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Do you hate Microsoft’s ribbon interface in Windows Live Mail?

Microsoft ribbon toolbar

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!

megulito says:
9 April 2011

no anyone who hate ribbon is either a psuedo high end computer user or an idiot its easy for ludites expasiev and easy for technophiles and hides extremely well while organizing and giving great access to once hidden feature i hope ribbon end up in everything on windows

Thank you for describing me as an idiot. I think you are the idiot for being fooled into believing that the Ribbon is the new menu. I guess the quality of your post defines your inability to actually use either a menu or ribbon.

Try learning to use the shift and punctuation keys before learning to use the more advanced features.

Hi megulito and terfar. Thanks for your comments, but I just wanted to point out that we don’t really like provoking or offensive comments. So please take note of our Commenting Guidelines and then continue your Ribbon debate!

Razor Light says:
12 April 2011

What a muppet! Can’t even string a simple sentence together but expects people to take notice of his comments. Learn to construct an argument and then try again. As a long time use of Windows Office programs changing ove to W7 and Office 2010 has massively reduced my productivity (no one I know likes it at all!)

Yoyo says:
20 April 2011

There was actaully a survey done on this exact point and high end expert users ‘hate’ the ribbon while casula users like it. You can google to find the results of the survey.

Yeah ! Nice reply ! Such is the standard of education in this country when people have neither the knowledge nor the desire to write proper English. The consequence is that people reading the rubbish that comes out cannot fully understand what is being written and have a very low opinion of the writer !

Quite frankly – Yet another reason for not using Microsoft produced software – I’ve found non MS software far better – more flexible – more reliable – and cheaper.

The only reason I do not use Linux is because it makes serious changes too fast.

I do use XP pro in preference to Vista or 7.

I have never found MS software better or easier to use than other products..

I seriously dislike software that dictates how I use my hardware. (The reason why I hate Apple)

DrJon says:
29 January 2012

Extraordinary statements re Linux and Apple. Linux installed on a machine will only make changes which you want to happen, the same as all OSs; and the reason you hate (?) Apple? You’ve obviously not used a mac recently then to know that OSX is, in fact, Linux by another name :).

We use all the OSs and the Macs are the most sought after to work on as they seem to have fewer crashes, and MS Office for the Mac is so much nicer than MS Office for windoze machines.

Not that it’s relevant to the topic we should be discussing, but I cannot see many benefits of Office 2011 for the Mac over Office 2010 for the PC. They are closer than they have ever been, and if Microsoft would sell Office to Adobe we might have the same product on both platforms, and one without so many bugs.

Microsoft unreliable? Then why after 6 years of regular use of my Dimension PC using the XP o/s and a variety of applications/software, have I never had to resort to the system recovery facility? (mind you, I have to confess that I stopped using IE some time ago 🙂 )

Rene says:
11 April 2011

Fewer clicks maybe. But when you don’t know where to click the entire process may take a bit more time and result in a lot more frustration. But Microsoft is not alone in this. Mozilla made some interface changes in Firefox 4. After 15 years of browsers with the home button on the left side they thought it was time to move it.

There is a reason why we are still using qwerty keyboards !

Ribbons are a disaster. Menus were far more useful and user-friendly. All the reasons Microsoft stated for their introduction are untrue.

Many commands now need MORE clicks.
Some commands have more convoluted keyboard shortcuts.
There are not ‘many’ more commands available on screen.
Many important commands are still hidden way and most users are unaware because they have never seen them nor know they exist.

And why in WLM is the File menu (because that’s what it is) not labelled FILE instead of being adorned with a meaningless button face? Press the Alt key and guess what the shortcut to it is?

And if you think that Ribbons are bad now, just wait for Windows 8.

But don’t waste your time trying to start a campaign to change Microsoft and bring back menus.

Technogran says:
12 April 2011

The introduction of the ribbon interface is simply to make finding any features a program contains easier especially for newbies, hence its introduction to Office 2007. In my opinion, its one of the best ideas that Microsoft has ever come up with!

JohnN says:
12 April 2011

The ribbons have not caused me any problems on WLM but on Office, after three years, I still struggle to find many of my well loved options, sometimes having to search Help to find them. Perhaps the reason is that I use far fewer features on WLM – I’m not interested in feeds, calendars, newsgroups etc.

I was at an ‘Expert level’ as defined by Microsoft for the Office 2003 suite and taught / used it for the NHS.

The ribbon in 2007 was a disaster – anyone who had used earlier versions was stumped trying to find simple commands like Insert Table and when using tables, commands like Break Table, insert row and delete (which were under the right-click) had gone.

I wrote software manuals for the NHS in Word and found the techniques no longer worked, in fact I struggled to find the equivalent in 2007 and I’m supposed to be an expert (MOS).

I’ve used Word since version 4 for DOS, all the way through and this was the biggest and worst interface change and the most difficult to experienced users to change too, DOS Word 6.0 to Word for Windows 2.0 was far easier by comparison and that was a whole new interface change.

I also liked being able to create a new personalised /customised toolbar for different jobs, key commands could be lumped together for a type of job, ie one for academic papers, another for manual creation, another for tables and mail-merge – but the new 2007 interface ribbon does not allow any customisation.
True Microsoft relented slightly with 2010, removing the hated Command ‘Orb’
But I really can’t see why BOTH interfaces are not an option – productivity fell dramatically as users transferred; we even had a senior manager boast it reuired no learning curve, then found she didn’t know how to actually print a letter (having just e-mailed everything) and then didn’t realise that she could convert word files to pdf – the mainstay of NHS Documentation, without having to buy a copy of Adobe Acrobat for £300. (Hint its a free plug-in download for Microsoft)

I started adding ‘Did yo know’ hints to the NHS / Microsoft Knowledge site – certain key combinations have still worked since DOS days, eg CTRL+P prints; CTRL+’ copies a cell in Excel; CTRL+ : or ; adds the time or date – good for live patient Flu crisis clinics.

The thank you’s and stars I got for these tips were staggering – people just did know these short-cuts, which circumvented much wasted time trying to find them in the ridiculous ribbon.

Q: Do you know why we don’t all have flying cars and jet packs?
A: Because they didn’t work or were safe, so we abandoned the idea for things that did work safely.

Microsoft should stop forcing their flying car on us.

Remember the talking Paper-clip?
Microsoft can learn new tricks if we complain enough.

Peter says:
12 April 2011

I fully concur with Chris – I did not find anyone in my IT Dept or any user who liked 2007 and my productivity plummeted as I tried to find how to perform actions previously taking “an instant”. What happened to “intuitive use”?

I was lucky: I retired in 2007!

I worked for an IT support company and one of my asks was to automate and document tasks for both internal use and for our customers. So I can fully understand your problems.

I’d been evaluating Word 2007 beta for sometime before I retired. I told my boss that all I could foresee was lots of extra work for us running conversion courses to Office 2007 for our customers.

All our customers complained about loss of productivity. I reckon that productivity loss converting to Office 2007 cost companies worldwide Billions in revenue.

Ribbons are an insane disaster.

bluestocking says:
12 April 2011

I used to consider myself an expert on word with 20+ years experience and not bad on excel; I hate the ribbon method – I cannot do anything in a hurry because I frequently cannot figure what to do and when I manage to complete a task, I am not sure how to do it again because I tried so many things, I am not sure which action worked. I fret if I have to do something (can be quite simple) in a hurry.

Currently, Skype is not working and this problem appears to be linked to Google Chrome – I do not understand what is going on as I have not done anything with Google Chrome. I feel that too many new things are being foisted on users. We are not all computer nerds who have nothing to do all day but “play” with the latest innovation.

In Chrome, go to Tools, Extensions and make sure that the Skype add-in is disabled.

Like other people here I was considered pretty much an expert at MS Office for many years and, before I thankfully retired last year, I was testing 2007 before the company were forced to move over to that version. I found all the problems mentioned already but my particular bugbear about ribbons was the depth of them. I presume that all MS staff work on gigantic development screens but some of our users were still on 15″ monitors or laptops. The ribbon took up about 20% of the screen depth.

Now I’m at home happily working on XP with Office 2003 and listening to all the training problems my ex-colleagues in the IT dept are having. I am sincerely dreading needing a new PC when I will presumably be forced into a totally foreign environment.

Sean Spratt says:
1 December 2011

I’ve been using Office 2010 for almost 9 months. I still can’t find what I’m looking for.

The design utterly sucks if after this long I still struggle to find things.

Great reading! Maybe now is the time for a movement to adopt LibreOffice. Ditch MSOffice and hit their profits for foisting low-productivity ribbons onto befuddled users.

Svalbard 2012 says:
2 February 2012

The ribbon is a huge improvement over the previous menus. Intuitively linked calls to action and a quicker route to functionality.

Did I have to re-learn a bit of what I previously knew – of course. Did I put in the effort – sure I did. Why? Because I wasn’t prepared to blame the tool and didn’t want to be seen as a bad worker.

I even did a bit of customsiation of the ribbon. Easy to do, once you know how.

Would I go back to the old menus? No way! The ribbon is a huge improvement, it really is.

Hi Svalbard – most of the posts disagree with the effectiveness of the ribbon so yes, you won’t be seen as a bad worker by getting to grips with the ribbon but my guess is that when you’re ‘longer in the tooth’ you’ll begin to wonder if constant change is a good thing! So apart from keeping Microsoft staff engaged, where is this all heading? 🙂 That said, I might check-out the customization (which was such a boon in Lotus123 and which I’ve been using regularly until ahem my move from XP to Windows 7) but hey, that’s something else . . . .

Personally I find myself liking the ribbon. just look at the ribbon alongside mac’s design. Sure the ribbon look cluttered, but you reach commands quicker, I feel confident using ribbon. mac hide commands in dropdown menus, which takes a while to find them all.

I know Im leading a one-man army. Im just saying i like it

Shez Z says:
4 April 2012

It’s the lack of muscle memory that I can’t tolerate. With menus, once you know where the option is, you can find it really easily. ‘Options’ is near the bottom of the ‘Tools’ menu. Superfast.

The same isn’t true on the Ribbon. If you want to justify text in Word, you have to go to the Home tab, and then just look around in the middle. it’s not as fast, because you’re searching an area, not a list. And the options are never in the same place, as the Ribbon changes based on the size of the window.

And the other is the increased number of clicks to get something done. Inserting a row in a table used to be one click. It’s now insert…insert row…insert row above.

15 months using Ribbon and I long for Office XP.

Pete says:
7 December 2012

The reason why menus are much beloved and preferred over ribbons is that every application uses them (except Microsoft applications) and they are more-or-less standardised across applications. And there is a good reason for that – in 1987 IBM in it’s wisdom and in the time when it still could dictate standards, produced a graphical user interface standard called Common User Access (CUA) which specified just about everything you needed to know to work a GUI on a PC.

CUA was so successful that most applications still conform to it, even if the developers do not realise they are doing so. Even Linux GUI’s tend to implement a lot of the standards, because most of them were very carefully thought out.

So everyone has always more or less followed it except Microsoft, which never liked following anyone else’s standard (though it does not mind if it can get a Microsoft architecture defined as an international standard). At first the Microsoft departures were less major, but now MS believes it has enough clout to can ditch most of the standard File, Edit, View, Tools, Help menus and replace the submenus with the new ribbon system. However, it is very doubtful that anyone else will do the same, so we will now get the kind of fragmentation that the IBM CUA was intended to avoid.

Keek says:
1 May 2013

I can’t stand the ribbon. I was taught to read words, not pictures. What used to be such a simple task is now a massive time waster. I just want to scream in frustration searching through all those icons trying to find what I’m looking for. Yes, the words are displayed with the icon, but the icons are sooooo *^($*&# distracting! It’s too much information all at once. It’s like reading prehistoric cave paintings, trying to analyze what the images mean. Pictures are for babies who can’t read words. Bring back REAL menus!

It is popular to criticise changes because we have to adapt, but using symbols in place of text goes well beyond computers. Look at any OS map, for example.

Probably every change in personal computers has had its critics but we move on, albeit at different rates.

If you feel very strongly about this, you can carry on using old software for as long as it is supported by the hardware. If you do not like icons, make them smaller and less visually intrusive. Many keyboard shortcuts have not changed over years and are much quicker to use than menus or icons.

Angie says:
9 April 2015

I have just had to start using Live Mail after many many happy years of Outlook Express. What a difference! All those irritating ribbon buttons that I will never use but can’t get rid of… Yes, I have set up the quick access toolbar, but it’s so small you need a microscope to see what’s on there. I know that a lot of people will say, “Just get used to it, you old stick-in-the-mud”, but OE did exactly what I wanted and I do wish it was still in existence.

Termingamer2-JD says:
29 August 2015

Windows 7, Office and WLM were ruined by the ribbon interface. Even the preinstalled Wordpad application has to have these idiotic things.

OpenOffice.org 3.3 should be the real sucessor to MS Office 2003.