Three years have passed since Microsoft first introduced the ribbon menu interface to Office 2007, a change that was met with a mixed response from end-users. If you're a fan of the ribbon, rejoice, or if you're a loather, beware: Microsoft is contemplating giving the interface a prominent role in the next version of Windows.
That news comes via Within Windows, which got its hands on several leaked Windows 8 screenshots. The images show the infamous ribbon interface replacing the family of drop-down menus that currently dominate Windows Explorer. Not surprisingly, the news prompted plenty of feedback from Windows users offering mixed pre-reviews of a change that may or may not come.
The whole idea behind the ribbon interface was to make visible the numerous features that old-school drop-down menus hide. The trade-off: Some critics have said the ribbon adds confusing clutter to the top of the screen. One moment, your font menu is there, the next moment it's gone because you've been taken to a different ribbon tab. Further, human nature is to eschew change, and the ribbon is a change from familiar, static drop-down menus.
Microsoft may have some justification to push the ribbon beyond its productivity apps: brisk sales of Office 2007. Though broad adoption of the suite may not equate love and adoration for the ribbon, it does suggest people are willing to accept it. Otherwise, Office 2007 might have had a similarly tragic fate as Vista, which boasted its own new and arguably unimproved UI.
That, however, takes us full circle to the prospect of bringing a ribbon to the Windows 8 Explorer. A ribbon in, say, Word or Excel exposes potentially productivity-boosting features to a user; one can see, at a glance, where to click to create a table, insert a picture, or access goodies they might not have otherwise known about.
But is that sort of functionality necessary in Windows Explorer, which, for the average user, is effectively a directory for documents and applications? Fans and critics of the potential change have started weighing in. "Explorer shouldn't be all singing, all dancing while trying to generate previews for me while not allowing me to do what I want: Manage my files," commented Chris in the comments section of the Within Windows piece. "The preview pane is awesome and so is the search, but I'm lukewarm about this. Explorer isn't Excel or Word; it's a file manager. I don't think the Ribbon belongs in Explorer, unless it's half the size of the current one, but wait, isn't that called a tool bar?"
Defenders of the ribbon said it was useful to novice users who need extra help as they use their machines. "The ribbon is more oriented for people who think Google is the Internet and who give you a blank stare when you ask them which browser they use," wrote coyoteNine. "Crude, yes, but for the most part, I believe that is the audience they're designing this for. And I say that's great. It may not be the best concept, but I think this could work for people who don't know how to use a computer like a power user."
Several commenters agreed that the most sensible approach might be for Microsoft to give users -- gasp! -- a choice between a ribbon interface and plain ol' drop-downs, but some users aren't waiting. "If MS allows us to replace the ribbon by creating custom toolbars and/or menus a la XP, then great, give the noobs the ribbon and the rest of us can ignore it and do things our way," commented Xenovore. "Based on past experience with Office 2007+, however, I'm not holding my breath. Microsoft's attitude has been and most likely will continue to be, 'You will all get the almighty ribbon and you will damn well like it, because we say so.'"
This story, "Will Windows 8 come wrapped in a ribbon interface?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.