Archive for July, 2009

Ribbon tab based litter

Wednesday, 1st July, 2009

The ribbon tabs are not automagically context sensitive, nor could they be.

But what they actually end up doing is just screen litter.

You have the home tab showing, perhaps doing some of this formatting that Microsoft is so convinced we spend so much time doing.

Next of all you actually do some work – perhaps import a text file, from the data tab. All good so far.


But then you go off and flick through the sheets to check something out – now the UI is just showing a bunch of irrelevant data commands even though you are doing some sort of informal review. And it will keep showing 100% irrelevant commands until you click another tab to try and find a command you need. 100% screen litter, easily cleared by using crtl F1, unless you are using Reuters, in which case you have to double click a tab to sweep that litter under the carpet.

In a proper UI, accepting that the software can’t know what you will do next, the UI should make few common activities from a range of scenarios instantly available – like for example, oh, I don’t know – Excel 2003?

Lets say you are unable to remember that find is crtl H and you use it regularly. You will probably eventually remember that it is right over on the right of the home tab. (you will never learn the keyboard shortcut from 2007) Over time time perhaps your mouse will move in that direction as you think about looking for something. But if the Home tab is not visible the route to find is not up and right, it is up and left, because you have to select the tab first.

Menus in Excel Classique are a bit like this – they only unveil themselves one step at a time. Lucky then that the toobars are stable so we can learn where on the screen a commnd will always be.

So in summary 2 problems with the tab nonsense

  1. It leaves irrelevant stuff on your screen most of the time
  2. It makes the navigational direction of commands unstable
  3. its HUUUUGGE!

Are you a tab fan?



Ribbon Will it – won’t it control thingy

Wednesday, 1st July, 2009

I saw a few people slightly nervous around certain activities in Excel in some of my classes.

Eventually I work out their concern – some of the ‘buttons’ seem to behave differently each time they click them. The inconsistent behaviour unsettled some beginning level users (that alleged target group again)

The Pivot button is just one example – there are plenty of others.

ribbonpivbut1Sometimes when the user hovers over it the bottom bit goes pale, and the top dark,

ribbonpivbut2sometimes the opposite happened. Sometimes they instantly get a pivot, sometimes they get a drop down choice between pivot tabe and pivot chart. For a beginning user this unpredictability is confusing, and for the less confident somewhat scary.

With experience it becomes clear that the lower part has an arrow and hints that it is a drop down, the top is a normal button.

But why oh why did they make it all look like one control, with intermittent behaviour??

And of course it is only certain controls, many are just normal buttons leading to yet further confusion.

In fairness the Fail UI team aren’t the only ones doing this, WordPress have buttons that magically change into drop downs when you click them too.

So this ‘feature’ confuses beginners, and as an experienced user it just annoys me, because I could have had 4 controls of choice in the same space if it was a proper interface. (or had the same 2 in half the space leaving more for my actual work – I once worked on a spreadsheet that was bigger than 20 cols and 30 rows – imagine that!).

Somebody somewhere must like it, is it you?