Get ready for a surprise…
Today saw the launch of the brand spanking new user interface for Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint: the Office 12 Ribbon.
Before I go any further I have to say that this is very early pre-release stuff. In fact this is the first time the Office group have showcased a new release so far ahead of launch. Just bear that in mind as you look at this and remember there is lots of time for this to change before RTM.
Now, back to the topic at hand... The Ribbon replaces all the menus and toolbars, and most of task pane options for the applications that have taken it. Yes that's right, menus and toolbars are (almost all) gone!
Ribbon in Word 12. Click for larger image
Current and previous versions of Office have some features available only in menus, some in menus and toolbars, and some in the task pane. In Office 12 the Ribbon is the single place to look for all the application's features.
Commands in the Ribbon are split across a number of tabs. The names of the tabs vary from application to application. These are the tabs for Word:
Kinda different from the familiar File, Edit, View, Insert, etc..? That's because the UI designers have taken a different approach, and rather than design a command-centric interface they have designed a task-centric UI. The developer tab contains all the stuff around macros and VBA. By default it is not visible, but can be enabled through Office 12's equivalent of the Options dialog. (Yes, the Options dialog as we know it is gone too.)
Commands within a tab are grouped into chunks (I expect the folks in marketing will come up with a better name for this before launch). The most important commands are shows as larger buttons. This works well for me. I get nice quick access to the Paste Special command I use all the time for instance. Most of the less common buttons have text associated with them which makes the UI much more discoverable.
The Ribbon is very smart about the way it resizes. It makes much better use of the large screen resolutions that are common today. As you decrease the size of the window buttons first shrink in size, then lose their text labels, then as you decrease window size further they group together to turn into drop-down collections of commands.
Here is lone remaining menu and toolbar in Office. And it's a pretty small toolbar at that. This is called the Quick Access Toolbar and by default contains just three buttons: Save Undo and Redo - commands that are so fundamental to the application that they simply need to be available all the time. You can customize the QAT to add your own favourite commands.
The File menu is the one remaining menu. I don't have a screenshot of that available, but that has been redesigned too, in a similar way to the Ribbon, with larger buttons for most used commands, and additional text for the less common ones.
(I hear on the grapevine that all the cool Office developer announcements are being saved for tomorrow BTW. Stay tuned for more on that later).
[Update 14/9: Added some more screenshots here: http://blogs.msdn.com/bowerm/archive/2005/09/13/464864.aspx]