Which Color When? (Part 2)

On Thursday, I wrote about how Office 2003 renders the user interface using a table of several thousand colors.

Some of you commented that we're crazy to do so much work. Perhaps, but keep in mind that I'm not just talking about the menus and toolbars; every color used in the interface of every program, from Outlook to Visio, is contained in the color table. I believe there are 75 or so just for the Outlook calendar view.

Back to the Future

Today, the Office 2007 story. Flash forward to the lazy summer days of 2004, in which we were first developing a sense of what kind of visuals we wanted for the new UI to complement the interaction designs we'd been working on since the fall of 2003.

It was clear to our designers that in order to make a beautiful, rich, highly-detailed UI that we would need a lot more than just colors. We would need to render the UI based on images with alpha channels (per-pixel translucency), the ability to layer effects and images on top of one another, and the ability to crossfade and animate smoothly between images.

The graphics platform on which we built the Ribbon supported many of these capabilities already, so the developers went to work building the Ribbon and visuals architecture to allow us to fine-tune the look as we went.

As the first private beta test build approached (a pre-Beta 1 build we called "DF4"), we implemented the Beta 1 visuals as a proof-of-concept of the visuals architecture. We knew that those visuals weren't going to represent the final look, but we learned a lot about the effort required and pitfalls associated with creating a textured, graphics-based layered UI.

After we shipped DF4 to beta testers, we turned to figuring out what the real visuals would look like, targeting Beta 2 for their release. (In reality, we finished an initial version earlier and shipped it in Beta 1 Technical Refresh.)

Early in this process, we decided to make at least two different themes, and to make more if we had the time. We created blue as the first theme, and got it into the usability labs as quickly as possible to start measuring the effect of the visuals on the usability of the product vs. the Beta 1-style visuals.

Certain changes we made, such as moving group titles to the bottom of the Ribbon, warranted doing eye-tracker studies to help understand the different scan patterns created by the revised layout.

Black Is Always In Style

After we finished an initial version of blue, we wanted to do something more high concept, a bit more techy, and less mainstream--and thus Black was born. Each of the themes takes a team of designers several months; hundreds of hand-drawn PNG files comprise the core of the UI, many of them additionally rendered in 120, 144, and 196 DPI versions in addition to the standard 96 DPI version. And, of course, the 1500 colors have to be altered to match the new theme as well.

At this point, now that we had two themes, we had a decision to make. Should we allow people to choose any theme they want? Or should we use the theme that we think best matches Windows (like Office 2003) and remove the element of choice?

In the end, we decided to give you the choice as a tenet of the new UI; you pick how you want Office to look. If you want to match the OS, go ahead. If you prefer something different, you can have that too.

On the other hand, because the classic UI programs (Publisher, OneNote, Project, etc.) are still based solely on the color table (which is, in turn, based on system colors), the color scheme these programs use is still determined by the operating system's theme and color scheme.

The End Game and Choosing a Default

After Beta 2, we looked at the schedule and decided that we could get one more color scheme done before RTM. The next one on our list was Silver, and we worked on it for three months or so in late spring/early summer.

Now we had our full set of three color schemes for the new UI programs (Blue, Black, and Silver) as well as the ability for anyone to change their scheme in Options. All that was left to decide: Which color scheme should we ship as the default?

It was always our intent to ship Blue as the default when running on Windows XP. Blue was the first theme we made and it's the one most emblematic of the kind of visual design we wanted to create: optimistic, friendly, and approachable. Across the broad spectrum of skill levels, work environments, and different cultures around the world, the blue is a very good default choice.

The harder question: should we choose a different default color scheme when running on Windows Vista?

Initially, we thought about making Black the Vista default. (In fact, we shipped Beta 2 this way.) The black scheme was kind of inspired by the Vista taskbar and start menu, so it wasn't a totally crazy notion.

Unfortunately, it turns out that many monitors can't really display the black theme very well. On many LCD and CRT monitors alike, ugly banding occurs across many parts of the Office window in this scheme.

This is because these monitors can't display the many shades of very dark gray used in Black. We investigated what changes to the color scheme we could make to enable it to display better on more monitors, but it turns out that you need to either significantly flatten the UI (which made it look like Command Prompt) or lighten it up to the point where it's pretty much Silver. So Black as default was out of the picture.

This left Silver and Blue as options. After a lengthy series of discussions, we decided to make Blue the default on Vista as well as on Windows XP. We liked the default experience being the same regardless of the OS, and we also felt that the decision would allow us to push Silver even further towards being a totally neutral color scheme.

In the months since we made this decision, based on much user feedback, the Vista team changed their Windows Aero (glass) and Windows Basic appearances in Windows to move them from gray-ish to blue. One happy result of this change for us is that our Blue color scheme now matches the default glass (and non-glass) appearances in Windows quite well. So, I think the decision to go with Blue as default on Vista really did turn out for the best.

Here are two tables I put together to outline the different color scheme configurations and options for both new UI- and classic UI-based programs in Office 2007.

Office 2007 New UI Programs
(Word, Outlook, Excel, etc.)

Operating System OS Theme Office Color Scheme
Windows XP Blue Your Choice:
Blue (default), Silver, or Black
Windows XP Olive Your Choice:
Blue (default), Silver, or Black
Windows XP Silver Your Choice:
Blue (default), Silver, or Black
Windows XP Classic (no theming) Your Choice:
Blue (default), Silver, or Black
Windows XP High Contrast Uses standard OS colors
Windows Vista Windows Aero Your Choice:
Blue (default), Silver, or Black
Windows Vista Windows Vista Basic Your Choice:
Blue (default), Silver, or Black
Windows Vista Classic (no theming) Your Choice:
Blue (default), Silver, or Black
Windows Vista High Contrast Uses standard OS colors


Office 2007 Classic UI Programs (OneNote, Publisher, etc.)

Operating System OS Theme Office Color Scheme
Windows XP Blue Blue
Windows XP Olive Olive
Windows XP Silver Silver
Windows XP Classic (no theming) Uses standard OS colors
Windows XP High Contrast Uses standard OS colors
Windows Vista Windows Aero Blue
Windows Vista Windows Vista Basic Blue
Windows Vista Classic (no theming) Uses standard OS colors
Windows Vista High Contrast Uses standard OS colors


Comments (67)

  1. Francis says:

    Very interesting, but I have a few questions:

    1. Why do you still have the 1500 colors if you are using these hand-drawn themes?

    2. Why does each theme take "takes a team of designers several months?" What kind of graphics software are you using? In most graphics software, you color images with linked colors and replaceable palettes, so all you need to do to change ALL the colors in a bunch of graphics is simply alter the linked colors/load a new palette, and the changes are automatically applied to all images. You do not have to re-create every single image by hand.

    3. What does "Uses standard OS colors" mean when I have High Contrast mode on? What if I activate High Contrast mode but turn down the colors (in the Display Control Panel) to my own liking? Does Office then have a color scheme of my choice? A screenshot on this blog would be appreciated.


  2. [ICR] says:

    I beleive the 1500 colours are still used for the non-ribbon based apps. They have to be altered to fit well with the new themes.

  3. Jote says:

    Can I see a screenshot of Office 2007 when "using standard OS colors"? Thanks in advance.

    Another question – what if I use XP themed with a CUSTOM theme not listed in your table?

  4. Bryan says:

    There really needs to be a way to change the Classic UI programs’ color. I personally do not like the blue on Vista, and I would much rather it match the color of the other New UI programs, which I will be setting as black.

  5. Dan Huber says:

    How did it happen that you didn’t notice the faults of "Black" until it was almost time to ship? Seems like a pretty grave problem to me.

    I’m not interested in making anybody look bad (I really like the new UI, and the Black theme is my favorite color scheme), just find it interesting from a project management perspective.

    Did you never test it on the kind of machines customers would use before? Do you all run super-high-quality monitors? Or did it just take too much time to complete the graphics?

  6. PSBS says:

    Why isn’t the silver theme the default on Windows XP Silver? Blue just looks ugly and mismatched.  Also, the themes need to be consistent across all of the programs: classic UI and new UI. (no black theme in classic UI and no olive green theme in new UI)

  7. PSBS says:

    … I forgot to post this before, but I would like to see a screenshot of the high contrast theme in the current builds to see if they have improved.  In beta 2, I found these issues: mismatched borders on buttonGroups and black icons on black background on the view selector.

  8. C. Moya says:

    Why in blazes can’t these visual elements (including images) be *standardized* on the OS level and just use that. That way you get a *consistent* look and feel across ALL Windows applications.

    Sure you can add a bit of flare here and there… but for heaven’s sake give the user an eye-resting break!… and trust that your application will stand apart based on its FEATURES.

    In other words… why do you guys keep trying to reinvent the wheel? It’s maddening.

  9. GoodThings2Life says:

    I gotta say, I really prefer Black and Silver. The blue is too pastel for a "Business" application, but… I know you have all put a lot of effort into the themes, and I’m certainly not going to criticize the ability to choose what we like.

    Funny, I never noticed the banding in Black until today when I purposely looked at it closely… it’s nearly impossible to tell on my TabletPC, strangely enough, but my desktop PC is pretty hard to see because of my contrast setting.

    Thanks for the hard work — can’t wait for the next public release!

  10. Ed W says:

    I really have to say, the blue in the Office 2007 Beta 2 standard apps does my head in.  I so much prefer the black, the blue is too bright and in-your-face.

    As for the banding issues – silly errors, but that is the problem of low contrasting output and colour matching (big problem area to cover all the older screens).  However – given that 2007 and Vista will rarely be running on CRT devices (is anyone who’s buying this software really going to have something that size on their desktop still?) I think the Black should have been the default.

    The biggest shame is that OneNote isn’t using the Ribbon – of all the systems in the suite this is one that really could benefit from the quick find-and-click methods that the ribbon has to offer.  And, given the number of elemenets around the edge, OneNote really should be running with a black capability.  

    Please please consider these things: get black onto the traditional apps, and get ready to ribbon-ise the other apps now … before you ship.  If this means more delays I think it’d be worth it.

  11. C. Moya says:

    Ed W, until LCD’s that are 21 inch AND high resolution(!) are super-affordable, my big 21 inch CRT is staying on my desk. So yeah, lots of us still use CRT’s (graphics people and developers who like their big res and don’t settle for paltry 1280×1024).

  12. [ICR] says:

    C. Moya – Standardising at an OS level doesn’t work when you’re pionering new types of UI.

  13. C. Moya says:

    ICR, with all respect, and noting that I do indeed like the Ribbon…. I would hardly *overstate* Office 2007 as all that pioneering. A new toolbar that is essentially a blown up (blown outward, bloomed) menu? On-the-fly formatting preview? WordPerfect has had this for a while hasn’t it?

    No, the problem here is that the lack of UI consistency not just with Windows-as-a-whole but even within the same Suite (MDI anyone?) has plagued Office for a long long time and one of the major reasons (in my experience) that most people don’t use Office to its fullest potential (for instance, hardly anyone I have encountered at a myriad of places use Word as Outlook’s e-mail composer).

    Was the bitmapped "Microsoft" logo in Office 95 all that necessary? Has *every single* version of Office really had to change the look of the toolbar in order to clash with every other Windows application?

    Don’t get me wrong. I welcome the improvements. But, come on now. This color thing is a joke.

  14. CMM says:

    If the system uses blue, green, or even magenta as a color scheme, so should Office. If the standard "highlight" for items is orange then so should it be with Office. If the dialog box buttons in WinXP are pretty and rounded and grey so should they have been in OfficeXP (but they weren’t!).

    The Windows universe has for some time now morphed into a huge Frankensein hodge podge of thrown-away, abandoned ideas and widgets and clashing UI’s…. I mean how many different toolbars do we have now standard, coolbar, office bar (all 5 of them), etc etc.

    The insanity has got to end.

  15. What does DF4 stand for, if anything?

  16. Chris says:

    DF4 stands for "DogFood 4". You can read about Microsoft dogfooding here:


    As Jensen pointed out, the Office 2007 UI uses textures. Where gradients are easy to recolor, textures are much (much) harder. Yes, it would probably be possible to map each color in the texture to some color determined from the 25 system colors, but I doubt it would look at all reasonable.

    So you could argue "Why use textures when gradients work just as well?" Because you can’t achieve the same kind of effects. Take the Office Button, it has a reflection, phong shading and has four primary colors. Should the UI have to render this each time it boots or the color scheme changes and somehow guarentee that the Office logo is still visible? Note that phong shading is impossible to do with gradients since the white "light" area needs to blend with the color underneath. Now were talking multiple textures which means increased production costs, increased boot time and increased memory foot print.

    Take a look at the Apple logo, could that be done with recolorable gradients? It’s the same kind of problem.

  17. C. Moya says:

    Fine. Logos are one thing. But, we’re not talking about logos here. We’re talking about buttons for heaven’s sake. Why can’t even textures be stored at the OS level, matched artistically to the predefined OS themes and then reused by applications?

    When I look at the Ribbon… yes, I only see a bunch of buttons. Not a logo. They’re buttons. Plus, I really don’t need my Word Processor to have its entire window with a Photoshop filter spotlight effect just to write an e-mail to someone if no other app on my desktop is doing it. It’s annoying and a huge eyesore.

    I’m not luddite. I love MacOS’s look and feel… I’m even one of the few people that like WinXP’s look and feel (sans huge obnoxious titlebar). But, what I really care about is that I don’t go into brain culture shock everytime I switch to a different application. This is something Windows (GUI OS’s period) were once suppossed to save us from….

    But, unfortunately most of the dev’s at Microsoft nowadays haven’t been around that long to have learned those lessons…. they even (Jensen?) blog even about not realizing that the word "Ribbon" was what the toolbar was called in MS Word for Windows 3.1. Come on…. *I* remember that- and I’m not that old.

  18. Chris says:

    Many applications skin themselves, mostly media players and mostly just to look cool.

    But I think 2007 has a good reason to. The ribbon is a new kind of control, some may look at it as just a collection of buttons but reading through the posts here you can see that it’s more than that. It scales, it supports galleries and its contextually sensitive. It also supports the QAT in the title bar, a one up to what 2003 could do for space saving (in 2003 you can turn off all toolbars but the menu, in 2007 you can hide the ribbon and still have the tabs visible plus the QAT in the title bar).

    Individually each of those features could be pulled off to some extent, but together it poses a very hard design problem. If you’re going to have the QAT in the title bar, how do you guarentee it will always be drawn correctly over the Window’s defined title bar? (and we’re just talking XP here, Vista’s Aero is different). IF you’re going to support galleries, how do you skin them? They’re an entirely new type of control. If you’re going to support contextual tabs, how do you ensure that their color will be visible on top of the current Window’s color scheme? And where do you put the title? (since you can’t be sure the text will be visible on the title bar). Also, the status bar in 2007 is much richer with the zoom slider, another thing that you can’t draw with standard Window controls.

    I think the decision to skin Office differently than Windows is tied to including the ribbon or not. This blog is a great resource for answering that question.

    If you really, really want to see what 2007 looks like following the Window’s color scheme, try this: In the Control Panel, double click Accessibility. Under the Display tab, check "Use High Contrast". Then click Settings and choose your favorite color scheme. Office will display with those colors and it will look flat, and uninteresting, just functional.

  19. C. Moya says:

    A zoom slider on a status bar necessitates a completely otherworldly color scheme that clashes with everything else in the environment????? I think not.

    As for other apps like media players doing "their own thing," I can see that to some extent. But, boy did it take me a good 5 or 6 minutes fiddling with Window Media Player 10’s "Color Chooser" to get the right "Silver" to match the rest of the WinXP color scheme. God that was annoying! Software shouldn’t be annoying and aggravating and stupid.

    Again, if the OS has a Blue theme. So should Office. If it’s Green, so should Office. Office 2007 should not clash with Vista the way Office XP (incomprehensibly) clashed with Windows XP (what was that all about???).

    And more… at the very least ALL the apps in the Suite should reflect the same color scheme (what’s this about Publisher, OneNote being different???).

    It’s funny! All this talk, and the "Modify Style" dialog box in Word 2007 is still an unweildy dinosaur straight from circa 1996. It’s ridiculous.

  20. Centaur says:

    For an example of skinning done the (almost) right way, see Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird. I forgive them for implementing skinning in the first place because they must run on Windows, Linux and whatever else — Office does not have this excuse.

    Their skinning blends well with system colors and settings. They draw controls using the OS-provided API, so that buttons look like buttons and checkboxes look like checkboxes, whatever visual style the user chooses. They use system colors consistently. And, most importantly, the whole skin is a zip file containing CSS stylesheets and all the graphics, so that anyone so inclined could customize it to their liking.

  21. CMM says:

    Ugh! I hate this! These guys (MS) don’t learn. Why didn’t Office*XP* use *WinXP*’s buttons for even simple dialog boxes (OK/Cancel)? Even worse, why did Visual Studio 2002 and 2003 not only not use them but also didn’t (easily) allow developers to create apps that used them???!!!!

    Why is it that about 60% of the WinXP user’s desktops I see in my visits to corporations in New York all have WinXP set to "Classic" mode? WinXP’s look and feel doesn’t so much suck as the fact that NO APP uses it (including Office XP!)- up until recently 4 years later- and that gives people a big headache staring at a hodge podge confusing UI.

    Let me say that again: Hodge Podge Confusing UI is what the Windows Universe (as a whole) has become. Office does not exist in a vacuum!!! The Office Team has never ever ever come to terms with this.

    And now, Vista and Office 2007 are continuing this horrible, unweildy, eye-sore problem.

  22. [ICR] says:

    Chris – That argument doesn’t really hold up. If the argument is that it should match the OS, then it shouldn’t be using textures and such, it should be using the OS’s features.

    But at least Microsoft don’t pretend to have a consistent standard and then break it (*cough* Apple). They just shamelessly do their own thing.

  23. Sebhelyesfarku says:

    MS starts to look like Apple, that changes UI elements in every application and every new OS release. Brushed metal, light gray, dark gray, aqua buttons, gel buttons, wet black floor whatever. MS shouldn’t follow this crap because it’s ‘hip’ and vocal Mactards like it.

  24. Timothy says:

    There’s also the "Royale" (Media Center) theme for Windows XP. How does Office 2003/2007 interact with that?

  25. Halo says:

    It’s completely possible to implement a complicated Ribbon-based UI using nothing but gradients based on the system colors.  I know of one such project which has done a fantastic job of emulating the visual behaviors of Office 2007, including the visual animations and non-client drawing with toolbar menus:


  26. [ICR] says:

    C. Moya – My a technical definition it is indeed pioneering.

    I agree more effort should be made to make custom UI fit better into the OS world as a whole.

    And WinFX does make it alot easier to do this, but it also makes it alot easier not to do it. I suspect people are going to take a wrong move with it and create wildly different UI so it will be slated as a wrong move. But if used well, it means that you can create new UI components and ideas by modifying existing components, creating a more unified feel. So they have already made moves to unify at an OS level, it just won’t be used that way.

  27. C. Moya says:

    ICR, well, your comments bring to mind the countless old VB3/4 in-house corporate apps  I’ve encountered that use big oversized purple buttons and cyan window backgrounds for absolutely no reason at all other than the developer- often straight out of college- felt he could (or didn’t know that -2147483633 was the color "pointer" for the system dialog background).

    Maybe I’m a shrinking minority… but I just happen to believe that one of the top major reasons to have a GUI OS is consistency in the UI.

    The secretary at my job is going to be ticked off…. she likes XP’s Olive theme. Doh! But Office 2007 is going to be Blue (or Silver or Black— and that’s it!) on her desktop. That’s just absolutely nuts if you ask me.

  28. [ICR] says:

    Currently you can change UI componant colours, but not alot else. With WinFX you can, yes, skin them until your hearts content. But you can also modify every existing component to suit your needs (i.e. create a ribbon for example). Thats what gets me excited. But that’s not, unfortunately, how it’s going to get used.

  29. A User says:

    There is a reason so many people use "classic" mode: signal to noise ratio.

    There is a reason people wear sunglasses to cut specular glare: signal to noise ratio.  

    There is a reason Bozo the Clown would love to wear 1500 colors: signal to noise ratio.

    I could go on, but I think you get the point, and have already decided it is just noise.

  30. CMM says:

    I’m not a Mac user. But from what I have seen it is truly a brilliant and well-thought out, clean display of colors and flares.

    But am I wrong in assumming that when MacOS  tweaks its overall look (from one release to another) ALL applications automatically reflect the changes? Or do they have the same problems Windows seems to have?

    I don’t know… I just don’t see the extreme disparity among MacOS apps that Windows has (some apps sport classic Win95 toolbars, newer Office 97/2000-esque toolbars, Office XP, Office 2003… not to mention IE’s "coolbar" and WinXP tweaked bubble buttons).

    Everytime a new Office comes- it breaks OS "standards" and 3rd party developers race like madmen to duplicate the look and feel. It’s harrowing.

  31. steveg says:

    CMM> Everytime a new Office comes- it breaks OS "standards" and 3rd party developers race like madmen to duplicate the look and feel. It’s harrowing.

    Yep, they will. But what will they put on the MS Office Brand Logo menu (AKA File menu)? It’s gonna be ugly.

    I don’t have a problem with Office looking different — you could call it innovation, or you could call it marketing (it’s MUCH easier to sell something that looks different to the previous version, people can see what they’re getting).

    The Office team know they’re trendsetters, they know the industry will spend zillions making apps look like Office (3rd party UI library providers are probably working their butts off right now) — they don’t AFAIK provide a library to make it easy to use their (is that a key word?) interface in other apps. In the past we’d be waiting a year or 3 for the Common Controls DLL to get updated.

  32. CMM says:

    "They don’t have to make it easy to use their *Interface* in other apps?"

    We’re talking BUTTONS and Colors. I’m not talking about *functional* overhauls like the "Ribbon."

    And the problem isn’t just with Office. It extends to things like Visual Studio, server tools like SQL Server Admin tools and what have you? Besides, Office shouldn’t be the "trendsetter"…. that’s a big fallacy. WINDOWS should be the trendsetter IMHO.

    The Windows Universe is a MESS if you ask me. Office 2007 seems to be continuing that mess (in terms of look and feel).

    There’s is no excuse for Office 2007 being BLUE when the user has selected Olive as their OS theme or otherwise some other color combo in Classic mode. Jensen’s claims about the necessity of this are just plain arrogant and reflect the deep cluelessness that has permeated Microsoft in the last 4 years.

  33. Chris says:

    CMM, there’s no magic wand you can wave to convert a textured UI into a different color scheme, it has to be done by a designer and then has to be re-rendered. Phong shading, refraction, caustics and reflection can’t be done with gradients, it’s ray traced and expecting a UI to do that on the fly seems unprecendented, not to mention the enormous overhead you would incur.

  34. Tim Dawson says:

    I am the developer responsible for the third-party Ribbon control another poster linked to above.

    Our Ribbon does in fact use a color table and not artwork to do all its rendering, and I have to disagree with those posters that say you cannot achieve the Ribbon effects with gradients alone. Remember that gradients can include translucency.

    As a proof-of-concept, I created a renderer for our Ribbon control that takes all its colors from the system color table. This means that no matter what color scheme the user is using, the Ribbon respects it.

    You can see the results of my test below. I offer no opinion as to whether the test was a success or not, I leave that up to you to decide.


    Jensen – I apologise if you consider it out of line to post a link to a third-party control here. Feel free to delete this comment if it is inappropriate.

  35. Centaur says:

    > CMM, there’s no magic wand you can wave to convert

    > a textured UI into a different color scheme

    Then don’t use texturing for UI, dammit! It is not a video game, it is an office application, and it must play nice with the environment.

  36. Jote says:

    Tim Dawson: THIS – IS – GREAT. Proves it can be done without spending MONTHS on a single theme, which might not be suited to ones taste. Why can’t Microsoft learn from 3rd parties? ;/

  37. Francis says:

    Tim: Bravo! I would love to hear the discussions that your proof on concept has ignited at Microsoft!

    Challenging the Office team’s–or any developer’s assertions–can only result in a better product, which is good for everybody!

    This leads me to wonder–has anybody patched the Office executables to disable OS detection (i.e., to see if there are any technical reasons that Office 2007 will not run on Windows 2000?)

  38. Chris says:

    Tim: Very neat! But even your webpage claims:

    "…will not look so good when presented with some of the "crazier" color schemes that some people have (e.g. completely inverted, white on black)."

    Is it not functional under high contrast? How can you guarentee Office will be functional under all color schemes? Someone may have a "crazy" color scheme that they like and it works great for the Window’s controls because they’re simple but doesn’t work great for your newer, gradient drawn controls. Unless you’re using standard Window controls everywhere, I don’t see how you can ever make this guarentee.

    And it still doesn’t use the standard Windows drawn title bar. I bet if Office 2007 did mix its colors to somehow match the current color scheme in unthemed mode, this would still draw unending fire. How do you guarentee the contextual tab color will show up on whatever title bar or color is there?

    Look at it this way: Jensen’s table points out all the possible installed Window’s skins. Each has a more or less direct match (XP blue with blue, XP silver/unthemed with silver, Vista with black) with the exception of Olive. On Vista it even uses the Aero drawn border which (I assume) will match the given Aero color scheme.

    Is all this concern because there’s no "Olive" Office theme to match XP’s?

    Or how about this: Office is flexible enough to allow you to customize it’s color scheme seperately from the OS. It’s your choice, it can match the current installed theme or you can differentiate it. The draw back is if you change the Windows theme, you need to manually once change the Office theme.

  39. PSBS says:

    Just open up the "Beta 2 online Test Drive".  Windows Server 2003 is set to the Olive Green theme, and the classic UI programs have an Olive Green color scheme.  However when you open a new UI program, it is set to the Blue color scheme, and there is no option to change to Olive.  A similar thing happens when the Windows theme is set to Silver (the new UI programs remain blue), but fortunately there is a silver theme that can be set in Options.

    There NEEDS to be an Olive Green color scheme.

  40. TBL says:

    I have been following Jensen’s blog for a long time and really appreciate the care and effort that have gone into the new UI, and into Jensen’s explanations and descriptions.

    That said, the coloring issue is the one aspect of the new UI that makes me crazy. I really hate that it differs from the normal OS coloring, particularly with respect to the active and inactive title bar colors. These seem to me to be major UI visual clues for people that become second nature after not very long and to suddenly have a different set of active/inactive title bar colors competing with the standard ones is distracting and silly. It’s not a matter of adding more color schemes – it’s about respecting the basic ways in which people work with Windows, and thus respecting the OS color schemes that people choose/design.

  41. Tim Dawson says:


    It is indeed more work to make sure that a color scheme based upon system colors always looks good. It is by no means impossible, however. Office 2003 does it, and my disclaimer applied only to the half hour I spent creating a basic color table based upon the system colors.

    High contrast is another issue, and is actually slightly easier because it is so strict that every color must match exactly to a system color – there is no room for interpolation or lightness adjustment.

  42. C. Moya says:

    I for one expect a professional business application to respect the overall look and feel of the platform (in terms of colors). I can forgive Media Players and their countless cool skins (in fact, it even makes sense for them). But for Office and BUSINESS applications? No.

    IMHO, Office XP/2002 was the pinnacle of nice clean UI in terms of colors and vibe. Office 2003 (finally) introduced WinXP consistent buttons (thankfully) but messed it all up with the gaudy, eye-sore inducing toolbar. 2007 seems to be continuing the trend.

    I know many Admin guys who I’ve spoken with that are just rolling their eyes Office 2007. It has become a joke of sorts.

  43. Alb says:


    Someone on Microsoft, please buy this Tim Dawson guy right now.

    That lunablue.png is just the only way I could / would / dare willfully use this Office suite.

    It’s wonderful. It’s so clean, it’s so readable, it’s so ·easy to our sore, aching eyes.

    I keep resorting to my beloved Word 2002 when I want to write. The 2007 beta only has been opened when I’was in the mood for some painful experimenting, or, reluctantly, when I had to do a massive use of a 2007-exclusive feature.

    And then, I wasted a lot of my poor cognitive resourves visually inhibiting all the lights and noise and colors and clutter and i don’t know how many things around the page, trying to concentrate in, well, the page, and writing. Signal to noise, gentlemen, as A User said.

    Obviously, I can’t put up with the glossy FISHER-PRICENESS of the blue skin, and I like the elegance and stylish glory of the black skin, but just try to understand the stress over switching from this  (http://img132.imageshack.us/img132/3826/word2002fr4.png) to this (http://img132.imageshack.us/img132/8143/word2007vn0.png).

    ..I breathe more heavily, I feel opressed by all that BLAACKNESSS around me.

    But then I see Tim Dawson’s lunablue pic and the drool overcomes everything and I LOUDLY ASK to see, ANYHOW, that skin on my Word 2007.

    Please. Buy that man, now.

  44. PatriotB says:

    Jensen, your posts are always informative, telling us how things are.  And often you tell us why they are the way things are.

    But in this series, you are totally avoiding the hard issues here.  Like why do the Office designers feel the need to create such visually radical interfaces, and to reinvent the wheel.

    I would like you to explain to us why Office calls tooltips "screentips".  Why Office doesn’t use Windows-style scrollbars but draws its own that don’t look like XP or Vista style scrollbars.

    And the idea that image-based UI is the only way to go, is way off.  Have you used Vista?  Have you seen their toolbar controls?  They look visually stunning no matter what their background color.  They have a nice, glassy effect that is not based on static images but is either completely drawn at runtime or is based on colorized images.  It *is* possible for Office to do the same.  Of course, if you guys would simply use the Windows controls, you wouldn’t have to worry about it, you’d get it for free.

    If you find that Windows is lacking some of the fundamental things you need, then by all means send some of the Office designers over to the Windows division!

  45. C. Moya says:

    PatriotB, they do it because their "studies" tell them to (as Jensen LOVES to refer to). Just like countless studies told Coke that Pepsi tasted better which is why they commited one of the biggest marketing blunders in history (New Coke… circa 1985).

    Seriously, I get the sense that there is a whole NEW crop of developers at work at Microsoft that are completely clueless to lessons learned in the past. Jensen himself didn’t even know "Ribbon" is an old term from Microsoft Word 2.0 in Windows 3.1. It’s laughable.

    IMHO, the color scheme in Office 2002 completely (and finally!) fixed the dashboard sensory overload introduced in Office 95.

    And now they’re doing it AGAIN!!!?

  46. A user says:

    Olive color scheme is absolutely needed. An option to follow system colors without changing the display of the document would also be great (for those who don’t know it, all colors are changed to system colors both in the UI and inside documents when the high contrast option is turned on).

  47. PatriotB says:

    Jensen, here’s a link for the Office designers to read:


    "Top Guidelines Violations" from the Windows Vista UX Guidelines.

    Listed under the "Aesthetics" section: "Don’t hardcode theme-related values or system metrics, such as fonts, colors, or sizes. Respect the user’s settings by always obtaining font typefaces, sizes, and colors, Windows display element sizes, and system configuration settings from the Theme and GetSystemMetrics APIs."

  48. Moz says:

    does anyone at microsoft read the UI Guidlines from the Top Violations articles? I’d be a bigger fan of Office etc if they did..

  49. C. Moya says:

    What’s funny is that the guidelines are sometimes changed to accomodate Office’s shortcomings and blatant violations.

    Once upon a time (circa 1995/1996 shortly after Win95 was introduced), MDI (Multiple Document Interface) was not just discouraged but deemed deprecated in the guidelines (personally, I didn’t mind MDI… but it confused the hell out of normal, non-power users).

    But, for some reason, the Office team couldn’t figure out how to make Excel and PowerPoint true SDI (Single Document Interface) applications like they were able to do with Word (this is true to this day!!!). So the Official Guidelines where changed in Orwellian fashion and the language deeming MDI deprecated was completely toned down and softened.

  50. Ian Banyard says:

    So Jensen, now that 2007 has apparently RTM’d – If I install RTM on Vista with Glass enabled, black translucent theme, does Onenote STILL display sickly blue…….

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