Office 2010 reduces ribbon pain

The ribbon UI introduced in Office 2007 met with rejection, dejection, and outright mutiny. Be of good cheer: Office 2010 isn't bad

During the long march from Office 2003 to 2007, I heard the same thing over and over again: "I hate the ribbon!"

Power users of Office complained the most. Their fingers had been trained to work with menus, not ribbons. And the distribution of features seemed arbitrary: Were macros on the Insert ribbon, or was that the View ribbon? No wonder so many organizations had problems moving to Office 2007.

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The transition to Office 2010 promises to be a whole lot smoother. In part, that's because everybody has had their struggle with the Ribbon and has (begrudgingly) accepted it. In part, it's because Microsoft has actually improved the ribbon based on user feedback. My circle of Office friends tends to be pretty opinionated and, uh, entrenched -- but most of them are now saying that they'll move to Office 2010.

In Office 2007, the ribbons were more or less set in concrete: While you could change Office 2003's menus quickly and easily, Office 2007 locked 'em down. Now in Office 2010, you can suddenly change the ribbons: Customizing ribbons is as simple as right-clicking an empty part of the ribbon you wish to change and choosing Customize the Ribbon. Score one (albeit long overdue) for the Microsoft team.

The Office 2010 ribbon now appears everywhere. Outlook 2007 had menus, but when you started a new message, you suddenly flipped on the ribbon. Whiplash. Outlook 2010 also makes some worthwhile functions a little easier to find -- but more important, you don't have to switch back and forth between thinking in menu and thinking in ribbon.

By far the most important change to the ribbon, though, has to do with the demise of the Office orb -- that fancy round thing in the upper-left corner. Yes, I know it was supposed to be easier and faster to hit with your sailing mouse, and its stylized Office logo design probably won a ton of awards, but when it came to usefulness, the Orb oozed obfuscation. You certainly couldn't tell by looking at it that the "Office Button" held the secrets to, say, displaying tab characters on the screen in Word or changing the author of a document.

Office 2010 gave the orb the heave-ho and replaced it with a File menu. Imagine that. The fact that you can finally click File/Save to save a file, or File/Print to print -- just as you can in 10 million other Windows programs -- has to rate as one of the best improvements in Office 2010. Some days I think there's fleeting evidence of intelligent life in Redmond. (I won't hold my breath for Help/About displaying the version. That would be too much to ask.)

If you find yourself charged with convincing users that Office 2010 is a step in the right direction, tell them that the new Ribbon isn't as bad as the one in Office 2007. I bet you get some respect.

For help finding familiar Office 2003 menu items in Office 2010's ribbons, download Microsoft's menu-to-ribbon reference guide.

This article, "Office 2010 reduces ribbon pain," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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