Office 2007 -- not so WIMPy

In my opinion, the new Office 2007 user interface is one of the most innovative things to come out of Redmond in years. It's nothing less than the death of the main menu as a keystone GUI metaphor. This is a big deal. Historically, where Office goes, everyone else follows. It's already starting to trickle down: IE7 does not show its main menu by default, and neither does Vista. You have to press Alt to expose the menu. The main menu has been demoted to a sort of configuration panel for advanced users; for everyone else, there's the Ribbon and toolbar buttons.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

It’s indeed impressive and unexpected that microsoft would take such huge risk.

However, they have to. The reason why they’re doing it is that the interface to Office is now commoditized, it is loosing value by the minute, as everyone is cloning it.

This is the one and only true reason why this is being done.

I’ve read everything Jensen wrote and as a UI designer and I am facinated by it, and especially the ribbon.

However, IMHO the true motivation of this project - whether it’s known at the dev level or not - is simply to make an interface which is much harder to clone by a small team or lone programmer. Also, once learned it will be much harder for users to switch to another application.

It is NOT about creating a better user experience.

Right now, it’s easy to write an Excel clone, and I think it took only one guy to do it for KDE or Gnome (I forget which), and it’s easy to switch to OpenOffice because it can copy the Office UI easily.

Also true for the Vista UI, in general.

For menus, they’re killing them simply because everyeone can make them now.

In total agreement with you. Just been using it a couple of days and already love it.

I think it’s a huge leap forward too. BUT, OfficeUI is more than just changing menus for buttons like in IE7. That’s the difference. I don’t feel comfortable with the buttons on the right that IE has, because they just changed a name for a draw. It’s simple, when you see a button, you associate an action. What Office improves is another way of working, that it’s not as easy to scale to other apps as it may seem, and IE7 or WMP11 are good proofs.

I’m not sure it’s so driven by the multiple clones as by the sheer number of usability people they now have, and the joy of i8n menu systems.

With multiple monitors, don’t you find they work better rotated? Except for Visual Studio which seems to be designed for widescreen, I find many apps actually work better at 1024x1268. I have a portrait 17" next to a 20" (1600x1200 is soo much better than 1200x1000) and I’m aiming for a second 17" on the other side. But I also find myself rotating the 20" a lot of the time. The next step is multiple display support from virtual machines.

So I’m inclined to think that windows themselves
aren’t all that useful as a GUI construct either,
either. So what are we left with?

I’m sorry, but I disagree with this. Microsoft Windows’ windows are a relatively unuseful construct, because they are so poorly designed. Good windowing systems exist that make windows a very useful construct. Among the characteristics of good windowing systems are minimal ornamentation, smart maximizing (occupying no more of the screen than needed for their content), and stable minimizing (windowshade). It’s a mistake to generalize from a crappy windowing system that windowing systems are bad.

Microsoft Windows’ windows are a
relatively unuseful construct, because they
are so poorly designed

broad statements!

you must hate OS X too… they removed the window shade.

Window Shade collapsing is really cool, our application does it for all of our palettes and similar floating window. It’s available in CorelDraw and other apps as well.

It’s also up to the application to define what its document size is to allow “smart resizing”, this is all available on Windows. But it’s innapropriate, or gives no benifit for most types of documents people use. On OS X maximize is mapped to that and in practice it is very frustrating because of the user wanting to work full screen, even if it means wasted space.

There are no absolutes in GUI such as not having a feature meaning poor design. Apple’s products are example of missing features many power users can be used to from elsewhere.

It’s a mistake to generalize from a crappy windowing system that windowing systems are bad

I think most, if not all, Windowing systems are bad. Consider browser tabs, for instance.

Why do people love browser tabs so much? Why don’t they love multiple browser windows? Because multiple windows are a giant pain in the ass to manage. Something’s always obstructing something else, and you spend far too much time with pure excise: shuffling windows around instead of getting work done.

Tabs, in contrast, are blissfully simple.

Infragistics is already supporting the Office 2007 ribbon in its toolbar control and the Office 2007 styles in overall look and feel. Definitely play with it if you haven’t already. The ribbon is amazingly fun to develop with. :slight_smile:

Also, I think you are reading a bit too much into MDI being only a window based ideology. Infragistics also supports a control called UltraTabbedMDIManager which is essentially a component that you add to a form to auto-manipulate MDI children windows into a tab based structure, and its absolutely freaking fantastic! I don’t know how I lived without it for so long (it also made it REALLY easy for me to convert my old apps over to newer and prettier interfaces). The only point I’m trying to make with this is don’t attack MDI. It’s not just for windows any more.

I hate being the one to plug a company’s products that already make more money than God, but they are on top of this stuff. I 3 Infragistics. Their web controls are utter crap, however… or maybe just sucks? One or the other.

Check out Codejock’s controls as well, I liked them quite a bit more than Infragistic’s offering. No native .NET version yet though.

Not showing the menu by default reminds me of Word Perfect. I find it makes it that much more difficult to find the option (at least initially) since I never thought of hitting the alt key until I did it one day by mistake. Pressing the alt key is at least a little easier than typing about:config (i.e. Firefox) to get to the more advanced settings.

On the other hand, windows are very useful for certain kinds of things.

For instance, my computer is currently set up so that I have one monitor for maximized windows (and the Windows toolbar, so this amounts to essentially tabbed browsing between application windows), and one monitor with an IM window or two and at least two terminal windows. All of those are things that I tend to glance at for updates, and occasionally read the updates; I’ve got them set up so that I can see the majority of each window (and at least the first half of the bottom several lines, in particular), so that if something updates in one of the windows I’ll notice it in my peripheral vision and can glance over and see what it is without losing focus on what I’m doing (and often without even losing the flow of typing, such as in the middle of this sentence). I couldn’t do that without being able to have lots of little windows that can overlap – or at least tile, but overlapping makes much better use of the space, since the amount of space I need to see changes and read the last few lines is much less than I want when I’m actually working in the window.

And, on a related note, I much prefer having lots of little “my computer” windows rather than a maximized Windows Explorer. It makes dragging things back and forth between windows much easier, which is especially valuable because in most cases I find the simplest way to open a file is to use the tab-browsing-equivalent part of the Windows toolbar to pull up an already-open “my computer” windows that’s open to the directory I’m working in (or one near it) and drag the relevant file into the relevant application. They’re sort of like lots of persistent “Open” dialog boxes, with a bit of spatial memory in the “tab bar” to make it fairly quick to pick the right one.

Without having the option for non-maximized windows, I’d lose all that, even though for most things I used maximized ones. I do use tabs a lot even for the non-maximized ones, though.

Oh, and that reminds me, speaking of browsers – one thing that really annoys me in the latest Opera is that the “downloaded files” window now defaults to a maximized window like the rest of the browser windows, rather than to a separate non-maximized window.

That means that, when I’m downloading a lot of files by right-clicking, every time I download a file the “downloaded files” window replaces the one I’m working in, and I have to stop and switch back. Whereas, with the old way, I could just move it off to the side, and even though it got focus, the window I was working in was still visible and would get focus back the moment I right-clicked in it.

I think the key point here is that there are classes of windows, and only some ought to be maximized. For example, dialog boxes ARE programmatically windows, but having those maximize by default is (I think) an obvious bad idea. And there are some application windows that sort of act like persistent dialog boxes, or are sort of in the same class of things that are better not maximized.

(I should perhaps also note that I’m arguing for the exceptions because I consider your “application windows should be maximized and browsed with tabs” claim to be quite obviously and clearly true in the substantial majority of cases. These are just small exceptions to its universality.)


Opera’s transfer tab can be dealt with however you prefer. It offers you the following options:

( ) Show transfers when starting download
( ) Show transfers in background when starting download
( ) Never show transfers when starting download

That’s at least how it’s done in Opera 8.54. Maybe 9.00 has it a bit different, but I’m not so sure about it.

I don’t recall it ever being a separate window, it seems to always have been integrated into a separate tab.

Don’t blame Opera, they’ve always had this one right.

As flagship as Office is, it’s in no way as risky to completely overhaul the UI than Vista. It’s also a much more trivial task.
It’s also interesting to consider that Windows is playing catchup, Office is playing “run an f-in mile ahead so they have to play catchup”.

The office ribbon is fine until you need to find some of the advanced options. Then the hunt and peck fun begins.

Menus may be ‘quaint’ in your view, but it’s much easier to organize content with them and find it.

In addition, I really dislike the fact that the ribbon takes up so much of my freaking screen real estate. It’s positively huge - taking up triple the space the toolbar and menus in Office 2003 did…

Well, I like the new Office UI, but it has (like all other windows apps) one major flaw - there’s no dedicated “show/collapse toolbar” button. Apple had this button all along. I’m typing this in Firefox with toolbar collapsed using that very button.

Also, preferences dialog should have been given more love - it’s absolutely a pain to navigate without realtime search.

Office 2007 is by far the most awkward and disorganised GUI yet seen. It looks ugly, takes up heaps of screen space and is confusing to all!
Having program unity ADDS to efficiency and getting staff to have to muddle through a confusing UI is definately not business smart.
Change for the sake of change is not always for the better!
We’ll be sticking to 2003 or other alternatives for the for-seeable future.

The ribbon menu makes sense for document orientated apps that have a dizzying array of features that change a lot contextually. The ribbon is a great way to present options that would largely go unnoticed.
Outlook’s main window doesn’t use ribbons, because maybe there isn’t a whole lot of changing contextual options? I’m not sure a ribbon UI could work well with something like VS.

I wish the spent some time on there options dialogs though… far too many nested modal windows.

“the web browser … nothing but Icons and Pointing Devices.”


there’s actually more elements to the web UI model that make it work:

  • ADDRESS bar - to get where you need quickly if you happen to know the exact address

  • SEARCH - if you know what you want but don’t know where exactly it is

  • HOME page - (“portal”) when you want to explore what else is there

  • BACK button - so you never get totally lost

  • BOOKMARKS - when you are that difficult kind of a person who must put the car keys into the same place each time or face nightmares

And yes, I consider Search a part of the web UI model, not just a service. People use it as a navigational device, just like I did few minutes ago when I couldn’t remember what’s the website of Daemon Tools. Not coincidently, search boxes are included into main windows of Firefox and IE7.