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:
- What's the Ribbon, and why do I care?
- I've used the Ribbon in Windows Office, and I hate it! Why would you bring it to Office:Mac?
- 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.