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Microsoft Cuts Office 2007 Ribbon

Microsoft is capitulating to tester complaints about the new interface in Office 2007 and adding the option to make the vaunted "ribbon" UI behave like the old standard drop-down menu.

It may come as a bit of a surprise that during a speech at the Australian Tech Ed show, a Microsoft  technology specialist said the company would modify the much-ballyhooed "ribbon" in Office because, as he put it, "it takes up too much room."

The ribbon interface is meant to replace the old drop-down, nested menu system that's the standard UI in almost every application, whether it's on Windows, Macintosh or Linux.

The ribbon was meant to provide access to the many commands hidden in Office applications.

Because Word, Excel and PowerPoint had so many options and features, some commands were buried, or impossible to find. The ribbon was a means to put more options in front of the user.

Instead, they found it clumsy, and there were hints of discontent at the most recent Tech Ed in Boston that users found the UI confusing.

"The ribbon has always been a concern," said Michael Silver, research director with Gartner.

"At lower resolutions, the ribbon will take up a lot of screen real estate and won’t even be that useful. As users get PCs capable of better resolution and as screens continue to get larger, Office will 'grow into' the ribbon."

The change will allow users to have the ribbon automatically minimize whenever it is not being used, which will make the ribbon behave the way traditional menus do now.

Microsoft declined to discuss the matter further with internetnews.com.

Also, it should be noted that not every Office application will use the ribbon. Outlook and Visio have both stuck to the old-school drop-down menu design.

Ed Oswald of BetaNews.com, though, liked the new UI.

"The ribbon was a drastic change from the old drop-down menus, but it was needed, because too many features got buried as the program outgrew [drop-down menus]," he said.

There hadn't been an awful lot of complaints regarding Office 2007. Most of the word on blogs and message boards had been positive since Beta 2 came out in June.

In fact, the good word around Office 2007 was attributed to a boost in pre-orders that Microsoft reported in its most recent fiscal quarter.