Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Joy of UI

At work, we got Microsoft Office ULTIMATE 2007! Wow! ULTIMATE, huh?

A lot of people seem to like Office 2007's "upgrades". What I notice is their "ribbon" design that has replaced toolbars and drop-down-menus. Some people like ribbons. To me, they're a retarded bastard child with the worst features of both toolbars and drop-down menus.

See, I like customizing my workspace. I'm the kind of guy who actually changes the resolution of my monitor depending on which program I'm working in. Toolbars - lovely, customizable, dockable-undockable toolbars - were my favorite feature. Because I know how to copy and paste, I simply delete the "copy" and "paste" icons from my toolbar. I will never need them. I add obscure macros, delete "save as", etc, etc, until I am happy with my work environment.

In Office ULTIMAAAAAAAATE 2007, you have ribbons. Ribbons are drop-down menus with graphics. Presumably, the idea is to provide you with everything you need in a given "editing mode" without having to actually use a drop-down menu. Except they can't be undocked, so you can't operate in more than one mode simultaneously, and they can't be easily customized, so you're stuck with half your "ribbon" being filled with large icons for things that you'll never use and certainly don't require a hundred-pixel-wide icon for. However, if you minimize it then you can't do ANYTHING without wasting your time clicking on the menu.

The "quick access toolbar" is not a viable alternative, because it isn't dockable, partitionable, or segmented so that you can open or close subsets of it.

I'm sure someone will chime in with how wonderful ribbons are and how they solve all the problems mankind has faced in word editing. The only possible reason I can think of to like Ribbons is if you're trying to appeal to the most primitive users, and even then there's no reason to actually block customization.

It's kind of interesting. Being a gamer and a programmer, my priority is on efficient UI. Since UI makes or breaks programs of those sorts, you can see a clear evolution from decade to decade.

Doom had a giant bar across the bottom of the screen that really did nothing besides display your health. These days, HUD overlays are the way to go - tiny little displays that usually vanish when you're not actively in need of them.

Similarly, 3D design programs have added feature after feature after feature every year. Their user interfaces are cumbersome and complex, but actually get a little cleaner with every new program to emerge. Modern programs like ZBrush have a UI that isn't much more complicated than ULLLLLLLTTTIIIIIIIMMMAAAAAAAATE Office 2007, despite dealing with a data space two orders of magnitude more complex.

Presumably, the fact that Office 2007 has this nasty, useless "feature" is because a writer's real UI is the keyboard. So the toolbars and crap are really just add-ons. A car's interface is very sharp and well evolved for dealing with driving around at 80 mph - but the car radio and air conditioner generally have really shitty interfaces. Similarly, Word has a very sharp and well evolved way of letting you type onto the screen, but the toolbars or (gag) ribbons are add-ons that aren't under the same kind of pressure for efficiency.



Anonymous said...

I had to work with '07 for a month or so before I quit my job.

I cannot imagine who thinks ribbons are a good idea. None of the computer novices at the office liked them. The more... evolved user doesn't care for them either. All they served to do it make it difficult for me to tell people how to do things in Excel without clicking around until I found out where they'd hid it now.

I also don't like to keep my apps full screen. Typically I need to see the data in more than one application at a time. Menus and toolbars handled that gracefully. Ribbons actually hide certain components, meaning I needed to maximize the window to access features!

Inexcusable UI design. Simply inexcusable. Fortunately my home office is 100% Linux and I don't have to worry about it anymore.

Craig Perko said...

Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.