Hate the Microsoft Office Ribbon? You may not be alone.

(…an open letter to Microsoft about why I, and many others, are not buying MS Office 2007 or 2010)

Okay, I’m shocked. I had actually believed Microsoft was interested in making products that would sell. I’m seeing “10 year power user” and “15 year power user” and the like in these ‘we hate the Ribbon’ threads. I’ll top all of those; I was considered a power user when Word and Multiplan were the productivity tools for Windows 286.

Nowadays, I’m a writer, meaning that I actually use word processing for a living. Back in the late ’80s, we had something we called a WUI—a Windows User Interface—in response to that upstart, the Macintosh, that had a UI claiming that everything worked according to the same intuitive plan.

The idea of a user interface was so that we could get more work done with less grief. That’s kind of the opposite of the Ribbon’s blatant disregard for having a consistent UI. And by the way; for those of us that use both keyboards as well as pointing devices (why should their be “keyboard-centric” or “mouse-centric” users?), the Ribbon gets in the way of all of our former ways of getting the job done, but is less efficient and more time consuming to use after you get ‘expert’ with it!

Stick this little tidbit in your pocket, Microsoft: I’m not buying anything above Office 2003, and oh-by-the-way, I’ve already bought that. As in, I’m not spending money on Office 2007 or 2010. Why? Because I’ve used both of those products plenty at short-sighted MS-centric clients’ places, and I don’t just dislike them, I positively hate them because of the Ribbon.

“What? Someone’s not buying our products?” Durn tootin.’

Why would we buy something that makes life worse? If a product gets in the way of getting the job done it makes work more like work and less like living. If it comes from a company whose attitude is “this is the way it’s going to be from now on,” who then adds that particularly galling slap in the face, “get used to it,” I might never buy from that company again, and moreover I might actively convert away form that company’s product line. This goes far beyond simple indifference toward numerically progressive product releases; this is me now being ‘offended and emotionally charged to jump-ship.’

A small point that seems to be forgotten is that it is the customer who is writing your paycheck, not the other way around. We don’t have to “get used to it.” Or, put another way, we would lose all pretext of manners and civility, and retort with “Get used to having smaller profits, Microsoft.”

Please get it through your heads that it’s a really, really bad idea to confuse, discourage, confound, or befuddle your customers. You want to make customers happy, not to do the opposite. Happy is kind of the opposite of hate. When customers are happy, you get paid. When you piss them off, they start opening their eyes to what else is out there, and nowadays, their are some decent choices. Whether or not those choice are free, the net result is the same for Microsoft; no income.

By the way, for every customer that’s taking time to be vocal about how much they hate the Ribbon, there are a hundred more that don’t have the time or are simply too pissed to care enough to tell you where you blew it.

Another tip, don’t make test groups out of people who’ve never used a computer before. That’s just not going to give you the product feedback you need; especially not for word processing or spread sheets.

If you torture the data enough, it will confess.

Your test groups should be the people that are spending money on your products, meaning the people who depend on word processing and spread sheets. Those people want an interface that is intuitive, and doesn’t require hand-eye coordination just to do the most rudimentary of tasks. Don’t use a focus group of people who, in this modern age, are just getting around to using a computer; they’re not the people you absolutely need to please.

If you are going to axe the features that make your product the best choice, and replace them with an inflatable dartboard, then your product has stopped being the best choice and, quite frankly, we are going to axe you.

When people stop using keyboards to compose documents, then and only then you can probably get away from using keyboard-friendly menus, but until then you might want to zoom out and get a wide angel shot. The big picture should show you:

  • who your paying customers are
  • what they want
  • whether they are perceiving this or that new thing as a good thing or not.

And if you’re thinking the Ribbon is simply “ahead of its time,” try to bear in mind a couple of things; 1) products that are too far ahead of their time sink companies, and 2) some products, like the inflatable dartboard, or glow-in-the-dark combat fatigues, are not actually the wave of the future, they’re just wrong.

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12 Responses to Hate the Microsoft Office Ribbon? You may not be alone.

  1. goldfish99 says:

    There is another good article the Ribbon about here:

    http://www.theoligarch.com/office-2007-ribbon.htm

    and a prediction that Windows Phone 7 has the same flaws:

    http://www.theoligarch.com/windows-phone-7-geeky-flop.htm

  2. I especially thought the article from May ’09 – “Excel 2007’s Ribbon Hurts Productivity, Survey Shows” was a relavant comment on this.

    And now the WinPhone. Et tu, brute?

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  5. This article was written in 2010? It is NOW it is the year 2015 yet all points made in this article still apply even more so with the latest version of Office and Lync. Use Apache OpenOffice and see how user intuitive it is compared to the latest MS products. Paying $ to have less productive user interface that requires a goodle search to figure our how to use do the same stuff is NOT worth it.

  6. Bob Benson says:

    The Ribbons interface is a visual nightmare, a cluttered mess and the opposite of a simple clean straightforward interface like the 1993 version of Ami Pro. Ami Pro is still a better word processor than any version of MS Word! MS Word has always stuck its unwanted nose into document formats. Ami Pro gave the user 100% control of your format. Try to make an artistic letterhead in MS Word with varying fonts and font sizes and placements and MS Word will rolled over and puke so much built in auto formating all over your letterhead turning int into word hash. Amipro did exactly what you told it to do MS Word has alway told you what to do, not what you want it to do.

  7. I used to like Word. Not anymore. I hate it! In fact, I hate technology more everyday. Whoever designed this is hellbent on making the user work the way the designer works. I hate being forced into something I do not like and is COMPLETELY USELESS. Apple is doing the same thing. iPhoto and the other stupid ideas force you to think and organize the way some idiot designs it. Paper and pen is more useful.

  8. Paul Lloyd says:

    The nightmare ribbon that replaces the drop-down menus (and the unnecessary, time-consuming and irritating start-up screen and “recently used files” screen) on Word and Excel is a giant step backwards.

    When I recently introduced a young person to both Office systems for the first time, he genuinely believed that Office 97 was an upgrade from Office 2013!

    As a temporary measure – until my next upgrade (when I will drop Microsoft Office completely) – I have taken these actions:

    1) Reintroduces the old-style drop-down menus by installing UBitMenu
    2) Removed the two aforementioned screens by following the instructions on howtogeek.com via google search.

  9. Gregory Muir says:

    I echo the opinion of coming to hate technology. I used to love seeing the new and the cool because we generally got improvements. Now I’ve come to loathe every upgrade because it usually means something that used to work will break and the interfaces will become worse. It is a continuing nightmare. I can’t believe they are still sticking with these horrible ribbons. It’s another failed experiment like flat design. Horrid.

  10. Let me second all of the above and add the following: If you think you hate that infernal ribbon as a sighted person, try working with it as a blind person. Keystrokes multiply. Nothing is described–not even the position of page numbers )as in left, centered, or right). Office 2003 was completely accessible. Office 2016 is a nightmare. Fortunately, I am computer literate and could figure out how to do it and turned off that stupid start screen and backstaging. with backstaging on, you can’t even use Control-O to open a document. LLbreoffice and Open Office are not accessible. I’m checking out Apache Open Office. This crap is on top of the work I have to do. No,blind people don’t enjoy doing this stuff because it whiles away the lonely hours. some of us actually are professionals, and the implication to the contrary–particularly after we have spent good money on the inferior product–is just plain insulting.

  11. Judd Niemann says:

    I hate ribbons and flat design. I really hope this horrible trend will eventually be reversed.
    Microsoft:
    Bring back good, old-fashioned menus
    Bring back skeuomorphism (or at least make the windows look prettier – as it stands now with Windows10, they are so ugly, they make windows 3.11 look pretty !!)

  12. POB Mail says:

    It just shows what despot, what autocrat Microsoft is. how detached they are living somewhere on a cloud light years away from what the user needs! They couldn’t care less about what people really need just like in the style of Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Microsoft just tells the user what they have to like and how and what not!
    Is just laughable when you think that we started out with DOS operating system and four colors and no graphics then evolved into a certain 3D dimensional with Windows 3.1 all the way to Windows XP just to go totally backwards again into flat four-color “icons”. but now we have multicore high-speed processors and X gigabytes of RAM and video cards with processing power billion fold of what was back then.
    or these folks on drugs or are they on meds or off their meds? Duh!
    I really wonder what’s going on in this company and who makes these decisions imposing such nonsense like the the Metro start menu or ribbon on to the user.
    Don’t they always say in America “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”
    Germans have a good word for it: “verschlimmbessern” (you can Google it)
    it translates into “making worse by — improving–“.
    Imagine if you translate that Microsoft product dictatorship into a car product from the company. Then the next year’s model would have the accelerator on the left side the break on the right side and the clutch in the middle and if you need to shift you first have to select on the touchscreen how you want to shift why and then pull the lever behind your head rest because they have determined this is more economical…. just to start with….
    Good luck with that.
    Notwithstanding the fact that you cannot customize the menu anymore, the icons like you were able to do in office 2003….
    the whole Office 2016 and Windows 10 has this Stalinesque “quality” to it “you do as we say or else” in the words of Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s chief of police, famous quote: “showing me the man and I bring you the crime.” translates into “show me the user and I will change everything so he cannot work”.
    WTF?
    All is this convolution of a ribbon interface design does is not give you enough visual cues but places more so strain on the I trying to find how to interpret to understand what you looking at.iit fit at least were customizable like for instance in office 2003 it could be bearable because he could organize it to your liking and thinking but of course Microsoft does not want that, does not allow that, as the supreme leader of the Corporation has decided so and that’s it….
    Last but not least productivity is way down I totally gave up on it it took me four times as long to write the same letter and to print off this 2003 which took me twice as long to write a damn letter on a Remington typewriter!
    Thinking of it, “keep it simple stupid” all I need to do is to write a letter and don’t need to format fonts and tables and this and that and here and there redundant bells and whistles and waste my time with all the unnecessary things, never mind trying to find were in the menu it is and why it is in some cases renamed or relocated….

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