Renaissance to deliver 0.16 prototype this week with hybrid toolbar

The Renaissance project plans to release this week another prototype of its next gen OpenOffice GUI that offers a "hybrid" toolbar combining traditional menus and tabbed toolbars, project leaders say."0.

The Renaissance project plans to release this week another prototype of its next gen OpenOffice GUI that offers a "hybrid" toolbar combining traditional menus and tabbed toolbars, project leaders say.

"0.16 should be available early next week," wrote John McCreesh, marketing project lead for OpenOffice.org, in an email to this blogger Friday. "This one will feature a hybrid toolbar combining (the designer hopes :-) the best of traditional menus and tabbed toolbars in the same element."

McCreesh also said that the 0.16 release slated to come out this week will also feature " a combination of frequently used icons in a fixed toolbar plus a context sensitive toolbar."

The blending of traditional menus and tabbed toolbars and other new features would appear to try to quell criticism that the next Openoffice GUI looks too much like Microsoft's 'Fluent" ribbon-style interface.
But McCreesh and other Renaissance project developers insist the prototypes are concepts and were never intended to be representative of the final UI, which won't be completed for some time.  He and others also point out that the toolbar design has become mainstream in user interface design.

"And yes, one of the elements of the new design was a new toolbar, which reminded people of the Microsoft Ribbon. Not really surprising, in that using tabs like this is pretty common in UIs, for example, on websites," McCreesh wrote on his blog after the story and subsequent comments were posted.

"There were other ideas [in Renaissance UI prototype] which were equally striking, but which didn’t attract the same level of comment – live previews, the drag and drop feature in the sorter view and a 3D view, which I love on my Eee PC."

On the Renaissance web site, leaders recently posted a Q&A to address highly publicized concerns that the next gen OpenOffice UI looked too Microsoft-ish.

"Will the result of Renaissance look like product XYZ? (e.g. Microsoft Fluent "Ribbon")," the web site asks.

"Not in general, maybe single parts," according to the post. "From experience it is known that UX professionals tend to develop similar solutions if there are similar problems and constraints.

"Concerning Microsoft Fluent (known as "Ribbon" in Microsoft Office 2007), Microsoft has started to patent this user interface concept. As far as we know, if anybody uses the concept for office applications, then licence fees have to be paid," the project posting states. "Additionally, it has not yet been proven that this concept represents the optimum for our users."

There is yet another post on the Renaissance web site that address what it says are misconceptions about the last prototype.

"Our prototype did not kill the menus (d). They are still there! Even the new prototype, which is in the making, will keep at least the same structure (File, Edit, View, Insert, Format...) users are used to these days, but it will provide new graphical possibilites where we need it to provide rich formatted document pieces. The next prototype will also implement a context-sensitive interface approach," according to the post..

"We do not want to copy the ribbon (c) interface," the Renaissance team said in its blog. "But what makes the 'ribbon'? The tabbed interface? No. On top navigation? No. Rich formated document pieces in galleries? Maybe, but templates are not new and other products did provide those possibilities earlier. Do we have to keep the classical interface as a second interface? This would mean that it has to be maintained as well as the new one. So maybe it is a good idea to offer this as an OOo extension, if really required by users."

McCreesh said the project continues while the buzz subsides.

"The prototypes will be formally tested with real users, and refined; the team will analyse the feedback from people who have used the prototypes; other prototypes may be built," McCreesh wrote in his blog, humorously entitled, "Getting your Ribbons in a Twist."

"At some stage, the research will tell the Renaissance folk they have hit gold, and then the work of transferring this work into OpenOffice.org will begin."