Licensing the 2007 Microsoft Office User Interface

For the last year or so, one of the questions I've been asked again and again has been: "Can I use the new Office user interface in my own product?"

On one hand, it's an immensely satisfying question to hear, because it means that others in the industry believe in the value of what we've built and see how the sound UI research we've done can benefit their own products. Creating the new user interface has been our team's passion for the last three years, and we love sharing the fruits of this hard work.

On the other hand, the new Office user interface was a huge investment by Microsoft and the resulting intellectual property belongs to Microsoft.

As a result, I've never been totally comfortable answering questions about whether people can use the new UI or not publicly because, honestly, I didn't really know the answer. You might have noticed I've been pretty quiet on the subject.

Internally, though, more than a year ago we started talking about how we could share the design work we've done more broadly in a way that also protects the value of Microsoft's investment in this research and development.

Well, I'm pleased to finally be able to definitively answer the question. Today, we're announcing a licensing program for the 2007 Microsoft Office system user interface which allows virtually anyone to obtain a royalty-free license to use the new Office UI in a software product, including the Ribbon, galleries, the Mini Toolbar, and the rest of the user interface.

Last week, I recorded a video along with Judy Jennison, the lawyer who has been spearheading the licensing effort, to chat about the UI license in detail. Take a look, or keep reading to learn more.

(If you ever wondered what my office looks like, here's your chance!)

Watch the Channel 9 video about the Office 2007 UI License

How does the license work?

It's pretty simple really. First, you visit the Office UI Licensing web site. On this page, you'll find some information about the licensing program, a downloadable copy of the license to peruse at your leisure, and further contact information.

If you choose to implement the Office UI, you sign up for the program by accepting the license terms and giving us a little bit of information about your product. There's no fee, you don't owe Microsoft any royalties, and the license is perpetual—meaning that the terms won't change.

This should give you the confidence you need to build a business or product on top of the Office UI platform, secure in the knowledge that you've licensed the technology and research you're using in your product.

You must follow the guidelines, though.

Included with the license you'll find the 2007 Microsoft Office System User Interface Guidelines. This 120+ page document includes all of the information you need to implement Office-style UI; think of it as the specification for how the UI needs to work in your product.

To stay within the terms of the license, you must follow these guidelines.

We want to ensure that when someone implements the Ribbon (for example) that they do so the right way… and in a way consistent with how it works in Office.

There's tremendous value in making sure that we all use these models in a consistent way, because it helps to ensure that people have predictable user experiences moving between Office-style user interfaces.

In the guidelines you'll find REQUIRED sections and OPTIONAL sections. The REQUIRED sections are exactly that—sections that you must implement in order to stay within the letter of the license.

Within each section, you'll see things you MUST implement, things you SHOULD implement, and BEST PRACTICES. Just like it sounds, you must implement the UI as specified by the MUSTs in the document to comply with the terms of the license. We highly recommend implementing the SHOULD sections, and also adhering to the BEST PRACTICES wherever possible. Doing so will make you as consistent as possible with the way Office works.

The 120+ page guidelines document is confidential, so you'll need to visit the licensing site and agree to a short evaluation license before downloading it. But we created a little preview version of one of the sections to give you a flavor of what the guidelines are like.

The particular section we excerpted for the preview is Ribbon Resizing, which details the way in which the Ribbon must scale up and down to adjust to varying horizontal resolutions. The actual guidelines document contains similar information for the entire UI.

Download the 2007 Microsoft Office System UI Guidelines Preview (1.39 MB)

If your goal is to get as close to the Office UI as possible, you'll probably have no trouble complying with the guidelines. The guidelines are just there to help make that process easier and to give you a checklist for the parts of the UI you need to implement in order to comply with the license.

What's the catch?

For almost everyone, there's no catch at all. Just sign up for the license, and follow the guidelines. That's all there is to it.

You can use the UI in open source projects as long as the license terms are consistent with our license. You can use it on any platform: Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. If you're an ISV, you can build and sell a set of controls based on the new Office UI.

There's only one limitation: if you are building a program which directly competes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, or Access (the Microsoft applications with the new UI), you can't obtain the royalty-free license.

Why this exclusion?

Microsoft spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the research, design, and development of the new Office user interface.

We're allowing developers to license this intellectual property and take advantage of these advances in user interface design without any fee whatsoever.

But we want to preserve the innovation for Microsoft's productivity applications that are already using the new UI.


I am really excited to finally see this program launch. There's nothing our team wants more than to see the concepts and designs introduced in Office benefit others in the software industry. I believe in the new user interface, and I believe in its suitability to a large number of software applications.

I think the license strikes the right balance between allowing developers to use the new Office UI and protecting Microsoft's rights as the company who paid all of us to work on it.

For More Information

Comments (98)
  1. Jondr says:

    Wow, this is incredibly generous. Thank you, Microsoft!

  2. MP says:

    This is superb and I applaud Microsoft for what they are doing. The Office 2007 UI is one the greatest things to come from Microsoft in the companies history.

    Regarding the license, does the limitation of not getting it royalty free if you develop a competing product mean that will not be able to obtain this license for free? It is not clear in your post.

  3. Riding Herd says:

    Today we announced a new licensing program for the Microsoft Office 2007 user interface components .

  4. Kroc Camen says:

    Fromt the licensing site: "The download you requested is unavailable. If you continue to see this message when trying to access this download, go to the "Search for a Download" area on the Download Center home page."

  5. Dylan Bennett says:

    MP, from the linked license web site:

    "The license excludes products or components that perform primarily as software for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email, contacts and databases, and that are created or marketed as a replacement for any or all of them."

    That should answer your question. definitely falls into that category.

  6. AC says:

    Does this mean that if I use software like DotNetBar or SandRibbon, I have to get a license from Microsoft to use the Office UI even if DotNetBar and SandRibbon already have licenses?

  7. Chris Bryant says:

    Regarding the downloads – we’ve had some technical difficulties with the page propagation across our server farms.  Keep trying – you should be able to hit the download page eventually.  Sorry for the trouble.

  8. Avner Kashtan says:

    Disclaimer: I have not read the UI guideline document, nor do I have a product I wish to use the new UI in.

    I don’t know exactly what goes into those MUST sections, but unless it’s really the bare bones, it’s probably a problem. The Office UI was designed with Office in mind, naturally. I’m sure several MUSTs there were chosen with Office’s usage in mind, and the kind of applications which match Office’s usage patterns.

    Sometimes, however, I have an application which isn’t 100% compatible with the Office way of doing things. Maybe a Ribbon IS a good solution, but I need to tweak it a bit, maybe change some behaviors to fit my program better. Would this mean I cannot use any Ribbon-like UI at all? Toolbars are, of course, considered totally ubiquitous today, and people have no fear of using them, implementing them or changing them to fit some need. But if you want the Ribbon to be as popular and universal, you’ll want people to be able to use it freely. If I have to register, read a 120+ page document and commit myself to a set of specifications in order to use the UI *concepts* – well, small freeware apps probably won’t bother. Many apps won’t as well. Why would I want to expose myself to liability by not implementing the UI spec exactly as Microsoft intended? After all, it’s really, really hard to totally match a 120+ page spec.

  9. jensenh says:

    BTW: Chris Bryant has been working on the licensing program… he’s from Microsoft and he’s going to try to keep up with answering quetions on this post.

  10. Chris Bryant says:

    Regarding the use of components, the short answer is Yes.  You do need to get a license from Microsoft to use the Office UI even if the component vendor already has a license to distribute the components to you.  The component vendors cannot pass through the rights to you and we need to be able to distinguish licensed software from unlicensed software without placing a monitoring burden on the component vendors.

  11. Impressive! I am thoroughly impressed and happy about this announcement!

    I haven’t looked at the document yet and don’t know what is in it. As its confidential though, I’ll ask my question before getting the license 🙂

    Is there any restriction on user customization specified in the guidelines? Meaning, what if a program implemented a UI to let the user customize the Ribbon?

    I’d love to get a public answer, so that I can talk about it on my blog!




    You caught me quite by surprise though for posting this not at your regular time 😉

  12. Damien Guard says:

    Being that Lotus couldn’t stop people from creating similar 1-2-3 Look-and-feel menu systems or that Apple/Xerox couldn’t stop Microsoft from using the desktop/UI metaphores I fail to see how Microsoft can protect the concept of a ribbon style user interface.

    Sure they can licence out the graphics but the concept?  I’d be impressed if that stands up in a court and if it did they’d probably be a stream of people trying to take Microsoft to court for various interface concepts Windows has borrowed over the years.


  13. Francis says:

    Great news!

    Avner: I had the same thought you did, but I can’t for the life of me imagine of an instance where the ribbon’s behavior would need to be altered such that it no longer complies with the guidelines/license. It is an extremely rich control.

    A modified ribbon probably makes less sense for a program with very special needs than an entirely different UI. And there is nothing stopping developer from using things like galleries and a hovering toolbar in his non-ribbon application (such controls existed long before Office 2007.)

  14. Chris Bryant says:

    Regarding whether or not the ribbon is appropriate for all applications – we would say definitely not.  Web sites are one example where we explicitly say "we didn’t design the ribbon for web site navigation". You may still try to use it for navigation, but you may find that the things we require are difficult to actually conform to in that scenario.  YMMV.

    The Office applications are truly complicated pieces of software – there are over 1500 commands in Word alone!  Jensen has talked a lot about how the ribbon was designed to address the user interaction problems with a command-rich application.  For applications that are much less complex, menus and toolbars may still be an appropriate metaphor – it may be a *better* metaphor for some types of applications than the ribbon is.  Francis makes this point.

    We’ve certainly had a great deal of input from the nearly 20 licensees that have already signed up with us.  They and many others have given us feedback about the MUSTs and SHOULDs in our design guidelines document, so that we could make it address a wide variety of scenarios that may have been outside of our immediate experience in Office.  But, it’s true that the ribbon UI wasn’t designed for all applications and may not be appropriate for everyone.  

  15. ctodx says:

    Today Microsoft announced their program for licensing the new 2007 Microsoft Office system UI, including…

  16. Kenny Kerr says:

    Awesome! Do you expect that in future Windows will provide a ribbon control for developers to use? I recall that Windows added controls for things like toolbars and property sheets after they were popularized by previous versions of Office.

  17. I’m with Damien Guard above: "I fail to see how Microsoft can protect the concept of a ribbon style user interface … Sure they can licence out the graphics but the concept?"  I’d like to hear more from Jensen Harris or Chris Bryant on this point.

    Personally I’m a fan of Microsoft, but this smells of overreaching.  IMHO Microsoft isn’t giving us anything we don’t already have, excluding, perhaps, the graphics (I haven’t read the license) – they’re not giving anyone access to use or distribute the Office binaries, right?  What I see is Microsoft staking a claim on a look and feel under the guise of a generous giveaway.  On principal, I hope it’s challenged, as it would be a terrible precedent to have established.

    It kind of reminds me of the cliché remark people often issue after saying something unexpectedly funny: "You can use that if you want."  Oh, thanks!

    But what do I know, I’m a developer not a lawyer.  I just thought the whole look-and-feel thing was resolved a decade ago.

  18. steven says:

    why is there no similar licensing term for previous version of Office UI?

  19. Via Jensen Harris (Bink coverage here ): Internally, though, more than a year ago we started talking

  20. steveg says:

    Is the File Menu blob mandatory? Must or Should it contain a logo (vs &File).

    Is it legit to develop a Office2007UI library a) from scratch b) that shims/hacks/uses Office DLLs?

  21. jensenh says:


    The guidelines document has all of the information about what’s mandatory and what’s optional.

    Yes, it is legit to develop an Office 2007-style UI library, provided that it follows the guidelines.  Close to 20 ISVs have already signed the license and many of them are already shipping Office 2007-compatible UI libraries.

    In terms of using the Office DLLs, I don’t think there’s anything specifically in the license about that, but it’s totally unsupported to use functions in Office DLLs.

  22. Microsoft Office 2007 User Interface Licensing

  23. Ross Burton says:

    How will Microsoft stop projects like creating from scratch an almost identical looking ribbon from scratch, without looking at any of the content available here?

    Have you managed to patent the concept of a ribbon so can enforce this (if/where the patent is valid), or is this just smokescreen?

  24. Mike Dimmick says:

    As an example of how a developer could horribly misuse the Ribbon interface, see Dare Obasanjo’s proposal for RSS Bandit:

  25. Womble says:

    It’s a tabbed layout with a background color and a couple of pretty buttons. The funny thing I find is that it cost Microsoft ‘hundreds of millions’ of dollars when you can buy a component for a couple of hundred dollars that was developed with a non microsoft product (yes you know who) what a laff. More Microsoft FUD.

  26. Andre says:

    I assume a license is only required for applications made publicly available? The licensing program might not be applicable for confidential in-house applications.

    Also will the licensing program be available for everyone or do I have to be a Microsoft partner? I guess I’m not the only one who writes freeware in his spare time. While I agree that also freeware should have some quality level and fulfill all MUSTS I want to separate corporate and private matters. So can Andre get a license to?

  27. Damien Guard says:

    I think patenting it would be tricky as most of the concepts of the ribbon involved have been around in one form or another for a while through various other apps/OS toolbars.

    What Microsoft have done is unified these various concepts and made it a first-class way of interacting with Office killing off menu and toolbar in one well-executed sweep.


  28. Martin T says:

    The license does not include any code, so are we suposed to do an entire implementation our self?

    And in that case, why would we need a license at all?

    It have always been the case that "look and behave" in general can’t be copyrighted. (Just look at the Microsoft vs Apple court case).

  29. Stefan KZVB says:

    Can we implement the MUST-things from the guideline examples with our own add-ins for Office 2007 like:

    "The layout of controls on the Ribbon MUST change in real-time when the application window is resized by dragging with the mouse. The change in the layout of controls on the Ribbon MUST NOT be delayed until after the application window has been resized and the left mouse button is released."

    At least I don’t know of any example from Microsoft on how to achieve this for controls in Office Add-Ins.

  30. AC says:

    Damien: You’ve got it all wrong.

    MS are fully in support of copying "look and feel", provided it’s _them_ copying it off _someone else_. Of course /other people/ can’t copy /their/ look and feel! That would be consistent! And fair! And allow other developers to, you know, compete!

    Sheesh. Such naieve kids these days…

  31. They just can’t. Somebody will read this specs and then write some specs, that somebody who hasn’t read the MS specs will implement.

    Ross Burton said:

    How will Microsoft stop projects like creating from scratch an almost identical looking ribbon from scratch, without looking at any of the content available here?

  32. Segedunum says:

    What a load of claptrap.

    We went through the whole "Your application looks like my application" thing in the eighties where everyone sued everyone else, and it was totally unenforceable. Even subtle changes in the interfaces rendered any action, and any licensing of interfaces, null and void.

    No one needs to accept any license whatsoever to use any kind of interface. By accepting a license you’re actually accepting that Microsoft has rights to an interface concept that isn’t even new.

    Give up trying to protect this into the future. The only thing you’ve got out of this was getting this kind of interface to market first.

  33. Griffin says:

    As someone that has beta tested Office and likes the ribbon, let me say this. Why not just include it as an option in Studio? Once upon a time MS did its best to ‘encourage’ devs to use the common look ‘n feel of Windows and it has helped to put them on top and keep them there. Take a regular user and sit them down in front of an Apple or Linux and their first reaction is "This is not Windows/right. I don’t like this!" Are you really really sure that this is something you want to mess with? If you do, you better do your best to ‘encourage’ devs to use it.

    It reminds me of when Coke changed their recipe. All the testing said it was much better then the old version, yet it failed miserably. The old common look ‘n feel might be old but it is what people know and expect.

  34. Todd says:

    You think MS will pay royalties for the Mac UI?

  35. divil says:

    Read about how the new Office 2007 user interface licensing affects us as a control vendor, and affects our customers who use our SandRibbon product to help them implement the interface while complying with the guidelines.

  36. Yesterday we announced a program to licesne the Office User Interface design and while I might be able

  37. Alex says:

    Should I have an Office copy to use this library or will this be a redistributable?

  38. art says:

    Ok, so what’s different between now and when Windows used other people’s work like WIMP interface? Or context menu? It was ok then to use successful UI features from competitors, but now you think that you current implementation should be protected?

    I understand it was hard work for you, but it was hard work for people who invented WIMP, popup menu, etc.

  39. David R. Robinson says:

    >> You must follow the guidelines, though…120+ page document…specification for how the UI needs to work in your product…To stay within the terms of the license, you must follow these guidelines.

    Jensen:  My question would be how well does Office 2007 actually adhere to these guidelines?  Microsoft has a very long history habit of creating UI standards that they want others to adhere to, but completely ignoring them when it comes to their own products.

  40. John says:

    While Office 2007 interface is great, this is a complete  nonsense. Why license anything that cannot be patented. Take a lesson from Borland, who once shipped their Turbo Vision framework for DOS and programmed their environment in it. It was surely one of the best environment in DOS. And it actually encouraged people to design using those libraries, without any additional licenses or competitive problems.

    And, Microsoft is copying other interfaces too – Apple, Xerox, many more. Did you ask them for permission? Did you ever followed the original guidelines or layout?

    Last example – you copied Firefox tabs to IE7. Great – but did you ask Mozilla guys for permission, even when you directly compete with them?

    You created great Office suite with great interface. But, now you are starting again that licensing and permission battle, this time with user interface. That is not fair and moreover, you are requesting from others what you did not obey yourselves.


  41. Concepts can’t be licensed. Nice try Microsoft.

  42. Now come on, putting a couple of buttons into some tabs is not that innovative, the implementation of that idea in Office is probable very sophisticated, and so is the 120p document I guess.

    But everyone could create a simple ribbon by using standard widgets, available in every GUI-Toolkit. Implementing all those resizing rules that are mentioned in the outline might take a little more time, but it’s questionable if it’s really worth the effort if you are only a small software shop.

  43. Dylan says:

    I find this a disturbing development, and a perfect example of the unhealthy position Microsoft occupies by being both the vendor of the most popular desktop operating system, and the most popular productivity application.

    This sort of innovation should be part of the regular Windows GUI toolkit. Instead, during development of Office 2007 it became apparent that the Windows GUI was inadequate to provide the kind of user experience the developers were looking for. So, instead of placing this new functionality within the Windows GUI toolkit, the team chose to develop it as a separate library, meant to give Office the competitive advantage.

    The clause that this new library cannot be used for applications that directly compete with Office is utterly ridiculous, considering the ever expanding umbrella of Office productivity apps. How can one be sure that a photo editing program developed today will not be viewed as a competitor to Office Premium, once it also includes a photo editor?

  44. John Greystoke says:

    When it was first announced, I was prepared to dislike the whole ribbon idea because it looked like it chewed up so much valuable space. Having seen it in action in the O2007 beta, though, I have to admit that I like the idea a lot: it presents so many options, previously buried in menus, in a relatively compact, nicely categorized interface.

    With that said, I have trouble seeing how Microsoft can enforce any sort of UI license.  Wasn’t the whole look-and-feel thing hashed out in the late ’80s, with Apple vs MS and Lotus 123 vs Quattro Pro?

    (BTW, if you use Borland’s Delphi or C++, you can pick up the necessary UI components from TMS Software: <;.  (No affiliation; I’m just passing on something I found.))

  45. Flying Penguin says:

    You must be kidding. Accoring to the Licence FAQ there is absolutely no code being licenced here. What they are licencing is the right to have a GUI with the same "look and feel" as MS Office. Considering Microsoft was standing on the other side of the fence a few years ago when Apple tried to sue them for coping their look and feel, I think this demonstrates a huge amount of arrogance. They are trying to lay claim to something they have no right to and they are dressing it up like they are doing the world a favour. The truly amazing thing here is the number of comments from people who actually believe it and offer thanks. Sheesh.

  46. Whilst I appreciate that MS has put a lot of money into it, the competitive benefit it gets should be that it is first to market, not that everyone else should be denied from using a concept.

    In any case, is there not intellectual property from the very many of us who have contributed suggestions, through this very blog?

    Are such contributions (freely made) not to be recognised, but instead monetized through anti-competitive means as this licensing now suggests?

  47. Yesterday, Microsoft made a landmark announcement that it would be licensing the Office 2007 UI to non-competing

  48. JB says:

    Jensen– I’m really trying not sound like a troll here, and I’m a huge fan of your blog and the O12 UI, but seriously, can you ask someone in there for some details you can post on how this whole thing isn’t a steaming pile of horse hockey?

    Seriously, what is Microsoft giving away "royalty-free" here?  The PNG files?  Microsoft has probably done more than any other company to reduce the strength of claims to ownership of UI elements (See Apple vs. Microsoft, Apple vs. Microsoft Part II: The Bloodening, and countless other cases).  

    This whole thing smells a bit like someone said, "man…how are we going to keep our competitors from copying our UI this time…hey I got it, we’ll GIVE IT AWAY to our non-competitors, thus trying to demonstrate some kind of ownership, and hopefully that will both intimidate people out of copying it and also give us a better leg to stand on in court."

    Did MS own the previous Office UI innovations?  Can Apple sue MS over the trash can/recycle bin this time(I believe the last suits were pre-95)? How about all the glass in the Vista interface?  Have products like DotNetBar been infringing on Microsoft copyrights forever?

    Also, the way you develop this argument sounds balanced and reasonable, but contains implicit assumptions that are not valid: like "On the other hand, the new Office user interface was a huge investment by Microsoft and the resulting intellectual property belongs to Microsoft."  The sentence makes it sound like the first causes the second.  I can put a massive amount of investment into a set of chord changes or a rhythm, but the government will still not grant me an exclusive copyright on my results.  If I recall correctly, the same goes for algorithms, no matter how many mathemeticians you pay to come up with something, the result at best becomes a "trade secret".  Once you publish it, you know longer control exclusive rights to it.  No where does it say investment in arbitrary intellectual property results in ownership of said property.  Microsoft has compellingly made the case in the past (and prevailed in court) by saying that interface "look and feel" is one of those types of property in which no right is earned through creation.

    Again, Jensen, I hope this doesn’t come off as typical slashdotty haterade. Your blog is one of the only six or so I keep in the old feed reader these days and the efforts of you, Raymond Chien, Rico Mariani, Larry Osterman, etc. have given me new respect for MS through your blogs.  But stories like this sound like typical marketing-department corporate piffle, and what’s worse is the vague feeling that the trust MS bloggers like you have gained in the wider software development community (esp. relative to MS as a whole) is being exploited to make these things go down easier.  I hope I’m being totally crazy here.  I really do.

    Anyway, can’t wait to get the final O12.

  49. Mitch Tenderson says:

    "The license excludes products or components that perform primarily as software for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email, contacts and databases, and that are created or marketed as a replacement for any or all of them."

    Isn’t this 95% percent of all software? The only exception I can think of is media applications. And who would want the ribbon in WinAmp?

  50. Andre says:

    I don’t understand why so many people bash Microsoft for this move. They give legal certainty to everyone who agrees to a certain bar of consistency and quality.

    You can still go to law if Microsoft should decide to sue you.

    The Ribbon isn’t entirely new but it goes far beyond tabbed toolbars. Microsoft has spent quite some R&D on the Ribbon and all they ask for is that you don’t mimic the Office UI with some low quality controls. That’s not too much if you ask me.

  51. John says:

    I am glad that many agreed. If Microsoft would freely (or "free" with Office 2007) license, e.g. Visual Basic DLL for design Office-like UI , it would be nice and welcomed move (such as Borland licensed its once first-class ObjectVision and TurboVision environment for DOS).

    Also, maybe, when somebody copies "exactly" the whole UI for its text editor, I can accept it as a problem for MS.

    But, if somebody just uses the concept for its text editor or spreadsheet, there is nothing what Microsoft should allow or disallow. They are doing the same for years without any permission given, moreover making a lot of money from re-make the others ideas.

    What about if Firefox authors would deny Microsoft to use its award winning tabbed browsing ? Also a nice concept to follow.


  52. John says:

    And actually, when I will not obey the rules, I am creating another interface, so if I would like to make competitive product, I will just try to break some of your MUSTs. Then I am not in your "UI licence program" and can do whatever I want and feel it is best for my users 🙂

    I am convinced that you are happy of your new user interface – it is really a nice work. But, please, try not to squeeze too much monopoly power of it.

    Wrong way, Microsoft …

  53. Chris says:

    What happens if I make an application with an interface that looks like Office 2007 and it is an Office application?

    Will Microsoft sue me? And for what?

    I can’t see the relevance of this license.

  54. Chris Bryant says:

    Wow – there has been quite a flurry of responses since I last checked.  While preparing for a big Thanksgiving meal in which I will probably consume altogether too much food, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to respond to some of the posts concisely, without rambling on for too long or getting into things best left to other more-knowledgable people, so here goes:

    Some have asked what Microsoft is licensing other than its Design Guidelines.  The answer is that we are licensing the broad intellectual property rights that protect the great innovation and design work that went into the new Office UI.  

    Without getting into an involved legal discussion, and I am definitely not a legal expert, I want to be clear that there is substantial intellectual property involved here.  We, as a company, spend more than $6 billion annually on R&D and this investment produces many new innovations for customers and the industry as a whole.  One great example of the fruits of our R&D is the new Office UI.  Customers and partners and shareholders expect our R&D investment to produce great new intellectual property and they expect us to manage it well.  

    With respect to good management of IP, we are committed to licensing our technology as a means of making it available to interested parties on reasonable terms.  In the case of the Office UI, we are making it available *free of charge*.

    With respect to the substantial IP within the Office UI, we have pending patent applications on the functional innovations in the ribbon and other UI advances.  We also have pending design patent applications to protect the original design elements of the UI.  Copyright law protects the creative expression in the visual screen displays and trade dress law protects the overall appearance of the UI to the extent users recognize it as coming from Microsoft.  Copyrights, trademarks, utility and design patents – there are a lot of specific legal concepts to keep track of, especially for a non-lawyer like me.

    In the end, though, we come back to simple principles.  We have invested a lot of research, time, money and thought into the new Office UI.  This program is the best way to protect our investment while still allowing our partners to take advantage of the new IP in a completely reasonable way.

  55. John says:

    Nice, but you do not answer our concerns. As somebody said, the result of your innovation is that you are first on the market and can make money from Office 2007. OK. That can make your revenues.

    Apple also invested a lot in the concept of recycle bin, which was as innovative 15 years ago as your ribbon is now. Still you incorporated it in Windows 95 and defended your position at the court.

    I have said it before, remember Tabbed Browsing and many others. What if Mozilla folks would come to you and say, hey, your implementation is bad, stop using it !

    You cannot enforce this. You are giving away freely things that simply are free even without your permissions.

    Other thing is exact copying-plagiarizing  the product as a whole. I already mentioned.

    But as you have innovated and competed (!) on the shoulders of others, you have to let other do the same. And the whole industry will benefit from it.

    And definitely, it is nice that you encourage developers to use your ribbon. That is a great thing. But the strict guidelines and competitive restrictions is completely nonsense. How do you know that the Ribbon could not be made even better by breaking some of your MUSTs ? 🙂

  56. JOhn says:

    And back to simple principles, the revenue from your investment is the money which you receive for Office licensing. That is what you innovate for. Any other attempts to bash competition (with the exception of complete exact "copying" the interface, maybe) are simply good example of using your power and FUD.

    And .. you said you invest a lot of money into R&D.. Good. But really, it is the same as if some other small vendor invests a fraction of its revenues into research. Everybody is investing, someways. But the attempts to bash competition by monopolizing the fruits of the research is bad.

  57. Mark Levison says:

    Who decides whats a competing product? When do you decide? Before I write a line of code or just before I release an application? Do you check every new version I release?

  58. Richie says:

    Here here. This is yet another blatant attempt to enforce the unenforceable and proven my Microsoft in court. Something smells here. Can’t wait for this to hit the courts…not.

  59. Jim says:

    Perhaps you can direct us to the patent numbers and other relevant documents so that no accidental infringement will occur?

    I’m not quite sure what would be patentable as the new office UI is basically a tabbed layout with shortcuts, nothing new so it would be interesting to see how it is patented and which elements.

    John makes a good point about tabbed browsing. Do we really want to reignite the look and feel wars?

    I believe also that ‘clean room’ reverse engineering of a product has also been well established as a legal way of copying a competitors product. So if some wanted to they could duplicate the functionality of say access without looking at the code.

    Also I’m not a legal person just a techo.

  60. Greg says:

    Looks to me like most of these comments should be directed against the idea of software patents in general. Microsoft would be foolish to *not* take advantage of software patents.

  61. Bob Snyder says:

    Fortunately, the ribbon interface is just one of countless possible designs. Instead of attempting to graft an Office-like ribbon interface onto every new and existing application, I would encourage developers to explore entirely new possibilities.

    A lot has changed since the Win95 interface was created. (e.g. faster hardware, more RAM, better graphics) The Office ribbon should not be held up as an ideal. It may be ideal for applications like Word and Excel. But I would hate to see everyone spend so much time emulating Microsoft that they stop innovating their own new ideas.

    I could list a dozen things about the ribbon UI that I don’t like. If you constantly emulate Microsoft’s UI, then your own UI will never be better than Microsoft’s.

    Has anyone noticed that the ribbon UI is only skin deep? Many/most of the dialog boxes still have the old battleship gray appearance. Why not design a *deep* UI solution that works at all levels, not just at the topmost level?

    By developing an attractive and reasonably effective UI devoid of menus, Microsoft has changed marketplace perceptions. People will now be more willing to consider alternative user interfaces so long as they are well thought out and well implemented.

    I’m hoping to see some creative new thinking. I really hope the ribbon UI is not the last word.

    Why follow when you can lead?

  62. davidacoder says:

    You are not doing yourself any favor with this move.

    Here is what I would suggest: Someone (IBM?) should set up a VERY small company with limited liability (does that exist in the US? It certainly does in Germany). Then, that company forks the OpenOffice dev tree and clones the Ribbon. Let MS sue. See them loose in court and have this nonsene out of the world. The risk is small, at most the very small amount of capital that this pseudo company would by liable for would be lost. The potential gains are huge: This nonsense attempt to IP protect look and feel would be sorted out in court quickly and hopefully dismissed.

  63. davidacoder says:

    Another point: Why are the guidlines not publicly available?!? Gee, we can all look the guidlines, right? Can you please let us know what motivated the decision to not just put it on the web?

  64. davidacoder says:

    I wonder whether the people within MS understand that saying "we invested a lot" does not change the law. Pointing out that you have invested a lot or not does not change the fact whether you have enforcable IP on look & feel a bit. Either one can enforce that or not. How much one invested before that doesn’t matter.

    At the same time, I believe a company like MS would be threatened the most once look and feel can be patented/enforced, whatever. Again, whether that is possible or not does NOT depend on the sum that has been invested. If the situation changes towards MORE protection of look & feel that is a huge financial risk to a corporation like MS, because one could annoy large corporations like MS with very little capital. All you need is to have a good idea, and with that MS can’t use it anymore. The one to loose with such an arrangement is MS. They will attract an enourmous amount of lawsuits. The big competitive advantage MS has is that they have the capital (money & people) to outrun any competitor when developing software. If look and feel can’t be protected, that is good for MS: If they see a small company with a good idea, they can just copy it and with their man power produce something that the small company can never compete with.

    It seems to me that this decision is based on a completly flawed economic analysis. Probably lawyers did it. They always just see "something can be protected" but don’t look at the entire incentive situation. If I was a shareholder of MS, I would be appalled by this move, because essentially it means that MS just created more risk to themself. Stupid, sorry…

  65. Steve says:

    Wow, people think the matter rests with the fact that the patent will not be granted due to prior art. Fact, the patent’s grant rests on the perception of the patent reviewer. From this point, it becomes an issue as to whether or not anyone wants to go to court to invalidate the patent. This announcement is simple: MSoft expects to be granted some patents. They may or may not believe these patents are valide. If they are granted, it appears from this announcement that anyone using elements of the GUI will risk being sued. Or, perhaps as with Linux, the customers using the products will risk being sued. Ballmer’s comments re: Linux and this announcement should be read as a sign that MSoft will be taking the gloves off soon re: lawsuits. Few can compete with their immense cash flow. Most will fall. Go long on MSoft.

    I constant am left agast thinking about the value MSoft might have created if they pulled the industry along via innovation rather than constantly striving to cripple competitors. We will never know what kind of value, and societal gains might have been made. However, if the answer was sub-optimal for shareholders and society, we still have the Gates foundation to perhaps address the latter.

    MSoft in the previous decade was perhaps one of the great resources re: human capital. In Office 2007, they finally address one of the worst GUIs ever (by their own admission now). All that lost productivity. They come up with parity, and strive to monopolize it.

    Man, at times I would like more money, but being free to truly innovate… Not sure I could have made it at MSoft. Most of the programmers I know who work at MSoft (not a valid sample) just can’t  wait to start their own companies. When you go to when you go to meetings about such licensing, I’d guess it would be hard to have much pride.

  66. This is a good, generous thing – an unexpected thing from Microsoft. There is, I’m sure however, plenty of benefit for Microsoft if the Office UI becomes a de facto standard for desktop application user interfaces.

    Smart move. But it’s not charity.

  67. Ray harris says:

    I had not heard about the "ribbon" control until I read about it here so I went and looked up a screenshot. The first thing that came to mind was that the basic idea has already been done. Dreamweaver has a tabbed toolbar with drop down menus off the icons in the different toolbars similar to what I saw in the screenshots.

    Now, there may be "dynamic" functionality that doesn’t come across in static screenshots, but it seems to me that Microsoft is once again stealing other people’s interfaces, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make minor changes, and trying to claim ownership.

  68. LarsG says:

    <i>The answer is that we are licensing the broad intellectual property rights that protect the great innovation and design work that went into the new Office UI.</i>

    Prolonged exposure to IP lawyers can damage your perception of the world.

    What your argument and MS’ past history boils down to is that it is ok for MicroSoft to copy user interface ideas from others, but others should license from MicroSoft. Yes, you have undoubtedly spent a lot of time and money on UI work, but so did Xerox, Apple, Lotus, Opera and lots of others. I’d respectfully ask you to please reconsider this move, the courts are clogged enough as it is without having to bother them with a replay of the Look and Feel wars.

  69. MarcosMeli says:

    Things like that make me think in parellel world when in the past we go to other dimensions in things like these:

    – WordPerfect were patented the bold button and the shortcuts and ask to M$ to paid for use it and them must follow their guidelines to create the [b] button.

    – Lotus said that they invent a grid where you can write formulas, and so M$ must retire Excel from the market.

    – Apple said that the Arrow Pointer for the mouse is a patent idea and M$ cant use nothing similar and the Windows users begin to use a big M to point things.

    – A crazy developer of D.O.S. patent a button for a 80×25 display so M$ cant develop any button, they must also follow their guidelines to TextMode buttons also in windows.

    – Linux said that a shell is a patented idea, and M$ cant release Powershell and must dispose the code.

    – A graphic designer patent a set of colors and if you use blue and green you need also to use red, if not you are againts his patent.

    For the love of god, stop this crazy idea !!!!! you are OUT OF CONTROL DUDE !!!!!!!



  70. Todd says:

    I have retained ownership of DNA structure of the human genome. Your welcome to use and re-use this patent but you don’t own it.

    I have retained ownership of the square and rectangle picture. It’s innovative design is of my own doing. But I license this to all to use so long as I get credit for it.

    BTW: This so-called UI was allready done years ago by a small company in Canada. It was called Dashboard. It assembled commonly used components into blocks. Then made the large icon in the block the next logical step of usage. MS added a Tab – WOW! Genius! Let’s drink beer…

    Same MS crap, Same MS channel. Same MS copy.

  71. Mike says:

    Well well well.

    I have read linked PDF. So I thought I should license my innovation too!

    That is I’m gonna license all XHTML lists which have margins in CSS equals to 0.5em 0. That is if You use this in your CSS to describe list (ol/ul/dl):

    margin: 0.5em 0;

    or anything else giving the same result, you use my innovation. Therefore you have to obey my license, which is not ready yet, but I’m workin on it.

    I assume you did understant what I meant ;þ

    Despite minor changes, described interface is just like in Delphi. Yeah, Delphi, Borland and other RADs have such element palletes. Simply, You did not invent anything.

    And who would ever though of patenting/licensing such thing? It mind boggles me!

  72. There had been some speculation about this in the local press SMH : Office offers to untie the ribbon

  73. Ryan Smyth says:

    Hmmm… Sign the license – get the specs – create the interface. Not that hard. It boils down to whether or not you want that information from MS. It’s a yes or no question.

    I don’t see this as some sort of evil MS conspiracy. It’s just simple good business for MS.

    Can you blame them? They did the work to create the look. That seems like a lot more than trying to copyright the word "pod" or "podcast". If we want to start in on what’s really lame…

  74. [ICR] says:

    I’m going to stay out of the legal discussion. I know even less than the people pretending they know things. I would, though, point people to the fact (well, not fact, my vague recollection) that you’re also not allowed to build an Office competitor with Visual Studio.

    I will say, however, that I am actualy greatful that I can get access to the wealth of research they have done for free. I don’t know how many other people have done that (as a genuine, I don’t know, not "look how few people") but to be able to see documented the small quirks and features that they have spent a lot of money researching (money I don’t have) rather than having to try and find and infer them myself does excite me.

    I’m new to the interface game though. Feel free to point me to dozens of other people who have done the same.

  75. Robert Moir says:

    I love the people who talk about "what if mozilla…firefox tabs…", forgetting or simply not knowing that tabs were in use in a browser wrapper based on IE before that (marathon?) and I think in Opera too.

    Which actually also raises a point about the Office 2007 UI licence… I’d purely love to know what parts of the UI are definately not covered by some form of prior art. Microsoft deserve a lot of credit for how things are put together in the ribbon interface, but I’m really struggling to see what individual components are new and innovative in and of themselves.

    Of course, given the current atmosphere in the computer industry, if you don’t attempt to patent every little thing that you do, some other jerk will take out a patent on it and then sue you, so attempting to patent the ribbon as a self defence mechanism is certainly understandable, and makes the licence talked about here more of an "covenant not to sue others"

  76. Adrian Silasi says:

    I am writing to express my agreement to the comments above; as a developer I am very much saddened by Microsoft’s recent actions though they are not completly unexpected.

    Not only is Microsoft not providing any of the controls at all (as the Office team has done for years and years) but it wants us to agree to a licence that restricts our "rights/freedoms" while offering something of dubious value in return.

    I could understand Microsoft being "upset" with all the component vendors blatantly copying everything, including icons, bitmaps, etc. That is different and Microsoft should take it with the component vendors.

    We’re talking here about the idea of the Ribbon; and while it’s clever and pretty at its heart it’s a glorified dynamic toolbar with drop-downs. Similar implementations have been done before in other products as noted by other people.

    Has Microsoft invented the toolbar? Tabbed-toolbar? Drop-downs? Has Microsoft licenced this IP from the ones who developed them?

    If Microsoft were to provide the control that would be different; as you are not, just allowing developers to copy the look and feel is nothing.

    PS. I *do* love this blog; it’s a pity it has come to this…

  77. Recunosc, sunt un Office 2007 ribbon freak. I love it, I think it’s great. Deci în concluzie sunt abonat

  78. Here is the news that Microsoft have launched a licensing program for those who wish to clone the Office 2007 UI…

  79. Joe says:

    Todd Said:

    >You think MS will pay royalties for the Mac UI?

    Gosh, Todd, I don’t know. Do you think Apple will pay Xerox for the STAR Computer UI?

  80. John says:

    Well, nice discussion … some remarks again

    1) the firefox tabs … I am not sure whether they have been used in firefox or not … just made that example that even if mozilla really brought it to masses, nobody at Microsoft IE7 team asked them for permission even if they develop competitive product. I am actually happy they did that, because tabbed browsing is surely an improvement for majority of users and it is nice to have in most used browsers in similar form.

    2) I think that is actually a good think for us users that the UI designers take inspiration from each other. Because then we can use software from various vendors more easily, and the concepts that are the best prevail. Thus, any attempts to patent the UI are simply wrong, with the single exception of "exact plagiarism" – if somebody exactly copies e.g. Word UI, there could be concern about it. But the toolbar organization, menu abandoning … this has been on the software market long ago and MS "just" brought it to the masses. Nice work, but nothing what could justify monopolizing this kind of UI.

    3) I do not appreciate this MS move, because actually they do not give anything we already dont have. And they are also not consistent with other products. For example – any Windows software developer is actually pushed to use Windows UI elements, even if e.g. XP or Vista UI also "represents a lot of investment". And nobody makes special licensing here. So why in Office? (moreover I agree with A. Silasi, if MS would give away the dlls for making Office-like UI, it would be different – and better! than make 1000+ pages guidelines – remember TurboVision ???)

    4) And again ….. the reward for the great new UI is the chance of being first on the market with this product and taking big bucks for it. Not monopolizing software market, not pushing its competition nature.

    So, dear MS, continue making great software, selling licenses, listen to your users etc. But follow the path of fair competition, real interoperability, and also look a little how the whole industry looks like after some of your market strategies. You will probably lose a bit of money with this, but the whole industry will feel a lot better.

  81. Brian says:

    Hilarious that OSS zealots who constantly declare in ALL CAPS that Microsoft never does anything creative or innovative are now shrieking about the possibility that uninspired OpenOffice devs might not be able to copy pixel for pixel yet another Microsoft UI.

    You know, OSS is really bad at coming up with new ideas.  Really good at xeroxing them, though.  And the ribbon proves that Microsoft can innovate.

    Suck it up, OSS chumps.

  82. Brutus says:

    Such ignornance put forward by a bunch of slashdot know-it-alls.

    None of you complained about Apple patenting the "Genie Effect".

    And you did complain about Amazone patenting "One-Click", but that patent holds.

    The fact is, look/feel/functionality can be patented.

    In the Apple/MS case, Apple was unable to show that Microsoft stepped out of bounds with the license that Apple GAVE them.  So stop using that example.

    And stop lying about Mozilla inventing tabbed interfaces.  Excel had a tabbed interface before any browser did, and there were IE-based browsers and Opera that had tabs long before any Mozilla browser.

    Here’s the bottom line.

    Microsoft spent millions developing this UI, and they are patenting it.  Yet they’re allowing anyone to use it unless they’re directly trying to destroy Office in the marketplace.  What’s wrong with that?  Microsoft could just not allow *anyone* to use it.

  83. Brutus says:

    "And .. you said you invest a lot of money into R&D.. Good. But really, it is the same as if some other small vendor invests a fraction of its revenues into research."


    What you’re demanding is that Microsoft to spend millions (research, design, usability studies, beta program, etc) to develop something just so that Open Office can copy it without spending a dime, and then have Open Office give it away for free.  You actually think that’s fair while you bash Microsoft for trying to protect its own investment?  Are you that dense?  Grow up and get a real job and maybe you’ll get a clue on what ROI means.

  84. Brutus says:

    "Here is what I would suggest: Someone (IBM?) should set up a VERY small company with limited liability (does that exist in the US? It certainly does in Germany). Then, that company forks the OpenOffice dev tree and clones the Ribbon. Let MS sue. See them loose in court and have this nonsene out of the world. The risk is small, at most the very small amount of capital that this pseudo company would by liable for would be lost. The potential gains are huge: This nonsense attempt to IP protect look and feel would be sorted out in court quickly and hopefully dismissed."


    And that would be the last time that anyone spent a large amount of time/money/resources on developing anything new.  But you’re so petty, that such would be worth it just for spite, I guess.  What a sad little man you are.

  85. AlmostAlive says:

    I think anyone actually considering developing a Ribbin like UI should stay /far away/ from this license.  As other posters have pointed, a large category of possible applications could be described as competitors to MS Office.

    Agreeing to this license puts you at greater liability than simply ignoring it.  You are literally signing away rights to Microsoft.  It gives Microsoft cause to shut you down if your application is too Office-like.  It is not clear, at the moment, that this license is even required.  So using the Ribbin without the license makes far more sense at this point.

  86. Jensen Harris announced that the Office 2007 Ribbon UI can be licensed . For the last year or so, one

  87. Stefan KZVB says:

    I was told at a Microsoft event today, that solutions could be certified by Microsoft to be "RibbonX compliant" similiar as something can get the "Vista ready"-logo or use the term "Centrino" if you sign the agreement.

    Is this the purpose why one has to sign at Microsoft? Or don’t you have to sign anything if you don’t want to get the "RibbonX-compliant logo", but just want to make something similiar looking to the RibbonX but don’t want to follow all of the RibbonX guidelines?

    Please clarify this as many people seem to be interested in this particular topic!

  88. giafly says:

    Groklaw reports: When you read the document, you’ll find you can use the offered Microsoft technology, but only if you agree *not to allow sublicensing*. That’s the taint, and in effect that means you can not use it in a GNU/Linux system

    (1) Does Microsoft intend that this license allows GPL’d programs to use the Office UI?

    (2) Is Microsoft prepared to make any license changes necessary for (1)?

  89. Abigail says:


    You said, "It is not clear, at the moment, that this license is even required."

    From Microsoft’s point of view, it is clear that to do something similar to the Ribbon without threat of penalty, this license is required. If a company wanted to go to court over it, then sure, it wouldn’t have to use the license; but it risks losing the court battle.


    If you’re creating an application by *using* an Office application (e.g., a solution built on/with Access) and simply customizing the Ribbon using RibbonX and other Microsoft-provided tools, then you don’t need a license (AFAIK). This license is for people building their own applications with their own code who want to use the concept of the Ribbon.

  90. Wayne says:

    Pardon my cynicism – but after having put up with the User Interfaces in Office 95, Office 97, Office 2000, Office XP, and now Office 2003, and being totally unimpressed, I’m wondering why all the fuss about this? In my not so humble opinion the User experience is one of intense frustration – in all programs that use a GUI.

    Oh, it is a bit easier to learn the basics through a GUI, just like it’s easier to learn how to drive using an automatic transmission, but if you want real expertise you have to learn how to work without it.

  91. Chris Bryant says:

    Two quick points to answer a couple of specific questions that have surfaced here and elsewhere:

    (1) We, Microsoft, aren’t offering any actual bits or controls to help people implement the Office UI at this time.  We may at some point in the future, but in the meantime there are a number of great component vendors out there who are already building controls that you can incorporate into your own applications to get the Office UI.  Whether or not you leverage a component vendor’s control set or build the controls entirely on your own, you still need to license the Office UI from us.

    (2) RibbonX is the name for Ribbon eXtensibility functionality built into the Office applications.  You do not need a license to extend the Office UI in a Microsoft Office application with your own custom elements (say, via an add-in).  You do, however, need a license to build the Office UI into your own application.  Also, we are not offering any sort of certification program to say that certain implementations are certified compliant with the terms of the license and/or the design guidelines.  Licensed implementations may refer to themselves as "licensed" according to the terms of the license, but there is no logo or certification.

  92. Stefan KZVB says:

    Thank you Chris! Could you please also specify where from Microsoft’s point of view the need for licensing does start?

    I.e. what can one do without the need for licensing the Office UI? A context sensitive UI with small and big buttons? Small and big buttons? Tabbed context sensitive button groups? Button groups with a group label? A UI that adjusts to the application window’s size?

    How much of those features need to be combined in an UI for having to bother about licensing the Office UI?

  93. Chris Bryant says:

    Regarding sublicensing, the inability to sublicense the UI actually came at the request of some of our early adopter component vendors.  They didn’t want the burden of tracking who they had licensed to on our behalf, and we didn’t want to ask them to essentially disclose their customer lists to us.  By requiring each licensee to obtain the license directly from us, we don’t put the component vendors in the middle.  Plus, since getting a license is so easy, we thought it wasn’t much to ask of each software vendor to come to our web site and click through to accept.

  94. Chris says:

    Personally as a UI designer, my feeling is that the ribbon is an extremely well done piece of work.  I have no concern for the zealots and whiners, im just glad to see positive movement into making applications easier for the user.  Does anyone know of a vendor who has the Ribbon like component for web UI’s?  thanks

  95. One of the first things that happens when a new version of Office appears is that people start to use

  96. First off, let’s start this post by saying I think there are a few key points in computer history where

  97. I spotted this: today on Jensen Harris’s Office User Interface blog. Interesting news. I’m certainly interested in doing some development making use

  98. says:

    Esto incluye los &quot;nuevos&quot; componentes como la ribbon bar (barra de herramientas + tab), que han costado &quot;cientos de millones de dólares&quot; en desarrollo a Microsoft. Por ahora, permiten usarlos gratuitamente bajo una licencia especial

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