One of the key things in the new version of Microsoft Office 2007 is the top 15% of the screen – also called:
(Also see Microsoft’s coverage of their new user interface at their website)
The Ribbon is a context-sensitive replacement for the dropdown menus and the toolbars. Simply stated, the job of the Ribbon is to put the most likely things for you to use in front of you when you would like to use them. The idea here is that Excel (and the other office apps) have a lot of features that only us power-users know how to locate, set up, and use. While I expect the interface will be easier for those who are not used to Excel to master, I have used it already – and I like it. It does take a little getting used to – after using Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, and Visicalc before it, and this is a big change. Admittedly, it’s not as big as the change from the old Lotus “/”, or slash commands, but it is enough of a difference that you may say, “What the heck is this?” the first time you see it.
(Note that the Ribbon I see in the betas of Office 2007 is different from this one, and the MS Office 2007 UI Team probably hasn’t finished their work on The Ribbon yet.
The story behind the scenes is interesting – and reminds us that while we have advanced tools to help us with collaboration, some types of work will still use lots of paper. So those of you who are going paperless this year (for sure(!)) don’t get rid of that printer just yet – just like Microsoft, you may have lots of paper in your future.
According to one of the Microsoft blogs, the ribbon layout was developed on a series of 11″ x 17″ pages posted in the hall of the fourth floor hallway where the Office 12 (now called Office 2007) UI design team was based. Mind you – this is one of the most successful companies in the world, and probably the most successful software company in the history of, well, software. These guys can use any tool they want to collaborate electronically, (and they have some pretty cool stuff.) They used paper.
The US Space Program spent a bloody fortune designing a pen that would work in zero-G. (You can purchase one – it’s called the Fisher Space Pen). The Russians? They sent pencils and a sharpener. While there are a lot of things about the USSR and its designs on the world which made me nervous (and some which continue to make me nervous), the ability of their military (and their space program in particular) to use less elegant, more reliable solutions to the problems facing cosmonauts which work right every time is a big deal. It’s particularly noteworthy when you consider that the Soyuz platform is still around – and NASA couldn’t build another Saturn-V rocket again if one was needed without a major retooling. True, Americans have walked on the moon, and Russians have not been there – but we’re closing in on the 35th anniversary of the last time a human walked on the moon – and we’re not going back there for a long time.
Moral of the story here: Don’t overlook the simple stuff that works in your quest for technological supremacy – the trick to using technology in your practice is to use technology to solve problems. We don’t see mechanics buying tools because they look cool – they buy tools because they help them get a job done. I love gadgets – but that’s a hobby, and the gadgets are there to help me get more work done – which is the point. Implementing technology without analyzing the business problem and picking the best solution from the available solutions for that problem is foolhardy. Success with technology is like the successes from the space program in the 1960’s and 1970’s – it’s best implemented with a lot of people working hard on solving lots of small problems every day for a long time. In other words, tech success is usually evolutionary instead of revolutionary. Remember this if your implementation hits a few speed bumps – and keep your ears open, as sometimes, the best ideas come from the people who have little formal education and lots of experience. There’s a reason the Good Lord gave all of us two ears and one mouth.