Damien posted a few weeks back about his experiences with Word 2007, and tonight AJ followed that up with a bit of a rant on misusing data from usage reports. On the surface I absolutely agree with AJ, the “modes are bad” theory and how complicating your most used feature is one of the single worst decisions you can make – but I think both of them are selling the Microsoft UI designers a little short.
The only time I use the ribbon regularly is in Outlook for composing email, so while I quite like it that could easily change because I have a fairly limited usage pattern. One new Microsoft interface that I have had a stack of experience with however is Vista. Some of the things in this interface are based on XP only so much as the Ribbon is based on Office 2003, so it’s taken some time to come to grips with.
I have found however that if you trust the UI designers, it works. I actually liken this to learning OSX, a new editor or a new keyboard layout – if you try to bend it to your existing ways it can end in tears but if you open your mind to how it’s been designed you can end up with startling results. For example when XP first came out I decided to give the new start panel a try, and now I absolutely love it to the point of detesting the old start menu. I can no longer stand clearing my desktop just to open my computer window, that link belongs on my start panel just as much as the finder icon belongs on the OSX dock.
The UI improvements become even more pronounced when you find the little timesaving shortcuts. I now regularly find myself sitting at work wishing I could click the app I want in the alt-tab popup (vista feature, possibly copied from OSX) and if I didn’t know you could use the scrollwheel to change tabs in the ribbon I would probably go just as crazy as Damien when using Office 2007.
I could be wrong, I could be completely different from the average user these products are really targeted at – but the success or failure of a big product launch takes many months to filter out and they don’t have teams of UI designers at Microsoft for nothing.