You probably shouldn’t use Microsoft Office 2007. Even so, you probably should install and look at it, and then rip off its ideas. I’ll explain.
Microsoft Office Word 2007 is, so far as I can tell, seriously flawed. Specifically, it has been eating way too much of my work for me to happily keep using it. This has been going on long enough that I’m convinced the cause is not simple user error. The final straw yesterday was when changes I’d saved in a draft blog post (about Filemaker) weren’t there five hours later, with no intervening crashes, no messages about “Do you want to close w/ unsaved changes?”, and so on. Naturally, Microsoft (or rather the excellent consultant/expert they’ve provided me to talk with) has never heard of these problems before and is highly perplexed. Anyhow, I plan to keep using Word for highly formatted work – i.e., white papers and Monash Letters – but using it for general note-taking and blogging has turned out to be quite the mistake. (I guess I could go back to Word 2003, but now I’m intrigued by testing the cheaper alternative.)
But all glitches notwithstanding — Office 2007’s “ribbon” is one of the five greatest general UI advances in the past 10-15 years*. Just as the traditional Office menu/icon-row look-and-feel dominates business computing, the ribbon is likely to soon take its place. And deservedly so, at least in two broad classes of application: Analytic and composite. And those two, taken together, happen to comprise the vast majority of the innovation going on in enterprise applications today.
*Three of the other four, in my opinion, are:
- The screen-division aspect of dashboards and portals.
- Dynamic text-link navigation, also popularized via portals.
- Search boxes.
The last slot is left open for personal-taste additions to the list.
The ribbon seems designed to solve two major problems:
- People can’t easily remember or find their application options.
- Different options call for differently-sized widgets and icons.
And it does a bang-up job of addressing them. Take a look, if you haven’t already, and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no one big dramatic aspect to the ribbon; rather, it just frees UI designers from the shackles of making all icons the same size and all menus approximately the same length. Now think about how to design any kind of query/reporting/visualization/alerting application. Do you think that kind of UI flexibility might be useful? I sure do.
And the same goes for any kind of composite apps. The whole idea of a composite app is commonly to create an overall quick-and-dirty system that exits to pieces of functionality of disparate systems. And the ribbon UI is ideally suited for controlling the Frankensteinish result.