Tuesday, August 30, 2011 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Improvements in Windows Explorer

Steven Sinofsky:

Only 2 of the top 10 commands customers invoke in Explorer are available in the Command bar, the main UI element for invoking commands. This further reinforced our thinking that there was a big opportunity here to improve Explorer by making common commands more readily available. A clear user interface design principle is that frequently used commands should be easy to get to—clearly we had not yet accomplished that with existing designs.

See also the comments by Laurie Voss and Dmitry Fadeyev (via Lukas Mathis). I tend to agree with Fadeyev, contra Voss’s snark, that lots of people using the context menu is a sign that the other methods need to be improved. The other interesting thing is seeing just how often Windows users Cut/Copy/Paste files. I’m still not sold on the ribbon, though, having used it in Office 2011. But, as with Windows Phone 7, it’s nice to see Microsoft explore a different direction.

3 Comments

The Office 2011 ribbon is a joke as far as ribbons go for at least two reasons.

1. The style commands don't have a live preview as you hover over them. This is half the point of having them there in the first place.

2. Not all the commands are even in the ribbon. In Excel the style copying brush is *only* available in the toolbar, so I have to show the toolbar to do that and show the ribbon for all the other stuff.

They didn't go all out and it shows. They don't have to kill the menus, but you don't want to be in a situation where you *have* to mix the toolbar and the ribbon.

One of the big sleeper hits of the ribbon is that contextual commands are suddenly exposed in the interface. If you select a file and you can do something special with it, previously that'd show as an extra button in the tiny command bar unnoticeably while shuffling its other commands out of place. With the ribbon a new tab becomes available. Most, or at least many, Windows users are trained to right-click everything by now, but there's never anything wrong with solidifying that context menu without taking up extra screen space.

Cut/Copy/Paste is a vestige from a permeated file browser culture on Windows, and may go back as far as Windows 3.1's File Manager. It's much more of a hassle to open two windows, navigate to the correct places and drag and drop than to copy/cut, navigate away in the same window and paste.

"I’m still not sold on the ribbon, though, having used it in Office 2011. But, as with Windows Phone 7, it’s nice to see Microsoft explore a different direction."

I agree on both points here. I'm not a ribbon fan. But it is nice to see Microsoft trying to do something different.

If I do end up getting forced off Cupertino's platform, Windows is starting to seem like a place I could do work. (At some point I'm going to have to start investigating the tools available in the Windows ecosystem for scripting the user experience. That'll be the make or break for me.)

"you don't want to be in a situation where you *have* to mix the toolbar and the ribbon."

I concur.

In my opinion, you really can't judge the ribbon based on Office 2011. The way it was translated over to the Mac was a bit half-hearted. However you feel about it in Office 2007 or 2010, any of its failings aren't from lack of commitment to the concept. Most of the problems with it in 2011 really come down to bet-hedging and trying to combine it with native Mac elements, like the way it is surrounded with the toolbar and floating pallets. On the Windows side, it was done with more confidence and willingness to throw out existing conventions entirely. That's the aspect of it that I respect (and don't usually see from Microsoft). It feels more apple-like to have such an opinionated design and stand by it. I can't agree more with you about the "different direction" and Windows Phone 7 comparison. Whether it's good or bad, it's at least possible to have an opinion about it. What's the last microsoft design that was worth arguing about?

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