Why is Office:Mac getting the Ribbon?

Ever since our announcement last week that we're bringing the Ribbon to the Mac, I've been following various online forums to see what the response has been. I think I could characterise it in three groups:

  1. What's the Ribbon, and why do I care?
  2. I've used the Ribbon in Windows Office, and I hate it! Why would you bring it to Office:Mac?
  3. I've used the Ribbon in Windows Office, and I love it! Why did it take you so long to bring it to Office:Mac?

For those of you who aren't aware, Office 2007 for Windows brought a new UI to many applications in the suite. It's called the Fluent interface, and the single most distinguishing characteristic of it is the Ribbon. Office 2007 did away with all of their menus, and replace them with a band across the top of the applications. The goal was to improve discoverability. Office 2007 has a lot of features available, sometimes buried deep in the menus and contextual menus, and the team often received requests for features that had been in the suite for years.

In Office:Mac 2008, we tried a different approach: the Elements Gallery. Our goal was also to improve discoverability, but along very specific lines: we wanted to make it easier for you to find the features needed to create great-looking documents. I wrote a lot about the Elements Gallery at the time; evolution at work is a good overview of what we wanted to accomplish and how we set about doing it, as well as why our approach differed from that of the Windows Office team.

Office 2010 for Windows has extended the Ribbon. Every Windows Office application has the Ribbon now (including Outlook, which had previously had the Ribbon in certain views but not all of them). The applications that already had the Ribbon made some tweaks to better improve the experience, as well as support new features.

As we began our work on Office:Mac 2011, we had to make decisions about what the next generation of the Elements Gallery should look like. We made some great strides forward in improving discoverability, but there were still some improvements to be made. As we looked at our colleagues on the Windows Office team and considered what they had learned through their Ribbon work, we decided that we could do the Ribbon in a Mac way that works for our users.

Our single most important decision for the MacRibbon is that we're still going to be a good Mac citizen. Our menus, not to mention the standard toolbar, stay. We knew that one concern that our users have is the availability of vertical screen real estate. As such, we quickly made the decision that our MacRibbon should be collapsible. If you're using the MacRibbon, then you've got easy access to our features; if you're not, then you can collapse it to get it out of your way. If you're feeling particularly minimalistic, you can collapse the standard toolbar too, leaving you with every pixel on your screen below the menu bar to dedicate to your document.

One of the questions that we get asked about the MacRibbon is why it takes up vertical screen real estate at all. It's about how people work. If you're on a widescreen monitor, windows off to the side have the "out of sight, out of mind" problem. You're so focused on your content that's right in front of you that you don't look the few inches over to your right to see what's happening in the Toolbox. Moving the same features out of the Formatting Palette or Toolbox and into the Ribbon has drastically increased their discoverability, and makes it easier for you to get your work done.

My team has done hundreds of hours of usability studies that focus on the MacRibbon across the suite, an effort spearheaded by one of my research colleagues. At each step of the way, we've made changes to the MacRibbon based on our research findings, and conducted additional research to determine whether our new design met its goals. We've had really positive feedback about this. I just wrapped up an Outlook:Mac study where one participant told me that he felt like he was getting the best of both worlds: the goodness of Outlook done in a way that fits right in to the rest of his Mac experience.

Our friends at Macworld have posted some screenshots of Word 2011 in their article Microsoft announces Office for Mac 2011. Take a look at those to start to get a feeling for what you'll see in Office 2011. We'll be sharing more information, including more screenshots, as we get closer to the launch of Office 2011. In the interim, feel free to leave comments with any questions that you might have.

Comments (22)

  1. Kelley says:

    I would like to keep you in my technologically needy pocket, for a little while at least.

    Thanks for this!

  2. fotoflo says:

    For many of us, I dont think the problem is discoverability any more – think: we can find anything we want, but we need 3 clicks to get there – what we really need is more keyboard shortcuts and the ability to create our own keyboard shortcuts (i believe office 97 had that…)

  3. Stephen says:

    I have millions of questions about Office 2011 but I’m gonna select just a few:

    1) Is the MacRibbon of Office 2011 customizable (like in Office 2010 for Windows)?

    2) Have you adjusted the position of the Excel formula bar? In Office:Mac 2008 it’s floating into Outer Space… (I’d like to see some Excel 2011 screenshots, thank you)

    3) Is the XML file format (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx) 100% compatible with the Windows (Office 2010) version, this time around?

    It should be, at least with files saved using Office 2010 (Win) or 2011 (Mac) because it’s a completed standard now and Visual Basic is back.

    4) Will Messenger:Mac support Winks?

    I want 100% compatibility with the Windows version, you should already have understood it by now, eheheh!

    5) Is My Day still present or is it completely replaced by Outlook:Mac?

    Thank You! Up with Office 2011 for Mac!

  4. Alex says:

    I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to be complaining about this, just as a knee-jerk reaction, but I’m personally very pleased to see that you’ve included the option to minimize the Ribbon if necessary. On Windows, I’ve never found it improved my productivity any (sorry!), and am just fine with using the standard Mac toolbar to access everything. On the other hand, I know plenty of people who use the Ribbon and love it.

    In short, I’m glad you’re giving us the best of both worlds. Looking forward to Office 2011!

  5. fotoflo – Discoverability is definitely a problem.  When someone asks for a feature that we’ve already got, that means that they can’t find it, not that they’re annoyed that it takes too many clicks to get there.

    We’re not removing any keyboard shortcuts.  Do tell us if there are additional keyboard shortcuts that you’d like us to implement!

    Stephen – I’m sorry, but I can’t answer any of your specific feature questions at this time.  We’ll be talking more about specific features in the applications as we get closer to launch.  

    About file format, do you have any specific examples of cross-platform issues in Office:Mac 2008?  Leaving aside macros, that is.  

    Alex, Kelly – thanks! 🙂

  6. Troy Payne says:

    The biggest problem with the Office 2007 ribbon is that what I used to have quick, one-click access to is now spread out over multiple tabs that I cannot customize. I spend a lot of time mousing, click the tab of the ribbon I want, Do what I need to do, then mouse back to the home tab. It feels like a LOT more work to get basic tasks done in 2007 v. 2003 for Windows.  

    Keeping the standard Mac menu items along the top and the standard toolbar would go a long way toward addressing my problems with Fluent. Assuming the Office 2010 for Mac ribbon is customizable too, from the screenshots I’ve seen it looks like the Mac version will be much easier to use (for me, at least) than Office 2007 for Windows.

  7. Luke says:

    I think that the ribbon will be good for Mac Office. I’m looking forward to the upgrade.

    Let me ask, I know that Outlook will be a Cocoa app, but I read that the other apps will continue to be Carbon. (Or something…I’m not a code guy.) Does this mean that system-wide functions like the dictionary will continue not to work in Word 2011?

  8. Luke – The use of OS X Services isn’t related to Cocoa.  As with any feature, it’s a question of how important it is to our users.  So far, other features have bubbled up further on our priority list.  If you’d like us to support Services in the future (and since we haven’t yet announced the full feature set of Office 2011, I can’t comment one way or the other about it), you should submit product feedback telling us what you want us to do, why it’s important to you, and what the impact is of not having it.  You can do so here:


  9. Michael Dragone says:

    Love the Ribbon. Can’t wait to see more screenshots of Outlook. And Outlook. And Outlook. 😉

  10. R. Mansfield says:

    Will the formatting pallet still be available for those of us who still want to use it?

    It looks to me that the formatting pallet icon is visible in the screenshots.

  11. MMNW says:

    I hope you keep the Toolbox. As someone regularly working on windows and OS X, I think the Toolbox already supplies all features the Ribbons have. The only difference is, it’s on the right instead of on top.

    While I actually think the Ribbon interface is a nice idea, more tools at hand, it takes up to much screen estate in vertical direction.

    So, in conclusion I hope you keep the Toolbox, and I congratulate you on the decision to make the Ribbons collapsable. It’s a nice idea, but it won’t happen on my 16:9 MacBook display.

  12. Stephen says:

    "About file format, do you have any specific examples of cross-platform issues in Office:Mac 2008? Leaving aside macros, that is."

    I was thinking about the possibility to edit a file in Office Mac 2011 and later edit it in Office Win 2010 without any visual glitch or other anomalies. For example in a place where Windows is used, then at home on my Mac. And back 😉

    About macros, I only hope they won’t raise security concerns.


    I look forward to having Office 2011!


    And don’t forget to go back and answer my five questions later this year, eheheh!

  13. Javier says:

    the only reason i dont use 2008 is becuase of this two questions:

    1) Is the MacRibbon of Office 2011 customizable (like in Office 2010 for Windows)?

    2) Have you adjusted the position of the Excel formula bar? In Office:Mac 2008 it’s floating into Outer Space… (I’d like to see some Excel 2011 screenshots, thank you)

    please make 2011 more consistence with 2010, i hate the whole formula bar floating off and every sinlg option not in the toolbar like pivot tables floating off. i really like 2007 and 2010 seems to be even better, i hope you guys go the same pad.

    also, is the fact that word, excel, powerpoint are still on carbon and not coca, means they will stay buggy and slow like 2008?

  14. Javier – Since you’re not using Office 2008, I’m not sure how you can say that it’s slow and buggy. 🙂  We’ve released several updates to it to improve its performance, so perhaps you might be willing to give it a go and see if you like it better now.

    I can’t answer your specific questions at this time, nor can I show any additional screenshots, but I will when I can.

  15. Javier says:

    well i do have it install on my mac install. but i prefer to use 2007, and i hope 2011 changes that. my only other complain is that it seems like i always have to use zoom to be able to read what i am writing in excel 2008 which never happens in 2007. why is the different sizes???

  16. Nigel says:

    Interesting stuff: sounds like progress.

    In terms of keyboard shortcuts I have two to request:

    command-shift-S : for Save As… This is a major ommission in 2008 but can be created by the user through system preferences as the command is in the mac menu bar.

    But in Excel the function Paste Special/Paste Values is not in the menu bar… On Windows it is Alt ESV. It is such an important and useful command and I hate having to mouse to unusual places to use it. Please please can you find a solution: even though it is the OS conventions that are different as opposed to the OS Office versions.


  17. Geoff says:

    Hi Nadyne,

    Do you know if Microsoft will release a beta/rc version of the new Mac Office, like they have for Windows, so that uses will be available to do some testing before the final version is released?

  18. brh says:

    It’s a nice trick… If your UI is just slightly more discoverable than the native UI, then you get people to switch back to Windows, eh? But I don’t think that’s the plan since the ribbon was non-native in Windows as well! There are ways to make interfaces more accessible without breaking the native look & feel of a UI. The ribbon on Windows always felt like an overengineered solution to me, a way to make things simpler while keeping them complicated… The ideal solution would make things simpler, period.

    Can’t complain too much, though, it’s still better than Maya’s ‘Hidden Menus.’

  19. yonatron says:

    >> About file format, do you have any specific examples of cross-platform issues in Office:Mac 2008?  Leaving aside macros, that is.  

    PivotTables. Sometimes I edit a workbook with PivotTables in Excel 2007, then open it in Excel 2008 to find that it contains "unsupported PivotTable report styles". Because the interface for some PivotTable features is different across 2007 and 2008 (e.g. including/hiding certain row values), it’s difficult to know while I’m working on a file if the changes I’m going to make will be valid.

    I hope Excel 2011 supports every PivotTable feature that’s in 2008 and 2010.

  20. John.B says:

    Schwieb was nice enough to point out that the keyboard shortcut to edit the existing cell in Excel for Mac is Control-U.

    From a strict keyboarding memory perspective, I would *really* like to be able to map the F2 key to edit a cell (even after Schwieb patiently pointed out why F2 should be "copy" on a Mac keyboard).

    The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a menu-equivalent to Control-U in Excel, which means I can’t remap F2 to edit a cell in Excel 2008.

    Is there either some way to (a) have Edit appear on a menu so I could remap the F2 key, or (b) have some other mechanism to accomplish the same thing?

    I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only switcher who would appreciate this.

    John (Excel user since version 3.0)

    Oh, and enjoy Yosemite.  Of this entire Earth, it’s still one of my favorite places.  😀

  21. Juice says:

    I’m a recent switcher – just less than a year, so I have a Mac at home and use Windows at work.  What I most need in MS Office is consistency, so I’m not hunting at home for something know how to find at work easily.  That’s my biggest problem with Office:Mac – it’s not like either the old verion that I know or the new version I’m still learning – it’s a third version to learn.  I’ll be happy to a ribbon, and doubly happy to see the menus remain. That way I can learn the ribbon at work, know what I’m doing at home as well.

  22. Justin says:

    I just hope that we get coloured tab option for excel worksheets and that the issue over row spacing with text in rows is sorted (where it only shows one line in stead of all the text)

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