I downloaded the Office 2007 beta a couple of weeks back when it first became available to the general unwashed masses, and I must admit that the feature I was most eager to get my mouse on with was the new ribbon. For those of you that aren't aware, the ribbon is Microsoft's "update" to the standard "file, edit, view…" menu system that has graced the top of Microsoft Office products in the past, not to mention pretty much being an industry standard beyond Microsoft software. Here is Redmond's own description of the ribbon:
The Ribbon replaces the current system of layered menus, toolbars, and task panes with a simpler system of interfaces optimized for efficiency and discoverability.
The question therein, dear reader, is whether we are indeed achieving optimized efficiency and discoverability (translation: "your friends won't bug you as often when using Word") when that mad cash is plunked down for Bill's newest productivity applications. Before diving in to that, however, let me say that, much like the new Windows Media Player 11 beta, Microsoft Word 2007 is pretty. Take a gander:
Word 2007 is easy on the eyes.
That blue background really helps one focus on the document in question, and there is an overall soft, "soothing" feel to the default appearance that has been missing from Microsoft's Office products. As for the ribbon itself, let's take a closer look at it as it appears in the "Home" section (or watch a video):
The ribbon offers a variety of options.
In essence, what the ribbon has done is allow "first tier" access to features and options that might otherwise be buried two, three, maybe even four or more steps down in the previous menu system. In my use so far this is definitely a plus. In addition, the ribbon's various categories and sections are organized very well and in a fashion that, for me anyway, is quite intuitive. The main categories also make sense. Instead of "file," or "view," the user now can choose from "home," "insert," "review," and more. For a seasoned power-user this may not seem like a big deal, but for your average user who just wants to get the job done and get off of the computer, I think this is a step forward. One more bit of love for the ribbon's feel: the soft yellow glowing transition effect as one mouses over different options is very nice and adds to that new, soothing Office feel.
I assume the main gripe from potential users at this point will be the amount of space the ribbon takes up. This didn't seem to be a problem in my testing. Granted, I am running at a resolution of 1280×1024 and therefore have more viewing space than others might. However, while the ribbon is larger than the old menu system, it truly doesn't seem to take up that much more UI real estate. In addition, the grey-blue color that Microsoft has chosen for the ribbon helps it fade into the background while one is focusing on the document at hand.
To tie it all together, while there may be flaws or poor design choices I haven't noticed yet, at first glance the ribbon seems like a nice improvement in Microsoft's newest iteration of their Office suite. If this is any indication of what we can expect from the rest of the new Office, it may indeed be well worth the upgrade when Office 2007 releases to businesses in October 2006 and consumers in January 2007.