The Ribbon UI

This page is my attempt to pull some of the ribbon debate off the main thread of posts. Its clearly an emotive issue with strong views both ways. I think it would improve the blog for us all if we could try and focus ribbon related content and comments on this page. Post the full comment here, and link from a post if you like.

Here is my view:

  • Its too big
  • its too inflexible (how do I remove a button once I’ve learnt a keyboard shortcut?)
  • It wont dock at the side, yet widescreen format was already becoming the standard before it was imposed
  • No tear off toolbars to relocate where they are needed.
  • Inordinate focus on formatting for a software development tool
  • the right click menu blocks sight of way too much spreadsheet.
  • The blob is a UI embarrassment
  • Its too hard to pick up for experienced 2003 users
  • Its very hard to work in 2003 and 2007 because of the UI
  • It kills performance
  • Take up is slow because of it, and that has a knock on effect for many service providers
  • Its inaccessible to xlls – no more single file deployments
  • The shuffled commands are not more logically grouped
  • The shuffled commands are not easier to find
  • There is no classic alternative to allow people to transition when it suits them
  • No credible justification has ever been offered
  • A whole pile of unrelated stuff has been swept behind the blob making it hard to find and access.
  • I havent mentioned code and customisation as I havent had need to do any, I understand thats as poor as can be expected.
  • It gives nothing back for all these negatives

And on the plus side:

My real concern though is this:

We are knowledge workers, we combine domain knowledge, IT (eg SDLC) knowledge and system/application (eg Excel/VBA) knowledge to provide meaning. To needlessly deprecate our learnt skills in any area is to strike at the very heart of the knowledge worker model. Thats a bad more for a company that targets that market with most of its products.

Time will tell how serious a mistake this was, my feeling is its a defining one.

I could live with it better if there were pros and cons, give and take, etc. But really its takes so much and gives absolutely nothing. it has no new useful functionality for interacting with Excel. Its just such a monumental waste of everyones time and effort. (Google twatdangler for the nearest other thing)

Oh and the other thing that really frustrates, is the ribbon really devalues the work the product teams did. Whilst E2007 may not be perfect, my view is there are a lot of good things there, but we are locked out by this inane barrier some ignoramus imposed.

Here is what I have done:

I’ve complained _discussed_ long and loud by blog, newsgroup, email and face to face, to the Excel team, to the ribbon team and the office planning team. And of course to the delightful Mrs Smurf, (FWIW she thinks its a disaster too and won’t use it). I have never kicked the dog because of it. I haven’t started an online petition (or a crusade btw), I haven’t written to my MP. I did warn them it would drive customers away which it has.

How can they fix it?

Well just enabling a classic option would solve most issues, or even just opening it up a little so we can write our own UI.

One of the Ribbon team asked me what it would take to turn the ribbon from a negative to a positive, or at least neutral for me. I put 2003 on the projector and said ‘that’ -flexible, programmable, familiar to 400 million existing users.

Why do I think they did it?

I honestly have no idea, I don’t believe anything I have read could justify the turmoil this UI is having on the market. Apart from the biggest marketing blunder of modern times that is.

Do I think it will go away?

No. At one time I thought they would hold their hands up and make it right. Now I think people who stay with Microsoft Office will bump against some form of it eventually. I think there will be a lot less of them going forward.

Are there other names for it?

The ribbon is just the fat clumsy toolbar bit, the whole thing is officially called the Fluent UI. I like(d) to shorten that to the effluent UI. I quite liked the Calamity UI too, currently I’m just calling it the FAIL UI ™. Don’t I think calling it names is a little unprofessional? Nowhere near as unprofessional as devaluing 400 million customers’ investment in learning your (prior) product.


I’m not campaigning or crusading here, I’m not trying to change anyones mind. I’m just calling it as I see it. Feel free to agree or disagree as strongly as you like, preferably in comments on this page.

I am now going to try and refrain from moaning (much) in the posts. (I might add stuff here instead)

Please add your comments, highs and lows.



41 Responses to “The Ribbon UI”

  1. What a week/weekend « Smurf on Spreadsheets Says:

    […] To that end I have set up this page here, and got the ball rolling… […]

  2. sam Says:

    “Here is what I have done:”

    Here are some suggestion to what can be done to mitigate the effect of the ribbon

    If you are ready to spend a few quid then there are a few options
    a) Classic Menus from Addin Tools (There is a option which hides all Tabs and Just puts the Classic Menu Tabs)
    – The menu structure is very close to 2003. All the menus are covered + a few new ones included – Its really really good
    – On the filp side – There are just 2 toolbars on the classic menu tab – Standard and formating toolbar(this is because the effulent UI allows for just 3 rows of buttons)
    b) Toogle Toolbar – Has dockable toolbars, right click customise capabilities. This together with the XLM command to hide the ribbon is probably the best solution the problem

    c) A com addin from Orlando – which puts the entire menu system on the right click

    d) Then there is a ribbon customizer from Pschmid…..which also comes witha classic menu option

    If you want a freebee there is an addin from Shailesh Shah. Its basically adding the classic menus to the “addin” tab. I guess its basically an XML reporduction of the classic menus

    All this gives me hope that the de-ribbonizers will get better in time and may be by 2009 we will have a viable 3rd party solution to the ribbon…may be some of them may become freewares as well


  3. Harlan Grove Says:

    Inflexibility first. I’ve read/heard that the ribbon is in part Microsoft’s answer to corporate buyers who’ve incurred considerable support costs undoing unintended or misunderstood user customization of the classic UI. I have two responses. 1. Isn’t there a group policy setting that could prevent customization? If not, why not remove user’s write and modify rights to .TLB files? 2. Is that really a sound reason for preventing ANY & ALL users from interactive or VBA-scripted customization?

    Logical organization next. If there’s any benefit to logical organization, one of the claimed benefits of the ribbon, then there would also be benefit to ESTABLISHED logical organization. My impression is that the UI design team came up with what they believed was a logical organization for Word, and that organization was shoved down the throats of the other Office app development teams. Pardon me for being cynical, but ever since Excel 5 it seems at least half Excel development effort has been to make it ever closer to Word.

    Lack of an option for vertical orientation of the ribbon is to me proof that it wasn’t fully cooked before it was foisted on the world.

  4. Bob Phillips Says:

    Logical organization – Home tab, Clipboard group, Paste dropdowm, As Picture item, what do you see there? Copy as Picture …!

  5. jonpeltier Says:

    “…the ribbon is in part Microsoft’s answer to corporate buyers who’ve incurred considerable support costs undoing unintended or misunderstood user customization of the classic UI.”

    This could have been solved with a little user education, perhaps a built-in tutorial, and maybe a “Reset to default menus and toolbars” button somewhere. Instead they spend even more effort trying to promote an alternative which is unfamiliar and does not build on its predecessors, which effectively negates half of the application knowledge of even casual users.

  6. Simon Says:

    This is why I don’t believe any of the ‘justifications’ I have seen. For each one there is either an existing solution (Tools>>customise>>reset, or admin policies, etc), or a much less risky, less intrusive, less alienating, less expensive alternative.

  7. sam Says:

    “This is why I don’t believe any of the ‘justifications’ I have seen”

    – Despite that compelling 100 MB video explaining the “Story behind the Ribbon” from JH :-)

    – It just proves that you are not one of the “real” users that MS talked
    to….wonder they found them…

  8. Harlan Grove Says:

    The ribbon isn’t the only horrible thing about Office 2007/Excel 2007. I forgot to mention newsgroup postings from users mystified why Office 2007 ignores OS-level color/theme settings. Simple answer – just as Microsoft KNOWS how you should work with Office apps, hence the ribbon, they KNOW what looks best, so any user who doesn’t like any of the few Office 2007 themes obviously has no taste and doesn’t have a clue what GOOD software should look like.

    Less sarcastic, there seems to be a sizable minority of users who just can’t stand ClearType.

  9. Simon Says:

    Sam I’ll take that as a compliment, like you I don’t know any either. A few people have mentioned that ‘real users’ thing, but your comment made me realise its from that 100Mb life stealer.

    Does the story of the ribbon cover the feedback from the private betas? I’d guess not! From ‘real real’ users)

    Why is there no ‘story of multi-threading’ or ‘story of 1M rows’?

    Harlan, yeah they did seem to just let the ‘designers’ go wild. Although I do actually like the black scheme – much less Mickey Mouse than that blue abomination. Like, as in easy on the eye, as opposed to usable.

  10. Harlan Grove Says:

    Actual features don’t sell Office licenses. Only eyewash does.

    To me this is deja vu all over again. I used to use the MKS Korn Shell. MKS hyped it as a fairly faithful implementation of Unix’s Korn shell, but there was one HUGE wart. The real Korn shell checks the first command line token (aka command) to see if it’s (1) an alias, (2) a shell function, (3) an internal command, (4) an external executable script or binary. The MKS Korn shell checked (3) and (4) in the opposite order. That meant that with a standard Perl distribution’s bin directory in one’s PATH, MKS Korn shell would run Perl’s test script rather than the internal test command. MKS’s reason for this deviation from the real Korn shell’s specs: users demanded this functionality!

    Sure they did. Just like all of us asked for the ribbon and no classic menu as an alternative.

    Is it cynicism or realism to wonder about companies that claim user requests led to STUPID design decisions but won’t share that data because it’s proprietary?

    The limited choice of color schemes in Office 2007 goes along with the ribbon and its lack of interactive or VBA/OM customization in establishing that the Office 2007 design team must think users know squat.

  11. Simon Says:

    “The bigger boys made me do it”??

  12. Simon Says:

    NG poster: In 2003 it was Tools Options Zero Values, but I can’t find the tools
    menu in 2007

    MVP: Office button | Excel Options | Advanced tab in left panel
    Locate 6th item down: Display Options for This Worksheet
    Uncheck: “Show a zero in a cell that has zero values”

    NG poster: Thank you
    I would never have found that
    easy when one knows how

    And so ends another Office UI success story…

    Discoverability my arse!

  13. Bob Phillips Says:

    The whole Excel(/Word/Powerpoint/…) Options thing shows that they failed in one of the key criteria, to do away with the layers of menus and hidden options/functions. This seems to have missed the Redmond boys, or just ignored by the Office boys.

    What about Lock Cell menu in Home>Format? You can toggle the locked status of a cell with this, but unfortunately the menu item doesn’t alter whatever you do, so yo still have to go to Format Cells>Protection to see what it is currently set at. Now that is obviously designed by a cloud dweller.

  14. Simon Says:

    They would have got a better return on the money squandered on the FAIL UI if they had burnt 100 dollar bills to heat their offices.

  15. Why should Microsoft enhance Excel? « Smurf on Spreadsheets Says:

    […] I’ve put some thoughts about their ribbon investment in the new traditional place. […]

  16. Simon Says:

    These are terms people used to find your blog:

    “i hate the excel 2007 user interface”

    another happy customer finds their way here.

  17. jonpeltier Says:

    Gee, Simon. I Googled that phrase and you weren’t even on the front page.

  18. Bob Phillips Says:

    I just googled tat phrase and on page 1 I got

    Jorge Cameos
    MS training &
    Jensen Harris

    made me laugh.

  19. Simon Says:

    Jon – oh no, a Fail UI Fail. I must try harder – its a popular sentiment.
    Bob that is a class list

  20. Bob Phillips Says:

    Can’t disagree Simon. Of course the usual suspects were there, you and Jon, and Ken and Dick were mildly amusing, but hilarious to see Jensen. Has he seen the light?

    I have just re-read Stephen Few’s initial review of the charting engine, it is so accurate, but I bet if you asked MS they just wouldn’t get it (for example, why have a set of chart types in the group, and each one opens variations on a theme, surely better to have a basic type which is simple to modify as required – that is aneasy user experience!) Talking of charts, does ANYONE think that those cone and pyramid charts are a good idea?

  21. Simon Says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if JH is somewhat jaded – he’s had such a big public kicking. Something about messenger and blame springs to mind. I have some sympathy for them. (not as much as I would if they told us who made them do it and why)

  22. jonpeltier Says:

    Probably he’s just as evangelical as ever. Google’s picking up keywords from the comments.

  23. Simon Says:

    Clear concise eloquent NG post:

    “office 2007 does suck. if you want to make a document look pretty, or need more
    the 65K rows and 256 columns, it’s fine. but for people proficient in office
    2003, especially those that write code in excel, excel 2007 is a pain in the
    ass, and slow as hell, too”

  24. fzz Says:

    from which: ‘The industry spends billions on usability testing and user interface design. Unfortunately, that money is mostly wasted.’

    So true.

  25. Simon Says:

    Great link fzz
    he makes some excellent points.
    I thought I was just a control freak, maybe I am but at least he suggests I’m not alone.
    I still remember my first ribbon experience – my worst ever day in computing. And it was for the reasons he describes.

  26. Bob Phillips Says:

    That is a good link.

    One of the errors software and hardware designers make is to base their UI decisions on the assumption that the user is an idiot who needs to be protected from himself.

    That certainly rings true. MS’s solution, don’t let them do it.

    And then there’s the illusion of simplicity, which is the Microsoft route. … To “simplify,” the company hides features, buries controls and groups features into categories to create the appearance of fewer options, without actually reducing options.

    This amply shows the myth of MS’ claim that the new interface is simpler. If it were, why do we have Excel Options, and why is stuff buried deeper than before.

  27. Harlan Grove Says:

    Gosh, the O14 ribbon may waste MORE screen space than the O12 ribbon.


  28. Simon Says:

    I hope that is wrong.
    On the paint ribbon pics the blob is gone I kinda thought that was a sign they had realised the error of there ways. But perhaps it was just not office branded.

  29. dcardno Says:

    You were too generous in your assessment of the plus side of the Ribbon. I am absolutely convinced that to the extend MS did “usability testing” it was either flawed, or they ignored it. I honestly find it difficult to express my contempt for the people involved in this “enhancement”

  30. Murray Says:

    Ditto. Research is only a way of post-rationalizing what you want to do anyways. I’ve been using office 2007 since it came out and I still spend wasted hours trying to figure out where to find the right buttons. I think this is what happens when you try too hard to compete with Apple. IMO, most users think Apple is cool because it looks pretty. They are willing to sacrifice comprehensive functionality and UI efficiency for something shiny with nice pictures. If I had a supercomputer I might think of switching to OpenOffice.

  31. Harlan Grove Says:

    As for the Apple bashing, don’t confuse Mac OS X’s dock vs Windows’ Start Menu and Taskbar with application UIs. I can’t stand the ribbon, but I use a dock as an alternative UI for Windows.

    The problem with the ribbon isn’t the pictures, it’s the replacement of a familiar and easily customized and reprogrammed UI with something different that’s not easily modified. It’s the lack of as-easy customization that annoys me. Secondary is the nonsensical reordering of commands – I made it through the menu transition from Excel 4 to Excel 5, and the new menu did become second nature after a while.

    Actually for me the worst thing about the new UI is the Office blob button under which lies the heart of the old File menu. That made sense? Paraphrasing something I’ve written before, that’s equivalent to automobile manufacturers replacing the brake pedal with a button in the ash tray. Clearly MSFT means for all Windows software to adopt this convention, so in that sense the effluent UI may reflect the long-term Windows UI direction, but Apple hasn’t done anything nearly that misguided and unwelcome. MSFT is in a league of its own in that respect.

  32. Mike Says:

    I’ve been trying for two years to get used to the Ribbon and I am still far less productive than in the older Office versions. It’s incredibly confusing, commands aren’t where I expect them to be, I can’t make my own floating toolbar to have handy where I need it, I can’t reposition it along the side, which would make more sense especially on a wide screen where much of the space on the side is otherwise wasted while the ribbon squeezes the available vertical working area.

    I have to use it on the system at work, but I am not loading that garbage onto my home machines.

    I’m sticking to Office 2003 on my main PC and on my laptop.

    The effluent UI is mere eye candy, not an improvement in usability. It’s actually a reason NOT to buy Office 2007. And it appears MS plans to make Windows 7 less usable as well, by “ribbonizing” it.

    Unfortunately, the only way this piece of refuse will go away is if large corporations reject it en mass… but the problem is that a lot of those corporations just do what Microsoft tells them to do and get the new version (I refuse to call getting 2007 an upgrade). Maybe they’re sheep…. maybe they’ve got some sort of agreement that they HAVE TO get the new version… I don’t know. But MS has lost me as a customer for any new versions so long as the Ribbon is the only UI choice.

  33. Ribbon lovers week « Smurf on Spreadsheets Says:

    […] Obviously there are only 7 days in a week and there are many many more than 7 cock ups in the effluent UI, so I may need to double up some days (/most days!). I have to steer clear of the bleedin’ obvious like the size of the thing and its inflexible nature as those are already mentioned on the Ribbon UI page. […]

  34. Simon Says:

    Classic 2003 menu structure for Excel 2007 now available from here:

  35. Harlan Grove Says:

    Something new!

    Time to vote! [Chicago style – early & often?]

  36. John Nurick Says:

    There’s an article in today’s Telegraph titled “I’m Julie Larson-Green, and Windows 7 was my idea”. The article also gives her credit for Office 2007, “where she took the bold step of replacing the menu-driven interface with context-specific ‘ribbons’.”

    The reason seems to have been “empathy, an ability to forget what I know and think instead like a customer, seeing a product for the first time.”

    Nice to know!

  37. Simon Says:

    So when I said:
    ‘Watching the Office UI team work out the gobsmackingly bleedin obvious is like watching a small child discovering everything new for the first time. Its as if there was some freaky accident in the UI team HQ and all 30 years worth of corporate memory got wiped’
    a. I was completely correct
    b. They are ‘trained’ to lose all accumulated knowledge
    c. They are proud of it
    and d. it gets them on billboards and in ‘quality’ press


  38. Mark Vice Says:

    Great post!

  39. Jan Thorstensen Says:

    Why could not Microsoft just let the users choose the classic view or the Ribbon view? All the programmed Customed Toolbars we have made until now is a waste because the look quite dirrent for users prior to Office.

  40. The Ribbon « ShowMeTheData Says:

    […] Smurf on Spreadsheets […]

  41. spreadsheet1 com (@Spreadsheet1com) Says:


    Ribbon Commander is a framework for rapid Office UI development. It aims to both simplify and extend the existing XML-based programming model for the Office UI, by exposing a complete object model for the Ribbon and Backstage (while also fully supporting XML).

    Demo: How easy 100s of controls can be loaded in the Ribbon

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