When Microsoft released Office 2007, its traditional menu system was discarded in favour of what was called the “ribbon interface”. The change was hated by many, so why bring ribbons to Windows Live Mail 2011?
This icon-based display (pictured) divides into tabs, which Microsoft claims will let people get to their desired option with fewer clicks. Yet, Microsoft suffered a backlash to its 2007 ribbon introduction, with many reacting badly to the changed interface.
So it came as a surprise when Microsoft decided to introduce ribbons to its 2011 update of Windows Live Mail (WLM). Ribbons are even rumoured to be making their way to Windows 8’s Windows Explorer – a move I’m sure many will despise.
Since the release of WLM 2011 we’ve been inundated by Which? Helpdesk emails complaining about its ribbon interface. But, unfortunately, there’s currently no way to return to the traditional menus and toolbars found in the 2010 version. It looks like ribbons are here to stay.
The resurrection of ribbons
When the 2010 version of WLM came out, the transition was relatively painless. Yet, that was just the calm before the storm. As part of an automatic update the menus were soon transformed into the much hated ribbons.
At the end of the day, the big mistake wasn’t using ribbons in the email client, it was adding them after it’s release. Why wasn’t it included in the first place? Perhaps this is a mystery only Microsoft can answer.
Like any other software company, Microsoft’s constantly trying to improve its software and develop its designs, but in this case, ribbons just seemed to come out of nowhere. And when it comes to an interface that’s used by billions, most likely in their daily jobs, wouldn’t it be wiser to follow the expression ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big supporter of innovation and pushing technological boundaries. But if your goal is to make people’s lives easier by cutting down the amount of clicks to select a particular option, don’t change the whole interface at once. Doing that makes people click around even more as they incessantly try to find the right option.
What’s next for ribbons?
After four years I think it’s too late for Microsoft to re-evaluate and redesign its WLM interface – at least for people who, like me, have somehow managed to get used to the new layout.
However, when Microsoft wants to radically change the interface of one its products in the future, such as in Windows 8, there needs to be a transitional stage. People should be given the option to either keep the new design, or revert back to the one they were so used to (similar to the option on the Windows Start menu which lets you return to ‘classic view’).
At least that would ease people’s annoyance when they’re trying to meet a deadline and don’t know how to print or save a document!