Ribbon (computing)

Ribbon (computing)

In computing, ribbons are graphical user interface widgets composed of a strip across the top of a window that exposes all functions that a program can perform in a single place. Additional ribbons may appear based on the context of the data.

Ribbons aim to enhance usability; by consolidating the program's functions and commands in an easily recognizable place, one need not look through multiple levels of hierarchical menus, toolbars or task panes before finding the right command.

Ribbons in Microsoft Office 2007

Microsoft implemented ribbons in Microsoft Office 2007 as part of the new Microsoft Fluent User Interface [ [http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/office/aa905530.aspx Office Fluent User Interface ] ] and replaces menus, toolbars and many task panes. Microsoft claims that this will consolidate all related functionality in one place and hence improve usability.

The MS Office ribbon consists of a pane that contains controls (such as buttons and icons) organized into a set of tabs, each one containing a grouping of relevant commands. Each application has a different set of tabs which expose the functionality that application offers.

For example, while Excel has a tab for working with formulas, Word has a tab for creating envelopes and mailings. Each tab groups related commands together. Microsoft programmers designed the ribbon to make the features of the application more discoverable and accessible with fewer mouse clicks as compared to the menu-based UI used for all versions of Office prior to Office 2007.

Some tabs, called contextual tabs, appear only after the user selects an object. Contextual tabs expose functionality specific only to the object with focus. For example, selecting a picture brings up the picture tools contextual tabs, which present commands for working with the picture. Similarly, focusing on a table exposes table-related options in a specific tab. Contextual tabs remain hidden when the object it works on are not selected.

The Fluent User Interface introduced a new interface concept called "Galleries", which offer the user combinations of formatting-choices for images, tables, text, etc. which will go well with their selected theme. For example, the Picture Styles Gallery in Word 2007 allows users to, with one click, set a border, shadow and 3D effect to a picture in a document.

Live Preview, another new interface-concept introduced with the MS Office ribbon, relates closely to Galleries. In most Galleries in Microsoft Office 2007, simply hovering over an option will show the user what their document would look like if they selected that option. This is intended to make browsing through formatting choices easier on the user.

Ribbons in other software

Microsoft has started the process of acquiring a patent on the ribbon user interface conceptcite web |date=2006-11-21 |title=Licensing the 2007 Microsoft Office User Interface |publisher=Jensen Harris |url=http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/archive/2006/11/21/licensing-the-2007-microsoft-office-user-interface.aspx#1123764 |accessdate=2008-08-22] and licenses the ribbon design to third-party developers royalty-free, as long as the user interface conforms to the Microsoft's design guidelines and they can get an approval from Microsoft. This is despite the Ribbon appearing to be essentially the same as a well established UI control, the tab notebook. The ribbon design guidelines are confidential and an evaluation copy is only available when a non-disclosure agreement has been agreed to.cite web |title=Microsoft Evaluation License: 2007 Microsoft Office System User Interface |work=license agreement of the Office guidelines evaluation copy |url=http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/office/bb218965.aspx |accessdate=2007-02-03 ] cite news |date=2006-11-21 |author=Joe Wilcox |title=Microsoft Cuts the Ribbon on Office 2007 UI Licensing |publisher=Microsoft Watch |url=http://www.microsoft-watch.com/content/business_applications/microsoft_cuts_the_ribbon_on_office_2007_ui.html |accessdate=2007-02-01 ] However, until the patent has been filed, one does not have to agree to the license to implement this user interface concept on their own. Since April 2008, the Ribbon interface is available as a free feature pack to Visual C++ 2008.cite web |date=2008-04-22 |title=Microsoft Visual C++ Feature Pack |publisher=Microsoft Corporation |url=http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=D466226B-8DAB-445F-A7B4-448B326C48E7&displaylang=en |accessdate=2008-05-29 ]

Patent controversy

Many proponents of free software have expressed beliefs that the patent cannot be acquired due to the ambiguity of prior artcite news |author=Jaroslaw Staniek |date=2005-11-13 |title=KDE to sue MS over Ribbon GUI? |publisher=kdedevelopers.org |url=http://kdedevelopers.org/node/1617 |accessdate=2007-09-11 ] . As no patent has been acquired yet, they assert that anyone who has not signed the license can legally implement the concept in their applications without having to conform to Microsoft's requirements. [cite news |author=Mike Weller |date=2006-11-22 |title=Office 2007 UI License |publisher=Slashdot |url=http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/11/22/0140215 |accessdate=2007-02-01 ] It has also been stated that Microsoft will not give their approval to products competing directly with Microsoft's; Jensen Harris, a program manager in Microsoft's Office Group, has stated on his blog that "if you are building a program which directly competes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, or Access (the Microsoft applications with the new UI), you can't obtain the royalty-free license." [cite web |author=Jensen Harris |date=2006-11-21 |title=Licensing the 2007 Microsoft Office User Interface |publisher=MSDN Blogs |url=http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/archive/2006/11/21/licensing-the-2007-microsoft-office-user-interface.aspx |accessdate=2006-02-01 ] Some have also raised concerns that the design guidelines might contain legal loopholes that give Microsoft a basis for future lawsuits against products exploiting this concept, and they would not be able to inform others due to the non-disclosure agreement.

KDE developer Jaroslaw Staniek notes that the ribbon concept has historically appeared extensively as "tabbed toolbars" in applications such as Macromedia HomeSite, Dreamweaver and Borland Delphi.

See also

* Tab
* Toolbar
* Menu


External links

* [http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/archive/2008/03/12/the-story-of-the-ribbon.aspx The Story of the Ribbon] presentation from Jensen Harris at the MIX (Microsoft) conference (including video)
* [http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/archive/2005/09/14/467126.aspx Examples of Ribbons and discussion about their use]
* [http://msdn.microsoft.com/officeui Office UI Licensing site]
* [http://www.codeproject.com/KB/toolbars/WinFormsRibbon.aspx A non-commercial free Ribbon library for Microsoft .NET Framework (Windows Forms)]
* [http://www.codeproject.com/KB/WPF/ribboncontrol.aspx A non-commercial free Ribbon library for Microsoft .NET Framework (WPF)]

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