariably get grouped. I could go to the taskbar and select from there, but, call me old fashioned, call me a luddite, but I feel that when I want to switch to another Excel window, I shouldn’t be impeded from doing that simply and easily.

    As for ‘the average user’, MS have to accept that the non-average user does exist, does use Excel, and needs o be accomodated. We ha ve been telling MS for years that we may be small in number, but we have a huge influence when we build solutions that are used by many more. How many people are using Jon or Andy’s charting solutions/techniques, how many copies of NameManager are out there. These people who are often scorned by some at MS have a big influence, something that Squirm will never capture.

  25. Simon Says:

    Bob I totally agree with you I was being sarcastic about the ribbon teams complete lack of understanding of commercial Excel use. All their features seem to be based on internal Mort Contoso personas.

    And I have tried to make that influence point too, they seem hard of listening when it comes to that issue. Eventually though the lack of sales will get noticed surely?
    But then what are we going to do? I’ve just come back from a big 2007 rollout. We will all end up migrating to 2007 or 2010 or some future MS Office eventually. Unless clients wise up and move to an alternative like Open Office.

    Sadly I think the Excel and Access teams understand, but the UI team do not, and they seem to have the influence to override the product teams.

  26. Bob Phillips Says:

    I agree Simon (and I did know you were not serious, but I had to add some more rant -:)).

    I have just done a job where the guy is building a nice product, but he is aiming specifically at 2007 on, he sees 2003 as dead. I fear he is correct and I lament it as 2010 will increase the glitz and glamour of 2007 I am sure, and ignore the errors, the faults, and the sheer unnecessary garbage.

    BTW, I have written an addin recently for a customer where styles is its main functionality. Personally, I turn that function off.

  27. Simon Says:

    Just one more wafer thin rant Mr Phillips?
    I like a rant, but like you I accept the inevitability of it. And also like you I have written a style add-in for a client.
    The only way to avoid this silly UI is to move out of MS technology.

  28. jonpeltier Says:

    Omar –

    I understand the need for balance. What Simon is doing here, and what we’re helping with, is describing actual user experiences to balance the hyperbole that heralded the introduction of the ribbon.

    Some things about the ribbon are pretty good. Behind the scenes, RibbonX is actually pretty nice, it’s easy to work with. It’s a pain that you have to close the workbook, use a kludgy third party tool, then reopen the workbook, but that’s life.

    What isn’t good is what isn’t behind the scenes. The whole user experience is so totally against the flexibility and power of menus and toolbars. They could have kept menus and toolbars and introduced some kind of clean up feature for people who can’t figure out how to rearrange or hide toolbars. But the ribbon has essentially thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

    It’s an example of Microsoft, nay, a group of UI designers (and obviously not UI users) at Microsoft, deciding that they know what we want and need better than we know ourselves, and not providing any reasonable means to replace lost flexibility.

  29. Harlan Grove Says:

    Re RibbonX, XML-based UIs can be handled interactively. Under Linux the Gnome desktop configuration is stored as XML, and the A la Carte menu editor allows users with sufficient privileges to alter their program menus interactively, granted not by drag & drop, but interactively while simultaneously modifying the associated XML. This proves that it should be possible to modify RibbonX interactively using the same sort of operations as building a user form or customizing toolbars in the classic UI.

    Does MSFT lack the programming talent to do this too? Or does MSFT simply choose not to do it? If the latter, the obvious question is WHY?

  30. Jon Peltier Says:

    Harlan –

    There is a way to pass XML code into the ribbonx object using VBA, not intuitive, but I’ve done it. But if you lose the robbonx object through whatever vba interruption, you have to close and reopen the parent workbook. Supposedly you can use an external xml file, but I don’t recall ever seeing how.

    When this was rolled out to the MVPs, the guy from the ribbonx team could not fathom why anyone would want to use VBA to modify the interface. Duh! It’s Office, people.

  31. Blue Ribbon Interface | PTS Blog Says:

    […] Ribbon screen stealer […]

  32. jeffrey weir Says:

    I often turn the ribbon off and on with the Control F1 shortcut – especially when using my laptop. Had to laugh the other day at Microsoft’s stupidity when – while the ribbon was minimised – I selected the HOME tab, and double-clicked on the PASTE FORMAT paintbrush, then selected the cells I wanted to paste the format to. Nothing happened.

    Despite a hopefull tool-tip that displays the text …”Double click this button to apply the same button to multiple places in the document”…this does NOT happen when the ribbon is minimised. THat’s because when you temporarily maximise the ribbon by clicking on a tab, it automatically shrinks again after you’ve clicked just ONCE on the paste tab button. It doesn’t wait around for that 2nd click. How stupid is that?

    On another note, there’s a huge amount of what I consider vital buttons in the ‘Commands not in the ribbon’ category. My quick access toolbar is looking pretty damn crowded, and while I’m thankful they at least gave us a QAT you’ve got to wonder how many people are missing out on learning how to use some of those great productivity enhancing commands if they never see an icon anywhere and think “I wonder what that does”.

    As for adding stuff to the QAT ,unless someone shows you how to do it (or you google it) then i doubt you’d stumble across it. Most users won’t know what a QAT is, let alone how to customise it.

    Which begs the question…if the QAT is all the average user has got, then why the hell isn’t there an EXCEL OPTIONS button on the effing home tab? Duh!

    THis interface is like a really bad case of chart junk. Wonder what their usibility stats say about the equivalent ‘ink to data’ ratio…

  33. jeffrey weir Says:

    Sorry, that penultimate sentence should have read…”if the QAT is all the chance the average user has got of customising the interface, then why the hell isn’t there an EXCEL OPTIONS button on the effing home tab?”

    And I missed another ‘DUH!’ to amplify the first. Here it is: Duh!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: