Microsoft adamant we use the Ribbon interface in Vista and beyond

Greg Shultz analyzes the rumor that Microsoft is planning to add Ribbons to Windows Vista and the idea that Ribbons were supposed to have been there all along.

Rumors are running rampant on the Web that Microsoft is planning to ribbonize Windows Vista's built-in applications -- WordPad and Paint. According to the rumors, an interoperability pack for Windows Vista, supposedly called the Windows 7 Client Platform Update, will be released via Microsoft Downloads and Windows Update as a Recommended Update at the same time that Windows 7 ships in October. This optional update will transform the user interface in Vista's Paint and WordPad from the old drop-down menu system to the Ribbon UI found in Windows 7's Paint and WordPad.

If you have been using Windows for a while, you surely recognize this as an extremely odd play for Microsoft. When have they ever taken a new technology designed for new applications and put it in older applications? Unless, it was supposed to have been there all along? If Ribbons had appeared in WordPad and Paint before Office 2007, would the UI transition have been as tough?

In this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll analyze the rumor that Microsoft is planning to add Ribbons to Windows Vista. As I do, I'll explore the idea that it could be possible that Ribbons were supposed to have been a part of the Windows operating system's built-in applications before they appeared in Office 2007.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

The cards are on the table

The Ribbon is the wave of the future, and Microsoft wants us to get used to it. As you can imagine, the goal of back-porting Ribbons into Windows Vista, even though it will be an optional update, is to essentially make it hard for you to avoid using the Ribbon. The reasoning behind this push is that Microsoft wants you to get used to the Ribbon as it will become more prevalent in upcoming Windows 7 applications.

In fact, according to an article in Computerworld, Mike Nash, a Corporate Vice President for Windows Product Management, has said that Microsoft is pushing for the Ribbon to be adopted in all Windows 7 applications from third-party developers as well as from Microsoft.

By putting the Ribbon in Windows 7's built-in applications and then back-porting the Ribbon into Windows Vista's built-in applications, Microsoft seems to be hoping that the more you use the Ribbon, the more comfortable with it you'll become, and thus, the easier it will be for you to move on to more advanced or more detailed Ribbons in major applications designed for Windows 7.

The Ribbon plan

Microsoft appears to have been planning to make the Ribbon a main navigational feature for all Microsoft applications, both stand-alone and those in the operating system, for some time now. For example, when Microsoft released a rebranded Windows Internet Explorer 7 in late 2006, the old drop-down menus were hidden and essentially replaced with a snazzy tabbed user interface that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Ribbon. With that in mind, take a look at Figure A. Of course, the tabbed user interface in Windows Internet Explorer 7 wasn't actually referred to as a Ribbon, but it was slowly nudging us in that direction.

Figure A

With the drop-down menus out of the focus and the new tabbed user interface, Internet Explorer 7 appears to be ribbonized.
Another example of a Ribbon-like interface can be found in Vista's Windows Explorer, shown in Figure B. Again, the old drop-down menus are hidden and replaced with a command bar that provides easy access to the most commonly needed commands or tasks. Windows Explorer's command bar is even contextual in nature -- the available commands change depending on the type of file that is selected.

Figure B

The command bar in Windows Explorer could also be considered a Ribbon.

When you think about these changes in Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Explorer, it becomes conceivable that Microsoft's real plan was for Ribbons to appear in Paint and WordPad all along. However, since the follow-up operating system fell so far behind schedule and went through so many feature reductions, Office 2007 came out with the Ribbon before it appeared in the operating system. As such, we have a situation where it is plausible that Microsoft had to inadvertently put the cart before the horse.

So, for the sake of argument, let's assume that Microsoft is trying to right that wrong and that the appearance of the Ribbons in Paint and WordPad was originally designed to follow up on the changes in Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Explorer and to help us make a more gradual transition to more detailed Ribbons in major applications such as Office 2007. In other words, since WordPad and Paint, as shown in Figure C, are such basic applications with a smaller set of features, learning to make the transition from menus to Ribbons should be easier.

Figure C

Since WordPad and Paint are such basic applications, learning to make the transition from menus to the Ribbons should be easier.

I'll be covering the Ribbons in Windows 7's WordPad and Paint in more detail in future articles.

What's your take?

Did you have a hard time getting used to the Ribbon-like interfaces in Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Explorer? Are you used to them now or do you still use the old menus? Are you willing to give Ribbons a chance in WordPad and Paint? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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