The death of the main menu

Wednesday 28 September 2005This is 18 years old. Be careful.

Jeff Atwood points out that the big news from the recent Microsoft PDC demo of Office 12 is the death of the main menu. Instead of a traditional main menu, Office 12 will have a series of tool palettes selected by tabs where the main menu used to be. I think he’s right, that we’re in for another big shift in UI paradigms, as Office leads the way for developers everywhere. It may be difficult for me-too developers to adjust to this large a change, though, so I don’t think the main menu is really dead.

For me, the screen shot of Office 12 prompted a different thought: “Isn’t that a Mac?” Could they have copied more of the look of the Mac UI??


Its called "The Ribbon" and I hate it. Just like I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the GUI world, I will resist The Ribbon for a while.

Hopefully, there is an Office hack for turning it off.
One of the first things I do when setting up a new computer with Microsoft Office is check the Customize > "Show Full Menus" option. I like my menu items to appear in a consistent location each time; this way I can develop the muscle memory to select items without really looking for them. The default auto-expand menu feature throws this off, forcing me to actively look for the item I want.

I'm not sure what the Ribbon is going to do for me in this case, but I fear it's going to be another step backward.
Sylvain Galineau 4:36 PM on 28 Sep 2005
Windows Media Player has been out for a while with this very kind of menu model and few cared or even noticed. Apply it to Office and the shift turns tectonic.

True; I think the reaction is directly proportional to the amount of time the average person spends in WMP versus Office. I think that WMP 7 and above have sacrificed usability in favor of looks and 'skinnability'. Some programmers have gone so far as to build new media players that recreate the look of WMP 6.4 while adding new functionality. WMP 6.4 was ugly, but at least the controls were all visible or easily discoverable.

> WMP 6.4 was ugly, but at least the controls were all visible or easily discoverable

This is precisely why the ribbon was created! Word has 1,500 commands, which means umpteen zillion toolbar buttons and menus. Good luck finding ANYTHING.

Funny anecdote: in the intro to the office 12 presentation, the presenter mentioned that 9 out of 10 focus group feature requests for Word are for.. wait for it.. features that already exist in the product.

So yeah, there was (and is) a giant problem.

If you don't feel this way, I urge you to watch the video, which shows the ribbon in action:

Static screenshots don't really do it justice.
The ribbon works *a lot* like the Lotus Property box, but they take it much further.
Jeff, thanks for the pointer to the video. The "ribbon" makes a lot more sense when you see it in action.

I agree with Damien, it's a lot like Lotus Infoboxes, with the advantage that the ribbon has its own dedicated screen space so it doesn't pop up on top of whatever else you are doing.

I meant to include a link to the video! Darned impatient fingers!

The PM mentioned how the ribbon doesn't occlude your work the way dialog boxes had, but she says it just before showing off the table gallery, which is a drop down nearly the size of the screen, covering up everything! I guess there are a few kinks to work out still...

Have you seen Kevin Leitch's autism blog/web design blog? It's called 'left brain/right brain".

Your wife might already have visited it, since it's linked to from my blog. Kevin is in England and does website design and has an autistic daughter. In case you didn't already know that...


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