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Office 2008 For Mac: Interface Overload?

I was looking at the screenshot gallery of the in-development Office 2008 for the Mac at The Unofficial Mac Weblog, and what I saw confused me. Take a look (click the image to enlarge):

Office 2008 Mac gallery
(view on Flickr)

What I don’t understand is why the overload of interface elements? We’ve got a file menu, title bar, double/triple high toolbar, and a Ribbon of questionable relation to the one in Office 2007 (used only for Galleries, as far as I can tell) and a wasteful status bar. Now, Jensen Harris has taught us that the Ribbon is supposed to replace the file menu, not supplement it, so in this case the Ribbon is just an extra, enormous amount of user interface glut.

Plus, the title and status bars contain no interface elements (unlike Office 2007′s), and the toolbar buttons are gigantic, compared to how they need to be! Are giant New/Open/Save/Print buttons, that never go away right after you’ve opened something, really all that useful? All these controls seem to be steps backward, breaking every rule of the Office 2007 interface. I thought this was supposed to be like that, not a complete slap in the face of it?

According to what we heard in November:

“We will be doing a UI refresh” Starman confirms, “but it won’t be exactly like you see in Office 2007. It just wouldn’t make sense. Apple has got their own very specific set of user interface guidelines and we try to first and foremost to follow those guidelines. If we can innovate on top of that and do some interesting things to make sure that the interface is really discoverable for the Mac user, then we’ll look at doing that. We can get some ideas (from the ribbon) but it still has to fit within Apple’s UI guideline, that’s what a Mac user wants to see” Starman says.

“We had what we thought was going to be this perfect UI solution, and the first time we put it in the labs, no-one understood it! It was so different they were completely confused! We just finished up another round of usability testing on the new UI yesterday, and the program manager said the difference is like night and day”.

Okay, I’m a bit confused. Do the Mac’s user interface guidelines force developers to follow a set of rules? Are Mac developers forced through some means to have giant toolbars and file menus, even if they don’t want them? I want a Mac developer to explain this to me, because if the Mac forces things to be a certain way, and that is preventing Mac users from getting PC World’s most innovative product of 2006, well that’s just a crying shame.

January 16th, 2007 Posted by | Apple, Applications, General, Office | 9 comments

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  1. I have to say the ribbon “look” interesting on a Mac. I’m interesting in trying it out.

    Comment by ID | January 16, 2007

  2. Apples Human Interface Guidelines are just that. Guidelines. The are reccomendations for how applications should function in order to provide the user with a unified look and feel. Having a ribbon that replaces the file menu on the Mac makes no sense because Mac OS X has a it’s menubar along the top of the screen at all times (in accordance w/ Fitt’s law, yadda yadda, this is among the oldest mac/win UI arguments and I won’t go there). Many mac applications ALSO have an icon based toolbar in window for frequently accessed functionality, and it’s placement varies from app to app.

    The new Office UI is actually a big improvement on the mac if only because it actually streamlines the icon toolbar significantly. In Office ’04 that toolbar is actually a seperate, movable, resizable window that can be obscured or closed accidentally, and is exceedingly ugly or confusing. the new toolbar at the top of the window is more in line w/ Apple’s iWork suite as well as most other applications. As to the title/status bar, thats pretty standard mac fare, and it’s not an element of the window you could remove from the window on the mac without it looking exceedingly broken.

    Office for Mac has, however, been several years ahead of Office on the PC in it’s formatting Palletes which duplicate a lot of the functionality of the Ribbon in office on the PC. On the mac, it manifests itself as that window you see on the right hand side in the word and excel screenshots, and works wonderfully, in addition to being more in line w/ the macs paradigm of palletes and windows over trying to keep everything in one box ala Windows. The Ribbon just wouldn’t have worked for everything on the mac the way it does on the PC, and from the screenshots, it’s mac incarnation looks VERY tacked on.

    The real WTF though, is the UI on that “My Day” feature they’ve been talking up.

    Also, Entourage. But Entourage has been one gigantic WTF from day one, so whatever.

    if you’d like to see the HIG, it can be found at

    Comment by Keith | January 17, 2007

  3. I’m surprised Microsoft would stick with the guidelines if they are just recommendations, especially after it has spent so much time and money researching for Office 2007′s UI.

    As for the other elements, I was referring to changes already made in Office 2007 that were not carried over to the Mac version. Yes, having a file menu and the Ribbon is redundant, but that’s why Office 2007 gets rid of the file menu completely. If you want to keep the Mac file menu at the top of the screen, I’m sure there would have been a way to put the Ribbon up there instead, if they had commited to the UI (unless Mac doesn’t allow it, which is a whole nother problem).

    Regarding the title and status bar, I wasn’t referring to removing it. Rather, Office 2007 reclaims those wasted parts of screen real estate by including features within the title bar (Office button and Quick Access Toolbar) and status bar (zoom, page controls). I’m shocked that after all the research and usability discussions that resulted in that change, they’d completely ignore it on the Mac platform. Again, the Mac may not allow it, in which case it isn’t their fault.

    Keith, if you haven’t tried out Office 2007, I recommend you do, and also read Jensen Harris’ blog. Even if you don’t like Office 2007, there are innovations in UI design there that will change the way you think about how applications are constructed.

    Comment by Nathan Weinberg | January 17, 2007

  4. Microsoft is sticking with the guidelines because breaking them to make things like Office ’07 on the PC would result in an absolutely BROKEN application from a UI standpoint when shoehorned into Mac OS, and breaking them to do something else would be pointless.

    You can’t get rid of the file menu on the mac, and you couldn’t put the ribbon up there because the Menu bar is a component of the OS. Have you never used a mac in your life or somthing? It’s one of the most fundamental UI differences between the two platforms.

    Again, putting buttons in the status bar in OS X would just be way too different and incosistent to add value. It’s one thing on the PC where MS gets to set the standard for UI.

    It’s another thing entirely on the Mac where MS’s apps are part of a larger ecosystem in which they are a large, but by no means dominating player, and where users expect an interface that is, above all else, CONSISTENT between applications.

    And yes, I’ve used Office ’07 and I do think the Ribbon is pretty brilliant.

    I also think it would never work on the Mac because the Mac OS is so very very very different from Windows, and I think it draws more than a little inspiration from Office on OS X’s palletes.

    Comment by Keith | January 18, 2007

  5. Is it absolutely impossible to put graphical, active UI elements in the Mac OS file menu? I understand the File menu up there is both part of Mac OS and part of the application, but if the applications have to use it, why can’t they do more with it? Seems like if you force applications to use it, you should let applications create features within it, letting developers be as brilliant and innovative as they can. File menus have come a long way over the last ten years, and that has happened because applications can do whatever they want with it, so I’d hate to think that apps on Macs can’t do any of that.

    Again, what is so bad about putting features in the status bar? Look at most status bars, and you’ll see they are consistently the most wasted screen real estate in every application. Putting features in there reclaims the space in some great ways.

    Comment by Nathan Weinberg | January 19, 2007

  6. the Mac menubar is a fixed element in it’s size and location. And it’s pretty damned small compared to the Office Ribbon. It Just Wouldn’t Work.

    Macs aren’t Windows machines. the Office for Macs realization of this is a big part of why Office 2004 was pretty damned decent. maybe if you’d ever used one for more than a few minutes Nathan, you’d get that.

    Comment by Keith | January 19, 2007

  7. Regarding your complaint about the gigantic toolbar buttons: almost all Mac applications that feature a toolbar allow you hide the entire bar. In the screen shots you posted, you will notice an oval-shaped button in the right-hand coerner of the title bar. Clicking that button hides the toolbar. So if you don’t like the huge toolbar icons, you can get rid of them entirely.

    Comment by standardmess | February 21, 2007

  8. [...] of Office 2008 for Apple Macs until December of this year, which means Mac users won’t get the new version until January 2008. Microsoft had hoped to get the product out before the holiday shopping season, [...]

    Pingback by » Mac Office 2008 Delayed »  InsideMicrosoft - part of the Blog News Channel | August 3, 2007

  9. Nathan, I would love to see you have a go on a mac for a while and report back on your findings. Im in the same boat as you in I havent used a mac much at all and im interested in how you’d get on with one. Can anyone lend him one?

    Comment by Aaron | August 6, 2007

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