Why I don’t like Ribbon tabs interface in Microsoft Office 2007/2010.

Posted: July 6, 2011 in Software

In 2007, Microsoft released a new line of its Office products, Microsoft Office 2007, which became an instant hit. Among many new features, Ribbon tabs interface was, probably, the most notable one. The concept later spread to other Microsoft products, including WordPad and Paint in Windows 7.

It looks nice, but I wouldn’t say that it became more efficient than the previous interface models, which were used by Microsoft before 2007. Here’s my reason why.

UI-developers have a term called multidimensionality. The oldest user interfaces were multidimensional. They required users to type instructions and commands into a command line.

There are tens of thousands of combinations that you can get while typing-in some characters, therefore, a user had to know all the necessary commands by heart, which was making it difficult for non-programmers to work with computers.

Then the monodimensional UI’s kicked in (it happened sometime in 1980’s, when Xerox introduced its first graphical user interface, which was later adopted by Apple and then, eventually, by Microsoft). Properly designed monodimensional UI’s include a clearly visible menu bar, which has sub menus. Often, everything is well organised in mono-D interfaces, which makes it easier to find certain functions in the software. The majority of modern applications still use this concept.

In Microsoft Office programs, which were using that interface, there was a menu bar at the top (with different “directories”, such as “File”, “Insert”, “Help”, etc). You could click on any of them and a small menu would open, and it also had many sub-menus. Everything was mono-D and organised, so, even if you’re aren’t very familiar with the program, you could easily find the necessary command by searching these categories.

Ribbon tab interface, however, was a step back in this particular aspect. It became harder to find some particular functions (often, I have to google stuff to find some particular commands, while, back in the days, with Office 98/2000/XP, it was possible just to browse those menus to get to a necessary functions, because it was so organised and build according to a defined hierarchy). Office 2007 interface became multidimensional.

Interestingly, very similar trends can now be observed in web-browsers. Back in 2008, Google Chrome was the first browser with such minimalistic interface (was it?). Now, almost all web-browsers have that sort of UI (including IE9 and Firefox 5). They are still monodimensional, thanks god (those menus and sub-menus can still be found, though, it became significantly harder to access them), and I hope they will remain so for, at least, another 10 years…

P. S. When I’m talking about multidimensionality and monodimensionality in such context, I mean abstract pathways that a user has to go through in order to perform a certain action. Don’t get them confused with physical shapes, such as 2D and 3D objects.

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