Development of the Ribbon (“Why” of the Interface, part 1)

    This is the first article in a series in which I will point out some of the reasons that prompted us to decide to create a new user interface in Office 2007.


    Any discussion about the graphical interfaces of modern computers has its roots in the Xerox Research Center in Palo Alto (PARC) in 1970- x To work on computers Alto , and then Star, an astonishing, and ultimately influencing the course of computer history, company of research workers gathered. A significant number of technologies and concepts that are now widely used were first developed in PARC: WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), the use of a mouse, a desktop metaphor (including folders and icons), overlapping windows, a network, laser printers and some controls that now make up the user interface: menus, scrollbars, edit controls, checkboxes. This picture gives an idea of ​​what Star's user interface looked like. (Some annoying flaws in this system, such as the need to click an inactive window in order to redraw itself, are mostly forgotten today).


    Star was commercially unsuccessful, and many technology history people today point out that Xerox did little to protect the intellectual property she created. As a result, many people today think that Xerox is just a copy machine manufacturer, unaware of the key role that PARC played in the development of a modern user interface.

    Many people who came up with the ideas embodied in Star have moved to other companies, especially Microsoft and Apple. Apple first borrowed and expanded these ideas, first in the failed high-end Lisa system , and then in the Macintosh. Lisa standardized some of the concepts that are still used in many modern interfaces: top menus, marking the selected options in the menu and dimming those that are currently unavailable, etc. (Not all changes were for the better - some ideas were abandoned by Apple, for example, such as proportional scrollbars (sliders?) And were practically not used until the release of Windows 95 ). If you're interested in more detail, with screenshots, check out Jeremy Reimer 's website .

    Coming after Lisa, Mackintosh inherited a lot from her and Star, and is still developing under the same brand. Microsoft worked with early Apple prototypes to develop Word 1.0that shipped in 1984 with the original Macintosh. The Multiplane and Chart also developed for the 512K Macintosh , and ultimately merged into a single product in 1985, called Microsoft Excel 1.0 : the first Macintosh blockbuster program (and also the reason many people bought the first Macintosh). You can see images of Microsoft's early office applications in the 1984 Apple advertisement.

    Thus, the roots of the early office grow out of the Mac, and the interface, of course, reflected that. As Apple’s largest provider of software (the title Microsoft still holds (2007)), some of the first UI design decisions for the first Macintosh were made due to the needs of Microsoft developers. Although the degree of influence of the MS on the Macintosh interface can vary greatly depending on the point of view, we can safely say that the programs were developed with a deep understanding of the system, and the system with a deep understanding of the programs. Undoubtedly, the legs at the Office user interface (especially the use of the top menus) grow from that very first version for the Mac.

    In the next article, we will visit the “Dusty Museum of the Past Office” and look at the development of the Word for Windows over time.

    PS article writer Jensen Harris, his blog .

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