OpenOffice.org considers an Office 2007 ribbon user interface

Instead of following Microsoft's lead, OpenOffice.org should consider today's devices and screen resolutions

Project Renaissance aims to deliver a new user interface for OpenOffice.org. The team recently completed the prototyping phase and is asking users to provide feedback on the eight UI options, which strongly resemble Microsoft Office 2007's ribbon UI.

Response to the ribbon-based UI options has been, well, one-sided:

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  • e7: "This would be a killer feature for not using OpenOffice.org. Don't implement this, do other things -- like live editing in presentation, a correct ttf/otf [TrueType or OpenType] export or such things."
  • Andis: "I would like to see list of problems in previous interface of Impress and how these problems are addressed in the new interface. Because now I see only problems (at least for me) with that new interface."
  • .wu: "That's brilliant! add even more to the top part of the UI because, you know -- the screens aren't getting wider."

The three comments are fairly representative of the comments as of Aug. 5. The concerns boil down to three points: Why work on a new UI when there are other higher-priority items for the OpenOffice.org to tackle, why introduce such a significant change to users, and why waste vertical screen space?

I can't speak for the OpenOffice.org community as to why it's working on this versus some other requirements.

The second concern raised is interesting. Because many Office users are still using Office 2003, with some resisting the shift to Office 2007 because of the ribbon UI, why would OpenOffice.org follow suit with a ribbon-like UI? A UI that more closely resembles Office 2003 will make it easier to adopt OpenOffice.org versus training 500 or 20,000 or 300,000 employees on the new UI in Office 2007.

Commenter talkimposter writes: "In fact I use OpenOffice at work because they moved to Office 2007 and I just can't stand that stupid interface for idiots."

On the other hand, while initial user reaction to the ribbon UI has often been negative, this is typically the case with many release-to-release UI changes. However, as commenter sRc writes, "I like where this is going, myself. To be honest, the Office 07 ribbon does look functionally challenged at first, but once you get used to it, it is so much nicer to work with then a standard interface. After working on a project in Office 07 at my work, I find myself missing the ribbon now every time I load up OpenOffice.org."

The third concern raised is much more troubling. Screens have been getting wider, and when netbooks are considered, OpenOffice.org should be innovating UIs that conserve vertical space. Widescreen displays were not common when Microsoft researched and introduced the ribbon UI. Could OpenOffice.org be making a mistake and following the leader with a UI technique that no longer fits with today's devices? Said differently, would Microsoft have introduced a horizontal ribbon if it were researching a UI for today's computers?

Interestingly enough, Lotus Symphony (InfoWorld's pick as the best Office alternative) uses a vertical ribbon-like menu system on the right-hand pane. This approach takes advantage of widescreen computer displays. I didn't understand that design decision until today since I still have a 4:3 screen for work. Maybe OpenOffice.org should consider UI research conducted more recently than trying to mimic Microsoft's approach?

You can test-drive the UIs and provide feedback. The prototype test requires Java 6 and takes about two minutes to load. It's well worth the time and effort.

Follow me on Twitter at: SavioRodrigues.

P.S.: I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

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