From the "truth is stranger than fiction" desk (via Slashdot), the OpenOffice.org camp is showing off a prototype of its rival desktop productivity suite that has a very Microsoft-Office-like interface.
OpenOffice.org's "Project Renaissance," launched in 2008, is all about the redesign of the user interace of OpenOffice, a free, open-source office suite that competes directly with Microsoft Office. On July 31, the Renaissance team showed off a prototype of that new interface via Sun GullFOSS OpenOffice Engineering blog.
Much criticism ensued, primarily because the new UI looks an awful lot like the Ribbon UI that Microsoft introduced with Office 2007. While Microsoft officials have cited much telemetry data as proof that users love the Ribbon -- a feature that MIcrosoft but almost no one else calls "Fluent" -- I still hear (fairly often) from Office customers who find it far from intuitive. In some cases, Microsoft users have said the Ribbon has kept them from upgrading from older versions of Office.
Microsoft's Ribbon is designed to expose more features of Office and to make them more accessible. But the Ribbon takes a bit (or a lot) of getting used to. I remember the first time I encountered a PC running Office 2007 at a Microsoft trade show. I could not find the print button, for the life of me. (A security guard standing nearby showed me where it was. She said she had watched people struggle with it all day and had learned where it was so she could help.)
Some love the Ribbon. Some detest it. The very first comment on the OpenOffice blog post about the new UI from "James" veers toward the latter opinion:
"Just out of curiosity, why is OOo aping Office 2007's 'Ribbon' design? In addition to being unfamiliar to most users, it looks terribly out of place on anything except Windows Vista/7... Will there at least be an option to use an interface that is, er, usable?"
The comments largely go downhill from there. While there were a few Ribbon defenders, more folks were like poster "talkimposter," who said:
"The ribbon is for absolute morons. In fact I use OpenOffice at work because they moved to Office 2007 and I just can't stand that STUPID interface for idiots.
"OpenOffice needs to stop trying to be Office and just grow it's own set of balls and be itself."
Another example, from poster "thtanner":
"must say moving towards an Office 2007 style ribbon.. thing.. is a horrific idea.
"Such a waste of space, unintuitive, and intrusive."
More than one commentator mentions the large amount of screen real estate that the proposed OpenOffice ribbon would consume as a drawback.
Microsoft, for its part, is continuing to march ahead with the Ribbon and is adding it to all of its desktop Office 2010 apps. It will be interesting to see whether the Project Renaissance folks change course, based on user feedback, or march to the Microsoft drum on this one....