There is no going back to the dark days of Office menus

Here are 10 very good reasons why no one should go back to the dark days of Office menus.

When it comes to Office support issues, I tend to think in terms of Ribbon and pre-Ribbon formats. Users all know exactly what that means. Microsoft's push to the Ribbon interface was hard for some users to accept, but I've come to appreciate the work that went into the huge reorganization. Now that I'm fully acclimated and supporting it more than any other version, I miss little about the pre-Ribbon apps.

This post was originally published in the 10 Things Blog.

1: The overall look

The switch to Office 2007 was abrupt. I didn't fully appreciate the new logic until Office 2010, but I'm a true convert now. When I open a pre-Ribbon application, I feel like I'm looking at old high school pictures. The scenery looks old because it is old.

2: InfoPath

InfoPath had a great start, but once Office made the switch to an XML format, many developers let it drop from their radar. The idea was terrific, but it's certainly underused.

3: The toolbars

Did you ever count the number of pre-Ribbon toolbars? True, they were easy to display and hide, but there were too many! Helping users keep them corralled was often a tedious support task.

4: Outlook's we know what's best for you security features

Microsoft decided that email attachments were too dangerous and blocked them. That worked out so nicely for most of us, didn't it? They offered tedious workarounds, but most of us just hacked the Registry and took back control.

5: Macro security

Microsoft was kind of between a rock and hard place on this decision, but macro security went well beyond helpful. It was annoying to users and added a layer of warnings and windows that developers had to inhibit. It's still around (sort of), but it's less intrusive and demanding.

6: The menus

You won't hear me begging Microsoft to bring back my menu and its three- and four-level deep hierarchy. I don't want it back. Once I acclimated myself to the Ribbon, I found most options quicker to access. More options are visible with a quick click to a tab. I no longer hunt through layers of menus to find a command. All Microsoft did was pull layers of commands out of the darkness and into the light.

However, I don't miss 2007's Office button. In fact, I blame the Office button for a good portion of the upgrade angst. It was distracting and it never fit into the UI scenery or the user psyche. Most users thought it was logo! Hiding important options behind a unique (and I don't mean that in a good way) graphic was a major design blunder.

7: Track Changes

Word's Track Changes feature was helpful but a bit hard to grasp. The options and views were confusing to users, especially the views. Users also had trouble discerning whether the feature was on or off. The Ribbon version is better organized, and the options are more descriptive. The Track Changes option in the Tracking group clearly indicates whether the feature is on or off and if that's not enough, the Track Changes indicator on the status bar is easy to add. (There's a Track Changes indicator in the pre-Ribbon version, but most users don't know what it is.)

8: Smart menus

You can't blame Microsoft for trying, but nobody liked or wanted the "personalized" menus. These menus remembered what you used and displayed only the commands you used frequently. Unfortunately, they generated a lot of nuisance support calls because users couldn't find the menu commands they needed. These menus probably looked good on paper, but they were annoying in practice.

9: The Getting Started task pane

This task pane opened by default and consumed about 20 percent of your screen. Whoa! What minor feature gets 20 percent of your screen? It was a bad idea; most users immediately closed it and set about looking for an option to disable it. (They called their help desk.)

10: Outlook, period

Outlook 2003 was a decent product, but Outlook probably benefits the most from the full Ribbon interface. (Outlook 2007 is a mix of menu and Ribbon.) The Ribbon reorganization makes things so much easier. I don't miss a thing about Outlook 2003. I don't even want to support Outlook 2003 anymore.

Your turn

Do you agree that these older features are better off gone? What other pre-Ribbon features are you happy to leave behind — and what do you wish you had back?


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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