The MS Office ribbon is a solution to a very serious problem in MS Office applications -- and it's an effective solution. It is also a highly aggravating solution, that introduces problems of its own. Unfortunately, there is no reasonable way to solve the problem better under current conditions, as far as I'm aware.
The problem it solves (or, more accurately, "mitigates") is interface proliferation. Feature creep has turned into feature invasion over the years in MS Office applications, and those features are represented by menu options and buttons and widgets exploding all over the MS Office interface, in ways that are increasingly chaotic, confusing, and cluttered (the three Cs of bad design, perhaps). The ribbon eliminates a lot of that by contextualizing the interface, thus providing a means of simplifying it. It comes with trade-offs, of course, but whether those trade-offs are worth it or not depends on the user.
This is a problem endemic to the entire concept of the modern office application suite, unfortunately. This is why I'm not sure there's any better solution to the problem than something like the ribbon right now. In short, the real solution is to find ways to get away from office suite software, and complete necessary tasks using tools more specialized for such purposes, or that in combination provide a cleaner solution built from more flexibly reusable components.
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