Microsoft could have done better with the Ribbon

It took me 3 years, but I finally figured out that the Microsoft Office Ribbon isn't that great after all. I know there have been many discussions around the usability of the ribbon, but I always managed to do my work and didn't take the discussions too serious. There are always pros and cons for every change and I just accepted the progress.

Recently I learned something that changed my mind and now with the launch of Microsoft Office 2010 and the Ribbon popping up everywhere I was inspired to share this with you. First a disclaimer, I mainly use PowerPoint, because for Word and Excel I prefer Google Apps, but this doesn't really affect my opinion. It has nothing to do with the product or the usability but it has to do with screen real estate.

We are all becoming mobile workers and the number of laptops and netbooks is increasing, while desktop sales is slowing down. Today all laptops have wide screen ratio screens, meaning that height versus width ration is changing. In my own behavior I notice that I don't run applications full screen anymore, because lines become to long to read. Many websites fix their width at around 990 pixels, all meaning that we have available real estate in width, but not in height. I've also noticed that people working on desktops more and more start to rotate their screens by 90. I noticed that there is a need for more vertical screen space. This for me is absolutely true and I do anything to optimize this. In Firefox choose small icons, I love Chrome because of the efficient tab layout and I miss the Safari 4 Beta tabs on top. The Ribbon is an absolute nightmare when it comes to optimizing the usable vertical screen space.

How come it took me so long to figure this out? It was only recently that I picked a cheap copy of Microsoft Office for the Mac at the Microsoft company store during an EBC visit. I always was very religious about no Microsoft stuff on my Mac, but I PowerPoint too much... and my Mac is a too nice machine. Immediately after installation I loved it, the usability is so much better than the Windows version. It's clear that it very well written for the Mac. The key difference is the nice toolbox that expands to the sidebar. This leaves much more effective vertical screen space for my great presentation.

I'm now a little disappointed that we will start to find the ribbon everywhere, while Microsoft has the capabilities to create much better alternatives.

2 comments

You can double-click on the tab buttons to collapse the menu's. That way they don't use any more space then the traditional menu's.

I jumped at the earliet chance to get Office 2007. I didn't want to get left behind. But I've never been efficent with the ribbon bar. I thought it was me, being a dummy. I found spend far more time trying to figure out where the formating options are that I need over Office 2003 /1998(7). I really hope Microsoft starts to employee Human Computer Interaction designers. I need to be productive, not bewildered.

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