Microsoft has modified its new interface for Office 2007 after complaints
from beta testers that the "ribbon" system took up too much screen space.
Office 2007 had ditched the traditional drop-down menu approach of most
Windows applications in favor of
the ribbon, which displays functions in new categories such as Home, Insert
and Mailing in a strip across the top of the screen.
Microsoft said the new interface would make it easier
for people to access the wide range of features in applications such as Word, Excel and Access.
However, in the next technical refresh of the Office 2007 beta, people can
set the ribbon to automatically minimize whenever it is not being used,
effectively making the ribbon headings look like traditional menus. (Windows has
long offered a similar auto-hide option for the taskbar.)
Microsoft Australia technical specialist John Hodgson said the change is a
result of complaints from some beta testers. "One of the feedbacks we got is
that it takes up too much room," he said during a presentation at Microsoft's Tech.Ed 2006 conference last week in Sydney.
Despite the change, Microsoft remains committed to using the ribbon
interface, though it isn't included in all Office components. Visio, for
example, has no ribbon options at all, and Outlook does not use the ribbon in
The changes to the Office interface are expected to meet some resistance.
The product "will face some serious foot-dragging at both the individual and
corporate levels," Forrester Research analyst Nate Root wrote in a 2005 paper analyzing the new interface.
One other change in the next technical refresh, due for release to beta
testers in the near future, actually consumes more screen space by offering
large "text tips" when people mouse over individual ribbon elements.
The current File menu, accessed from a Start-like button in the top-left
corner, will also have its name changed to Office menu, Hodgson said.
Hodgson also confirmed that Microsoft is working on tools to help enterprises
automatically translate existing documents into new file formats being introduced in Office 2007.
"We've been asked by a lot of customers to provide tools to do mass
migrations," he said. "There will be tools that will take a million documents and migrate those to the new formats."
One likely incentive for that migration will be reduced storage costs.
Microsoft claims that file sizes for the new Office 2007 XML-based formats are
up to 75 percent smaller than those of existing Office formats.