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Tie An Office Ribbon Around Your Old Apps

One of the most notable changes to Office 2007, its Ribbon interface, is now available to software developers wishing to adopt a similar look and feel for their applications.

Microsoft  said it will make the Microsoft Office 2007 user interface broadly available to volume license customers, both commercial software developers and corporate customers, for internal application development.

"Every time Microsoft revises the Office user interface, there's a lot of interest in replicating the UI across applications because there's an interest in retaining that familiarity," Chris Bryant, senior product manager in the Information Worker division at Microsoft, told internetnews.com.

So the company has created a royalty-free licensing program for both software developers and component vendors. The program is not platform or application category specific.

Participants of the program must use all three elements of the UI, not just one or two. These components are the Ribbon, the round Office button in the upper left-hand corner of the application window, and the quick-access toolbar to the immediate right of the Office button.

Microsoft will provide the license as well as a Design Guidelines document for building applications. Bryant said there has been interest from ISVs, corporate, in-house developers and component vendors, such as Infragistics, ComponentOne and Developer Express.

The only restriction is that it cannot be used to build an application that functions just like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access, and that are marketed as replacements for those applications, said Bryant.

Paul DeGroot, analyst with Directions on Microsoft, agrees with the notion of retaining a familiar application interface.

"It doesn't have to be a great interface, but there's a lot of value in it being a familiar interface," he said. "By sticking roughly to the same guidelines that the Office team uses, an ISV that builds business apps might be able to build something that might be more accessible or easier for customers to get used to if they are using Office 2007."

But he questioned the broad appeal of the UI, given the interest in software-as-a-service (SaaS) these days. Bryant said that with some work, the Office UI can work in an on-demand environment.

"If they want apps delivered over the Web to have a similar UI to Office, the Design Guidelines should work for them," he said. The application would be hosted within Internet Explorer, below the IE toolbar.

DeGroot figures a likely market will be for Microsoft Dynamics partners building ERP and CRM applications. "I don't see it having a lot of applicability to a broad market. It will be interesting to see who takes them up on this. My guess it will be niche players or people avoiding UI shock."