Open Source Ribbon is a Bad Idea

You doubtlessly heard about the GTK# Ribbon implementation by now. If not, here is the scoop: someone develops a GTK widget using Mono. Is this awesome? Y/N Personally I think this is a bad idea for several reasons.

Firstly, we should not all be jumping on the ribbon bandwagon. Let’s remember the golden rule of software engineering: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fucking touch it!”. Unless majority of your users wants the ribbon there is no reason to spend time and resources implementing it. And it’s definitely not worth making it the one and only UI the way MS did in Office 2007.

Drastic changes in UI are only justified if the said UI “sucks balls”. I’m not kidding. That’s the politically correct term for “completely unusable piece of shit”. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Either way, if your UI is anywhere close to acceptable, you should rather concentrate on gradual, incremental improvement rather than drastic redesign. Let’s face it, the good old Toolbar + Menu Bar scheme has worked for years now.

I really don’t see such a drastic usability gain, or an emerging new UI paradigm. It’s just a plain old case of “hey, let’s just move everything around and add tabs, and make it… I don’t know, context sensitive!” Unnecessary, counterintuitive, and confusing. Some people may like it, but it’s hardly something we should be copying all over the place.

Secondly, implementing ribbon at the moment is problematic from the legal standpoint. Currently MS is licensing the ribbon free of charge pending an NDA, and a promise that your product will not compete in any shape or form with any element of the MS Office suite. Also MS puts some redistribution licensing restrictions in there which may or may not prevent you from using certain licenses for your product. Yes, we live in day and age where someone can license and police an UI design that a single grad student can re-implement from scratch on the weekends. Sad but true.

Not to mention that MS is seeking a patent for the UI design which may or may not be granted. If it is, then the vacuous license gains legal weight and may become a deadly weapon. Especially if you are a linux productivity tool or component. We already know that Balmer has a big war chest in his office where he keeps “hundreds” of patents that Linux allegedly violates, and that he strokes it affectionately for 15 minutes each morning. If we all start implementing the ribbon en-mass we not only get linux products entangled with the MS licensing, but also add potential patent violations to that war chest.

[tags]ribbon, microsoft, microsoft office 2007, ms, microsoft ribbon[/tags]

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10 Responses to Open Source Ribbon is a Bad Idea

  1. Craig Betts UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Solaris Terminalist says:

    If *nix needs to be more like Microsoft, it should start including a license fee and random kernel panics . . .

    I sure hope Apple doesn’t go down the old ribbon trail . . .

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Not likely. Apple always kinda preferred the “menu goes on top of the screen” design principle. I think it’s one of their design guidelines or something. I can’t really see them tossing that tradition out to build the unified bulky ribbon.

    While Microsoft was busy fucking the UI up for everyone, Apple folks redesigned the concept of a spreadsheet application allowing you to combine independent tables on a single sheet. Potentially useful functionality, vs pointless UI redesign – that’s the difference between where the two companies choose to spend their big bucks.

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  3. ScotsDistraction UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    The Ribbon is one of the more hideous of Microsofts ideas of late. I dual boot XP and Ubuntu, and I use IE7 for three sites – the BBC iPlayer which refuses to use Firefox, a local doggy charity whose website refuses to display on Firefox, and Windows Updates. Occasionally, I’m forced to search for a menu function through the ribbon, and it’s utterly counter-intuitive. The thought of using any Microsoft Office product with that kind of interface is laughable – I can’t see anyone getting used to it in time, either. It’s got to be the most ridiculous change to a UI I’ve seen in a very long time. I hate to think of people wasting breathing time on developing a similar interface for anything Open Source.

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  4. UniDyne UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I, for one, welcome or new ribbon-powered overlords.

    Seriously, the goal of Ribbon was to flatten the numerous menus/submenus and features of the Office platform and make them more accessible. To me, it seems to do the job. It means more users might be tempted to poke at features of Office they might have otherwise overlooked. It means more users can find the features they need.

    It is important to remember that Ribbon was created for the typical user – not for developers.

    That said, MOST applications have no need to implement a Ribbon interface. Ribbon is a concept that lends itself to applications bursting at the seams with features that need to be organized and displayed in an easy-access sort of way. For the majority of applications out there, toolbars and menus do the job perfectly well. Excel in Office 2003 looked quite a bit like toolbar soup to me. Office 2007 is a big improvement.

    Microsoft flubbed on Ribbon though by not making it a generic library. Also, Microsoft has not one, not two, but THREE implementations of Ribbon. In different APIs. And none of them are .NET.

    As for Apple using Ribbon – doubt it. Their applications are slick and intuitive enough already.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @UniDyne – In my experience, one place where the ribbon made real difference was MS Access. I can honestly say it made the interface more intuitive.

    As for Word and Excel, I still have my doubts.

    But you are right. Ribbon style interface is a good idea mainly for the large application suites.

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  6. Johnny Smartypants UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    “Seriously, the goal of Ribbon was to flatten the numerous menus/submenus and features of the Office platform and make them more accessible. To me, it seems to do the job. It means more users might be tempted to poke at features of Office they might have otherwise overlooked. It means more users can find the features they need.”

    All of that is untrue…
    The same options have to be presented, whether you use the standard menus, or ‘The Ribbon’. The Ribbon is a diabolical piece of user interface design, because it prevents the user from using SPATIAL memory, to find the command they are looking for.
    I’m willing to bet a pound to a penny that the vast majority of users of any program with a menu (which is almost all of them) remembers where commands are SPATIALLY. They remember that ‘Open’ is under the left most menu. They remember that ‘Help’ is under the right most menu. They remember that ‘Print’ is under the left most menu, and halfway to two thirds of the way down. This is how we remember everything in the REAL world, like which draw we keep our socks in, which pocket I put my wallet in, etc.
    ‘The Ribbon’ is a classic example of atrocious user interface design, and an example of what happens when a bunch of overpaid idiots get PAID to ‘fix what ain’t broken’. Their opinions and ideas are completely untrustworthy and biased, because by their very job description, they had to find something NEW, or be out of a job. What if what we already have works fine?

    ‘The Ribbon’ is a disaster on an epic scale.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Johnny Smartypants:

    Very good points. Also for me the worst part about the Ribbon is the tab switching. In the old office all the most commonly used features were on the toolbar. The toolbar was also configurable so you could add buttons, remove them, rearrange them. A power user would have everything there in front of him. If he needed more, he could have used the menu which would hide and get out of the way after use.

    With ribbon you are forced to switch tabs. 90% of the time what you need is in the Home tab. But every once in a while you need some other feature, so you switch to the page layout tab or the Ref tab. Now chances are in a few minutes you will need something from the home tab – but now it is two clicks away. Switch to home tab, click on what you need. The worst thing is if you need to alternate between the two all the time. Switch to References tab to insert a footnote. Switch to home tab to format it. Rinse repeat.

    Sure, you can pin buttons to your quick access toolbar but there but once you pin EVERYTHING there you just defeated the whole concept of toolbar.

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  8. njc Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    I agree with both prior writers. When I designed the original UI with flipbars and switchbars (a really long time ago…), the flipbars were supposed to be context-sensitive. So when the mode of the application changed, the flipbar (or toolbar) changed automatically. When the idea was ‘borrowed’ via my research university, the proof-of-concept software was still with me – all they had was the text and pictures. Hence the incomplete implementation.

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  9. Sole42 CROATIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The key problem is this patent held by Microsoft:

    There are some ongoing litigation that maybe prevents them from patenting whole UI at the moment, but they’ll probably buy some judges and do as they please.
    The best way is to simply ignore the ribbon completely.

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