Regarding the ribbon interface

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Posts: 9
Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2010 2:27 pm

Regarding the ribbon interface

Post by tranglos »

One of the questions in your survey asks users to rate the importance of the Office 2007-like ribbon interface. If indeed you are thinking of implementing it, please, please, *please* consider that the rationale for the original ribbon was not to modernize the look of Office apps, and not to make it cool and spiffy. The look came near the end of the development and it is not the purpose of the ribbon.

Microsoft people have indicated many times that reason why MS decided to ditch menus and toolbars was usability: some Office apps, notably Word, Excel and Powerpoint, had grown to the point where each had hundreds of commands, and there was no space for them any more (or for adding new ones) on the toolbars and in the menus. There were a lot of deeply-nested menus, which are hard to navigate, and a good number of other commands were either hidden in various dialog boxes, or not available at all through the default UI (only if you manually customized the UI by adding a command from the repository). MS spent a whole year gathering statistics about how various commands are used, and they found that a lot of commands they thought were useful and important were almost never used (as in, 0% or 1% of users ever clicked on them). It is as if those commands did not exist.

So the ribbon was developed as a way to make more commands easier to access and use. It is of course left to anyone's judgment how well MS have solved the problem. For example, I think it was very odd to put the Save button - arguably the most important button ever - on the tiny separate toolbar, where new users can hardly find it.

I highly recommend this presentation by Jensen Harris, leader of the Office 2007 design team, in which he describes the long process of designing the ribbon and how they arrived at each decision that ultimately resulted in the ribbon interface. The most relevant part of the presentation is probably the early segment, where he describes the usability problems with the old interface, and summarizes the statistical usage data: ... 57&index=0

The take-away from the presentation is that the ribbon was created to solve a very specific set of usability problems in Office. Conversely, the ribbon is not suited to applications that do not have this problem, and I think that included Backup4All. Unless your product has hundreds and hundreds of commands, huge menus that don't fit within standard screen resolutions (but require scrolling, for example) and too many buttons to fit even on several toolbars, the ribbon is entirely unnecessary.

I'm not against the ribbon, by the way; I quite like it in Office. What I'm advocating against is solving problems that don't exist or bloating what is now a pretty tight application with unnecessary additions. A ribbon component, for example, like the VCL one from DevExpress (which is sweet, of course), is likely to increase the application's memory use by several megabytes. If this solves an urgent problem, fine - but if there is no problem, then perhaps there is no reason for introducing the bloat.

Just my opinion, of course; you'll do what you wish :)

Claudiu (Softland)
Posts: 63
Joined: Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:48 am

Re: Regarding the ribbon interface

Post by Claudiu (Softland) »

Thank you for the feedback tranglos. Actually the results of the poll for including a ribbon interface in a future version of Backup4all are strongly balancing towards not including it (80% of the surveyed users consider this less or not important at all), so I'm pretty sure that it won't be included.

The reason we thought about it and asked users is that usually these productivity applications give a trend in usability design, and being very popular they "train" users to expect a particular type of menus, commands and so on.

But this is not the case for our users and it's important for us to keep the application in correspondence with what users want. So again thank you for the feedback, it does enforce the result that we've observed.
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