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Windows 8 ribbon entangles Microsoft

'Aargh, this crazy UI is strangling meee', wail users

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Microsoft is tangled up in ribbons again. This time its plan to expand the Office 2007 look-and-feel in Windows 8 is putting its Windows group president on the defensive.

The company has confirmed reports dating from earlier this year that it is revamping the Explorer interface in Windows 8 to feature a ribbon UI.

Only, as bloggers and commenters responding to the news on Microsoft's Building Windows 8 blog have noted, the company is giving people more of what they don't want.

Microsoft's data on how Windows 7 has been used has found that more than half of commands in Explorer are called using either a right-click on a mouse via the context menu or hot keys.

The command bar and menu bar trail a long, long way down the field. Meanwhile, just two of the top 10 commands that are called are actually available in the command bar.

Microsoft's answer has been to shuffle commands and menus into a chunky ribbon that will run along the top of the screen. Icons in the ribbon under the Explorer's "home" tab will cover 84 per cent of the actions Microsoft says users perform most frequently.

Ribbon UIs have been notoriously knotty for Microsoft, however, and this plan has proved no exception.

The company overhauled the interface of Office 2007 with a ribbon UI that dismayed users, IT departments and partners who had to use the app or build add-ins.

The goal was to make Office features easier for users to find, so they weren't hidden behind miles of drop-down menus. What happened in practice, however, was that the ribbon caused confusion and damaged productivity as people were forced to re-learn their way around Office.

The response on the Windows 8 blog to the latest ribbon has ranged from confusion to frustration at Microsoft's decision to seemingly work against the way people use Windows.

Some users support the ribbon, but others recall the problems of the Office 2007 bump in the road.

One blogger also noted how the ribbon trashes one of Microsoft's stated goals: for Explorer to create a "streamlined command experience". This because it devotes valuable screen real-estate in the ribbon to 16 per cent of actions in Explorer that Microsoft says users never or hardly ever use.

Redmond seems to have anticipated the uproar. Alex Simons, a member of the Windows 8 program management team, announcing the new UI, said: "We knew that using a ribbon for Explorer would likely be met with skepticism by a set of power-users."

Such has been the reaction against the ribbon UI, however, that Simons' boss – Windows prez Steven Sinofsky – has had to return, appealing for reasoned and rational debate while also continuing to justify the changes.

Picking up on the power-users argument, Sinofsky pointed out that commenters will still be able to continue use shortcuts keys in Explorer. He also tried to bat off accusations that the interface is "cluttered".

Sinofsky wrapped up: "We're all getting a lot out of the dialog. More than anything, the passion and interest is itself energizing. It reminds us of the responsibility we have in designing and developing Windows."

Translation: With the Windows 8 beta now just weeks away, thanks for the comments, but don't expect anything to change. ®

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