OpenOffice users: Just say no to a Microsoft-like Ribbon interface

OpenOffice users: Just say no to a Microsoft-like Ribbon interface

Summary: From the "truth is stranger than fiction" desk (via Slashdot), the camp is showing off a prototype of its rival desktop productivity suite that has a very Microsoft-Office-like interface. And many OpenOffice users are none too happy about it.


From the "truth is stranger than fiction" desk (via Slashdot), the camp is showing off a prototype of its rival desktop productivity suite that has a very Microsoft-Office-like interface.'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.

Surprise: It's not Office. It's OpenOffice

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....

Topics: Open Source, Collaboration, Microsoft, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • They better follow Microsoft.

    Anyone who remember Jensen Harris' presentation at MIX08 knows that the Ribbon is the best thing to happen in user interface design in a long time. Lots of research went into it.

    OOo would be best-off using Microsoft's research to their own advantage.
    • Ribbon is great

      In the worst case it is no worse than the regular windows menu. Usually things can be found easier on the ribbon then through the menus. As for the size it is not a problem with higher screen resolutions. On 800x600 every menu shadow seems like a waste of space but on 1600x1200 screen it is not a problem.
      • My wife and I hate the ribbon. Others, too.

        We were both advanced users of the previous versions of Word and Excel. Some of the more advanced features in both are now so buried under the pretty, screen-stealing ribbon as to not be usable. Not sure where Microsoft did its research, but I don't know anyone who used their previous versions who actually prefers the ribbon over the compact, customizable, button bar they had before. Most just say it gets in their way and takes up document editing space.
        • I disagree

          I would consider myself an expert in Word, Excel, and Access. I do complex VBA coding, macros, functions, etc. I have found that the ribbon opened capabilities up to me that I did not know about before. I also discovered that typical tasks can be done quicker using the ribbon. As a side benefit, because of the keyboard shortcuts the ribbon introduces, I can get things done far faster and easier using the keyboard shortcuts.
          • Bad ribbon

            I've been using Word since version 2 for DOS, and I think it's (mostly) great. I upgraded to Office 2007 because of and with great expectations for the Ribbon. Sadly, I found it impossible to love. It was impossible to customize, and I never got used to it (10 months of daily use). I switched to Open Office, then back to Word 2003. The Ribbon was THE major factor in the switch. If Word 03 ever stops being useful, I'll switch to Open Office again - unless they copy the damn ribbon too.
            Evil(er) Overlord
          • Same here... wanted to like it, but ended up hating it

            It takes up too much screen space on our laptops and I can't customize it to display only the buttons I use most, like I did with the old button bars. For us, the ribbon was an epic fail which left us longing for the old versions of Word. Unfortunately, we need to be compatible with others using the new version, so we're stuck.

            I wish Open Office would focus solely on fixing the many formatting incompatibilities with Word and stop focusing so much on the interface. It really sucks when you make one change in Open Office and send it back to a Word user only to hear how you destroyed the document formatting.
          • Uggg!

            I have Office 2007 on all of the machines here in the office. Its a tossup between whether the ribbon or the lack of compatibility in Excel is hated the most. No one likes either.

            Not a day goes by withour someone DEMANDING Office 2003 back or cursing Excel 2007!

            All of our machines are Vista Business since April of 2007 and everybody here loves Vista!

          • Biggest complaint

            is the lack of customization. That is fixed in Office 2010. You can now customize the ribbons however you like, even create new ones. To me that was the one feature that 2007 lacked that could have made the ribbon really shine.
          • Please use a search engine.

            "It was impossible to customize, and I never got used to it (10 months of daily use)."

            It might not be straightforward, but the ribbon is entirely customizable. A simple Google search might have told you that.

            And in Office 2010, ribbon customization is made easier.
          • Right on!

            The same thing happened to me. Expert Office users complain about but even a guy like me that has used Office forever but not a guru have been able to discover stuff I didn't even know existed.

          • Include me in the "I disagree" group

            I have to agree with bretthodel on 08/05/09 who stated the Ribbon Interface made it easier to find and employ capabilities he did not know about. I have to agree. Once I've used the ribbon a while, I really like it. Like anything else it takes getting used to, particularly if you're used to the old way of doing things. I'm glad to see the next version of Office will upgrade Outlook to also the Ribbon! Now, About Openoffice, while yes, technically it is a ribbon-type interface, what I see does not look nearly as good as the MS version. If you can't do better than the clunky look shown in this article, stick with the old interface.
          • So you don't actually use the Ribbon

            As a side benefit, because of the keyboard shortcuts the ribbon introduces, I can get things done far faster and easier using the keyboard shortcuts.
            tracy anne
        • You can minimize the ribbon

          [i]Most just say it gets in their way and takes up document editing space.[/i]

          Hit the down arrow next to your "quick access toolbar" and select "Minimize the Ribbon". Try it, you might like it.

          You can also custom the "quick access toolbar" and put any frequently used commands up there.
          • Screen Real Estate

            You can also ditch the 1024X768 resolution, get a 1600X1200 22 inch LCD and the ribbon just doesn't seem that large anymore!

            I find that sometimes there are commands like "Switch Windows" that take more clicks than before... Well, that's why you can modify the "Quick Access Toolbar" I just added Switch Windows to it.

            I work almost constantly with Excel and I find the Ribbon to be much faster and easier to find the esoteric things that you don;t use much. I actually find I use those features more now because I don't have to go fishing for the right dialog box.

            The ribbon is simply a breath of fresh air. BTW I hated the ribbon for about the first 6 weeks as I adapted. Now I think button bar interfaces look so archaic...
            Freddy McGriff
          • Carry around a 22 inch LCD for our laptops?

            My desktop has a 30" and 24" display side-by-side. The problem is, like a lot of people, we also need to use Office on our laptops. On laptops, the ribbon eats up half the screen it seems.

            I'll admit that a lot of normal stuff is more visual now, which is a plus. I just wish all of the bars were more customizable. Some stuff those ribbons show, I don't need. I'd like to be able to replace that stuff with stuff I DO need. Basically, I want to see ONLY what I actually use. I could do that on the old bars. So for me, the ribbon is not an improvement in the interface.
          • Then why not just add that stuff to the quick access toolbar

            And minimize the ribbon. Problem solved.

            Either way in Office 2010 the ribbon is fully customizable.

          • I hear what you're saying

            and the good news is, so does MS apparently. You can fully customize the ribbon in Office 2010.
          • minimise the Ribbon...

            and reveal when you need it, same as you would the Rulers. Keyboard shortcuts and on-the fly pop-up options mean that if the Ribbon chews up the realestate, can have hidden much of the time.

            BTW, I'm using [i]only[/i] a Notebook (17" monitor) and have plenty of room with a 1440x900 screen res, so really do fail to see any basis for complaint.
          • What about the menus

            <Now I think button bar interfaces look so archaic... >
            I think you're missing the point. Buttons and ribbons both suck. I just want an interface with decent menus. Except for B,I,U, I've never used a button.
          • Upgading of hardware? To use basic software?

            I swear they have stock in most of the various hardware vendors..... Everytime they come out with a new OS you can (with the exception of Windows 7 ) count on needing to upgrade hardware, now your telling me to upgrade my monitor and possibly graphics adapter for Office? LOL not happening......