When Microsoft introduced the Ribbon interface in Office 2007, a key argument for the radical switch was that it would be easier to use. That always seemed like a suspicious claim relative to the millions of existing Office users, and now Microsoft has been forced to concede that throwing out everything might not have been the best move.
In a minor but telling change to the existing Office Ribbon implementation in the next beta of Office 2010, the 'Office button' has been replaced with a ribbon tab labelled 'File'. Given that the main use of the button is to access Save, Open and Print, which remain under a File menu in virtually every other Windows program, this is a move that's surprising only because it took so long.
In the technical preview, the button had already been moved down to be parallel with other Ribbon features, the second failed attempt to make people notice it (the first was making it flash when people first installed the Office 2007). Nonetheless, it turns out that sometimes text is actually better than an icon, as Microsoft admits on its engineering blog (Google take note):
Over and over in the usability lab, customers told us the word "File" was something they were looking for in the UI – all the years of using the File menu to use commands like “Save As” and “Print” is a hard habit to break. So we’ve listened to our customers and in our Beta release you’ll see we’ve added the “File” label to the tab. This has been a tremendous success in the usability labs and we’ve seen an incredible surge in initial discoverability of the Backstage view.
Well, duh. The Backstage view, if you were wondering, is the new all-in-one area for handling file management and printing features. In the technical preview, this looks so different from the rest of the product to be rather jarring; it appears better integrated in the next release if the screenshots are any guide.
While I'll readily admit that there are some features the Ribbon makes easier to implement, it still seems to me that selling more software by making a really visible change was a bigger reason for introducing it than anything else. But if Microsoft will just stop making keyboard shortcuts more convoluted with each release (it does seem to have fixed the rubbish recent files list it attempted in the technical preview), I might even be convinced it does have the best interests of users at heart once again. In the meantime, learn how to make the most of the ribbon.
Evolving the Backstage view [Microsoft Office 2010 Engineering]