Pull-down menus versus the ribbon

I’m baffled by the ongoing debate over the ribbon, which started in Office and will move into the Windows 8 desktop.

Maybe an analogy will help.

Pull-down menus: The New York Times, 1911


The ribbon: The New York Times, 2011


Any questions?

[1911 front page image from TimesMachine.]

18 thoughts on “Pull-down menus versus the ribbon

  1. Plenty of room left to put more stories in the first page; just use a link to the internal pages, anyone with half a brain can find it… 😉

    I note you don’t have the tag listed below

  2. Yes, questions:
    – what’s the point of this, what are you saying, how is it (even remotely) related to the ribbon?
    – is the NYT about to die or something?
    – are you trying to say that NYT hasn’t changed in 100 years?
    – why do we care?
    – are you saying that you agree that the ribbon sucks?

  3. I think his point is that the 1911 version is hardly readable, ugly, and archaic. I feel the same way about pull down menus. The ribbon took me about three days to get used to and I’ll never look at the File – Edit – Optis – Blah – menus the same again. They are one of the best user interface improvements by Microsoft that I can think of since Windows 95.

  4. From the images, he could be pointing out that the 2011 NYTimes is fundamentally identical to the 1911 NYTimes, and asking why the pull-down menus need to be replaced by a ribbon bar?

    However, he could also be pointing out that the 2011 NYTimes is a refinement of the 1911 NYTimes, and supporting the ribbon concept as a refinement of the pull-down menu.

    I think he needs to clarify his meaning, because I don’t see an obvious analogy either.

  5. Ribbon bar menus are great for the casual user of an occasional application. The parallel is clear, given the NYT changes DAILY and it (at best) read casually. Thus the parallel is nearly perfect to the ribbon bar.

    What is NOT parallel is that NOBODY should be a casual user of the Explorer. It shouldn’t change appearances daily. You shouldn’t need most of the random-use functionality pushed into your vision EVERY DAY.

  6. The main reason I don’t like the ribbon in Office is because when I am VNC’ed into a user’s computer I can’t see anything they are doing in the ribbon nor can I myself select anything in the ribbon. There is some strange rendering bug with VNC and the ribbon.

  7. I think the point is ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’
    There was nothing wrong with drop downs. It fixes a problem that didn’t exist.

    1. Matt, your interpretation is wrong. James nailed it. The 1911 NYT is a sea of flat, ugly gray text, with little to differentiate it. Just like flat, undifferentiated lists of commands on pull-down menus.

      In the ribbon, commands can be grouped and positioned so that the most used commands get the most prominent position and draw the eye to them naturally. The same way a modern newspaper uses different widths, text sizes, visual cues, and groupings to help make the page scannable.

  8. Probably not the best example, given that print is dying, and we’re dealing with a few options vs long articles.

    What it boils down to, Microsoft targeted new users, not experienced users, so it’s now a little easier to do the things users do 80% of the time and a lot harder to do the things users do the other 20% of the time. Like news, movies, TV and so many other things, the lowest common denominator wins out commercially, so that is what gets built. You want it to work well for power users, you’ll have to find a niche product.

  9. @Joe – So you would rather search through a sea of drop down menu’s for something you can find in a more graphical ribbon in a few seconds?

    My time is more valuable than that, plus as Ed says you can customize the Ribbons as you wish to show what you want and where. To top that off, in Office MS even made a Favorites Ribbon for 2010 that you can DL for each Office product as an add on Ribbon that I have found invaluable.

  10. The Ribbon is perhaps the greatest UI innovation of the last decade. I can’t think of anything that has made that much of an impact on usability. A lot of people complain about it, but Microsoft’s usage data shows it works and works much better than menus. Personally I love it.

  11. @Merennulli: It’s no easier to do things users do 80% of the time, the tools users use to do them are just more accessible.

    Apple sees “The user wants to send a copy of their budget to somebody else.”
    Microsoft sees “The user wants to create a new email with this file as the attachment.”

    That’s the key difference there. I didn’t necessarily want to copy that file, but with the tools Microsoft gave me it was the only way to achieve my goal. Microsoft haven’t made it any easier to perform user tasks, they have just made the tools more accessible.

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