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LibreOffice: The Next Five Years (lwn.net)
412 points by ingve 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 425 comments



It's weird to me that people complain over "old and ugly" interfaces. Consistency is worth so much more than fad-chasing. Learning something is more worthwhile if you are able to trust that it won't change underneath you.

Take MS Office for example, I was made to learn how to use it in elementary school, we had an exam where we got a printed out page and had to reproduce it in an hour. This was supposed to be fundamental computer knowledge like learning to type.

I still have the same keyboard layout as back then but MS Office now has some janky "ribbon interface" which bears no resemblance to how it used to be. Although it should be criminal for public schools to teach proprietary software, we can forget about that for a minute and instead consider how futile it is to teach things that are not open standards or at least free software. You have absolutely no assurance that this knowledge will still be applicable even just a few years later.

My hope is that free software projects will attempt to preserve old interfaces (making them accessible via initial configuration) when they make updates. Besides, you shouldn't be replacing your GUI if your architecture hasn't got a clear separation between presentation and core logic.


The ribbon interface was adopted in 2007. That's 13 years ago.

What is the jank? It's a tabbed interface of buttons instead of menus and sub menus.

The most common operations are descriptive buttons.

Give someone word 2003 or word 2020 who has never used a word processor before. Which one would be more intuitive?

It's bad UI if people just learn where to click. They should be able to think in terms of "I want to do X" and be able to do that as quick as possible.

Of course with specialised tools that's a different story. AutoCAD hasn't really changed its interface but it got superceded in areas by new applications that break people's workflows in a lot of cases.

It's just a word processor. The knowledge you should have gained when being taught was the concepts of what you can do with one.

That should allow you to adapt to different software. Once you've used a word processor you don't need to read the help page for Google Docs.

It's not like switching from Maya to Blender.

I don't agree on the free software projects point. Often they're made by volunteers. And anything too "daring" would be shouted down by the community.


The ribbon interface was adopted in 2007. That's 13 years ago.

What is the jank? It's a tabbed interface of buttons instead of menus and sub menus

I've been using Office since the early 90's and the ribbon interface for the last 13 years. I still can't find stuff easily in the ribbon interface. It's like there's some cognitive barrier to me retaining the layout of anything beyond the Home ribbon (or tab?). Any time I switch to the other ribbons (tabs?) I find myself hunting, wondering if I've got the right tab.

There's something about the spatial layout that seems to impose an extra cognitive load. I know menus are spatial too, but it seemed easier to remember them. Perhaps, because each menu occupied its own area of the window when expanded. With the ribbons, the same area is reused when you switch tabs.

With Word and Outlook, I've got slightly better retention. However, with Excel, where I seem to have a wide distribution of seldom-used functionality, it's an exercise in frustration. I know something exists, but it takes ages to find it because the last time I used it was probably a few weeks ago.


I agree with this completely. It's a lot easier for me to read through a list of things in some category than it is for me to scan through a bunch of irregularly sized tiles for the icon and description of the configuration I need. For me, all of the pictures just lower the density of the information and cause it to take longer to parse every single time.

I also question the basic premise that the tabbed interface is somehow more intuitive for new users. Like many UI related assertions, absolutely no concrete evidence is being provided to support this point. I would think that it would be easiest for new users (as it is easiest for myself) to have options sorted into neat menus with uniformly sized elements where information is laid out in a vertical list (which is how lists are written in basically all left-to-right and right-to-left languages) so that it is easier to parse quickly.


> It's a lot easier for me to read through a list of things in some category than it is for me to scan through a bunch of irregularly sized tiles for the icon and description of the configuration I need.

I think you hit on something here with the irregular size of the buttons, probably moreso than the icons. The arrangement makes it difficult to just read through all the options left to right, because they're all jumbled.

A common/recommended design pattern for older Mac apps is to have a top toolbar of large icons, which is actually quite similar to the Ribbon in some ways. But there, the options appear in a single horizontal row. https://i.ibb.co/wd6MR9c/Screen-Shot-2020-07-10-at-11-58-37-...


Not only are they jumbled, but they also change size/shape depending on the width of the window. A large button when full-screened becomes a small button when in a smaller window. A large button in a smaller window gets expanded to show all sub-options when maximized. There is no visual consistency for the same button.


That was a feature designed to fit more options on smaller screens. I personally like it and find it helpful.


It messes up any attempt to recollect of the locations of certain features in the bar. Some iterations of the ribbon even fold groups into menus under single buttons, so the exact path to feature then depends on the width of the window. This turns the ribbon into a pretty inconsistent user experience.


I don't recollect the location of features by their spacial location, I recollect them by their place in a hierarchical ordering. The exact path to a function is always preserved, as the keyboard shortcut for that item is defined by that path.


Ribbons (in Office, at least) change that very hierarchy depending on window width. For example, take the Home bar in Word: the "Editing" and "Style" groups collapse to buttons with submenus before the width of the window is reduced to half screen width on my computer. This affects keyboard navigation in the ribbon bar, too, of course.


This doesn’t actually change the hierarchy of commands, as evidenced by the fact the keyboard shortcuts stay constant. I appreciate hiding these first before Font, since I use Font more than Styles or Editing.


What hierarchy is supposedly staying constant? Keyboard shortcuts have no hierarchy.


Keyboard shortcuts for functions in the ribbon map directly to their placement in the ribbon hierarchy. Tab, section, subsection, etc. You press alt and then a series of one or more letters that define the path to that item.


> I think you hit on something here with the irregular size of the buttons, probably moreso than the icons.

This would also explain why other icon based UI's like the tool palette in gimp don't seem to suffer from the same problem. A grid of buttons is about as "programmer UI" as they come but once you learn where everything is it's quick and easy.


Vertical lists can also work better with the wider aspect ratios of modern monitors. There's tons of empty space on the left and right in a typical Word document, but MS decided to suck up limited vertical space instead


> “I also question the basic premise that the tabbed interface is somehow more intuitive for new users. Like many UI related assertions, absolutely no concrete evidence is being provided to support this point.

Uh, yeah there was? Go dig through the wayback machine for Jensen Harris’s blogpost series about the design of the ribbon, or watch his MIX08 talk on it; he was the design team lead for the change, and the reason they did it was because the old UI was failing their users. There were usability studies done during the ribbon design which fedback into, and changed, how it worked to adjust to ordinary people’s expectations and needs.

> “I would think that it would be easiest for new users to have options sorted into neat menus

Like many UI related assertions, absolutely no concrete evidence is being provided to support this point.


There's never any shortage of cranky commenters on HN with eloquently written 4 paragraph posts about how some complicated interface from 1993 is the pinnacle of computing productivity, demanding peer reviewed studies to the contrary.


I mean, you could argue that some complicated interfaces like VIM's modal editing are the pinnacle of productivity for power users.

But power users and ordinary user's needs are world's apart, and the office suites have to cater to both of them. Thus the deep divide.


"There's absolutely no evidence for this" "yes there was, here's what to look for" "downvote". HN.txt.

Top level menus full by Word 95. Office 97 added command bars. Nested menus and toolbars full by Office 2000. Office XP added Task panes, full of features by Office 2003. "the Task Pane was the last attempt to find a way to scale old-style UI to programs as full-featured as Office. Although it was a successful stop-gap measure, it ran its course in only two versions." - https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/new-r...

> "The downside [of nested dropdown menus], however, was clear and eventually terminal: increased complexity. It's much more difficult for people to form a scanning strategy with hierarchical menus: you have to keep track at each moment which levels you've visited and which you've haven't. What was once a simple structure to visualize was now a more complicated, branching structure."

- https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/ye-ol...

> "As we watched more people use the prototypes, we started to understand more the scanning process that was taking place. Later on, we did eye-tracking studies to watch how people scanned the Ribbon"

> "I was reading a blog entry of someone who was kind of critical and dismissive about what we're doing and our designs. One of his criticisms was "how bad the usability of the Ribbon would be because it's got icons scattered all over of various sizes." What we've learned is actually the opposite. People can scan disparate patterns more easily than homogenous patterns. When we use more toolbar-like layouts--a bunch of equally-spaced, equally-sized buttons, people scan them less quickly than when each chunk has a memorable layout. So we actually try explicitly to vary the layouts between chunks--it helps people find the thing they're looking for more quickly. That's something we wouldn't have known if we didn't have a commitment to watch people work."

- https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/be-wi...

> "One of the concepts behind the Ribbon is that it's the one and only place to look for functionality in the product. If you want to look through Word 2003 to find an unfamiliar command, you need to look through 3 levels of hierarchical menus, open up 31 toolbars and peruse about 20 Task Panes. It's hard to formulate a "hunting" strategy to find the thing you're looking for because there's no logical path through all of the UI.

> Office "12" consolidates all of the entry points into one place: the Ribbon. So if you're trying to find a feature and don't know where it is, the scope of your search is drastically reduced. Click on the leftmost tab, and click across the tabs until you reach the end. That it. It's either there or it's not--there are no other "rocks" to look under, no other places we've hidden functionality. We've found in early tests that people find it easier to discover how to do new things in the Ribbon, and they're more apt to explore the UI looking for better ways to get things done."

Testing showed that people found the Ribbon easier, found more things, and were more willing to explore it. - https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/enter...

> "* Back in the olden days of designing software at Microsoft (say, pre-2003), design decisions were mostly supported by guesswork. [...] How much data have we collected? [in the Customer Experience opt-in program] About 1.3 billion sessions since we shipped Office 2003 (each session contains all the data points over a certain fixed time period.) [...] one of the biggest reasons that we decided to do the new user interface for Office 12 is simply that, for the first time, we have the data we need to make intelligent decisions.*"

- https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/insid...

And that's not even from the design blog, which appears to be offline and not in the wayback machine.

Totally wrong about people finding menus easier, totally wrong about there being no evidence based design behind the ribbon.


> It's either there or it's not--there are no other "rocks" to look under

Nit pick on this quote: every time I've used the ribbon, I need features that have been collapsed into a "more" list (hamburger menu?) for that section of the ribbon.

Also:

> you need to look through 3 levels of hierarchical menus, open up 31 toolbars and peruse about 20 Task Panes.

I'm really dubious that the ribbon is better in this regard. Those menus still exist, and I end up falling back to them with some regularity after searching the ribbons and not finding what I want (perhaps it is hidden in a hamburger menu). Furthermore, each option in the ribbon takes up far more screen real estate than an item in the drop down menu, and there are sub-dialogs still abound.


I really love good UI design and I'm convinced I don't have what it takes but I do keep seeing arguments and interfaces that seem quite weird to me. I would do it like this:

The desire to keep the document (or whatever it is) worked at on the screen during the "hunt" I consider a mistake. When mixing paint on a pallet the eyes are focused on what you are doing. You might want to look up to the canvas and back down again several times but there is never a need to do both.

I also feel drop down menus are a mistake. There (imho) should be a key on the keyboard to bring up the "hunting" screen (perhaps one that can be panned to the left right top and bottom with the arrow keys) and every "button" on that screen should be visually mapped to a key combination. F keys are great for this. First F key for the "button" group, second F key to pick one or a 3rd for 12 x 12 x 12 options.

When folder trees stop working because you have to much in them you should do tags (in addition) that can hold duplicates of the functionality. Then when tags also fail to scale you need a search feature. Each interface "button" or group should have a lot of hidden text by which it can be found. Typing cursive should highlight the italics "button".

It would definitely become a big mess but my gut says it can be sorted out and be equally accessible to people using it every day and first time or rarely users.


I’m an artist who works mostly digitally. When I am mixing colors I have the color dialog right there on the screen next to the art, with my changes being reflected live. How does this color work with the rest of the work? That’s what’s important.

The only reason traditional artists use a palette far away from their art for their paint is because that works in the physical world. Mixing my colors right next to my virtual canvas is a huge speed-up compared to painting a ton of thumbnails with different colors.


I see a problem - target user group.

I'm watching MIX08 The Story of the Ribbon [1] and trying to be objective. He is optimizing for 50% who paste with mouse. Essentially it is Microsoft Bob 2.0.

Office was done, "good enough" but some people complained, there was bad press. Microsoft added intellimenus, task pane - acknowledged mistake. Then ribbon. It could work for new users. Not for me. Now I better understand why.

The menu / toolbar / shortcut UI provides progression - from least often to muscle memory. Menu is hidden, fallback, toolbar provides customization, no need File > Save or Edit / Clipboard once I know shortcuts.

Ribbon is always expanded menu represented like task pane. They display text when icon is not enough. And group name ... because something. Information density is extremely low. Actual toolbar moved on the title bar.

Layout demo looks good. But as writer tool it is awful, clutter is still here, just behind a tab. Could be fixed with Firefox-like customization menu, not with their spaceship like-control.

I can see how he applied design tenets but in very specific meaning:

* a person's focus should be on their content - constantly changing UI, "content" is styling

* reduce the number of choices - no way to customize toolbar, select one of the tabs

* increase efficiency - of those who struggle with discoverability

* embrace consistency - among office, not OS

* give features a permanent home - even universally known

* straightforward is better than clever - no hidden controls, more visual clutter

* design tenets has to be religion - stick to decision, do not listen to users

Same tenets produce my layout, which is opposite.

[1] https://channel9.msdn.com/Events/MIX/MIX08/UX09

[2] http://sergeykish.com/side-by-side-no-decorations.png


So much bull crap stuff. The fastest way to find something is to search for it.

And...search for a menu item is a 2nd class feature on the OS. I wish I could click a text field on the menu bar and find stuff. I wish the actions were indexed with the documentation. Oh—and I wish that the keyboard shortcut for that was standard. Not on my Mac, but I’m pretty sure that I had to type it in from a Mac productivity magazine.


> So much bull crap stuff. The fastest way to find something is to search for it.

Faster to search for "save" or press Ctrl+S? Faster to search for "save" or click the save icon at the top of the screen? Searching is slower, clearly. Even if searching was always faster, it doesn't refute "bull crap stuff" because there was no claim that the Ribbon is the fastest full stop, it's a balance of discoverable and usable; search requires you to know the right search terms to use, and it suffers the problem of the old Office self-customizing menus - the results aren't always in the same predictable order - and if what you want is not in the top few results, you don't know if the feature doesn't exist, does exist by another name, or is in the hundreds of results you aren't going to read. And it has no way to surface features and make them discoverable.


You search the first couple times you need something, then you memorize where it is in the menu. If you keep using it repeatedly, you'll learn the shortcut, since it's displayed prominently every time the menu drops down.


On the Mac search for a menu item is almost always available as the very first item in the "Help" menu, and the keyboard shortcut for it is both standard and fairly easily guessable: Command + ? (e.g., Command + Shift + / on a keyboard where "?" is the shifted version of "/").

Not every program implements a Help menu, and not every program that implements a Help menu implements the standard shortcut. But in my experience, a large majority do. (Nearly all native apps do, but even some Electron apps get this right. Visual Code does both, for instance, and Slack at least has the Help menu with the search field in the first place.)


> Like many UI related assertions, absolutely no concrete evidence is being provided to support this point.

Microsoft did massive amounts of user testing, just because you don't know about it doesn't mean it's not there. This is a good starting point if you have about 20 spare hours: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/blogs/jensenh/ They also backed their tests with a ton of data and metrics.


I remember back when Visual Studio 2012 shipped with black & white toolbar icons, and main menu in ALL CAPS. This was all backed by studies that supposedly showed how most users prefer it that way, according to the lengthy blog post about it.

Let's just say the community's reaction was not in line with those studies...


Testing and metrics can be wrong like in this case. A ton of data can be too much where we find patterns to reenforce what we want.


I'm not saying that you're wrong, but what Microsoft was doing is closer to science than what HN does every time an article somewhat related to the Ribbon is posted.

I'd bet on Microsoft's approach over these rants, every day of the week.


Each person who voices an opinion is a real value and a real data point. What Microsoft is doing may look like a science but they are not asking the right questions so they get misleading results.

Reminds me of when facebook pushed autoplaying ads. A/B metrics when through the roof. Sales never saw so much engagement. Every slapping each other on the back. Ask a user they didn't understand what was happening, there was a fear that was introduced around scrolling your own feed.

Science is great but only attempts to answers the questions you give it.


I recall the first time I used the new windows 8 UI. It was absolutely horrifying. There were 2 different control panels with different settings sometimes overlapping. The traditional UI in which you could start apps by clicking on desktop shortcuts and manage traditional windows but certain apps including the start menu put you seemingly randomly in the weirdo new app experience where the window took up the whole screen. This was also true of clicking a url link in a different app.

It was bar none the worst desktop interface that anyone has ever released for a computer.

You have asserted without evidence that MS's UI is driven by science and you are assuming that Microsoft's research is in fact any good. Based on consistently mediocre results I have reason to doubt that. To support your position I suggest you actually cite some research instead of assuming it has been done competently.


I read those blog articles as they came out, and bought into the same kool aid as you did, but when time came to use it, it just didn't work as well as menus.

The contextual toolbar is one of the better ideas though.


> It's a lot easier for me to read through a list of things in some category

this also creates a fixed 'path' cognitively since you are reading/naming the intermediate nodes on the way to any given task, and the intermediate nodes are consistently located in the same place spatially and in terms of the path. This is not the same as 'funky star button 2/3 of the way to the right and 1/3 down of the sub-scrolling subpanel of the customizable ribbon'


The key question is: would somebody who learned to use office after 2007 with the ribbon interface appreciate moving back to the pre-2007 interface?

My guess is that more people learned to use office after 2007 than before, so the majority of people have no problems using the ribbon.

I still yearn for ms-word on dos, and oracle forms on terminal interfaces, once you learned the keyboard shortcuts, nothing was faster. Kind of like knowing vi(m).


My guess is that more people learned to use office after 2007 than before, so the majority of people have no problems using the ribbon.

Or, perhaps they are just used to a lower level of productivity? I've had 13 years to adapt, and I still find it frustrating.


On the other hand I found it instantly more productive, even right after it was introduced. No longer did I have to remember which menu an option was in. It was all right there.


It's not all right there - some things are under another ribbon tab, which doesn't seem all that different from putting things in a collection of menus. (Except that visually it's now a jumbled mess instead of a clean and easy-to-scan linear list.)


> Except that visually it's now a jumbled mess instead of a clean and easy-to-scan linear list

I think I find the "jumbled mess" easier to scan because my memory is visual, and the items are visually distinct. On the other hand, with a list I actually have to read every item.


Not sure why this got downvoted — a personal anecdote as a reply to personal anecdote.

On the subject — I’ve learned the “classic” office but really like the ribbon. I’m not a power user though — just a doc or a spreadsheet every now and then.


I learned on the pre-2007 interface, and (at least for Word) I would go back to the Word for DOS keyboard-based interface including the little template you put on your keyboard.


> My guess is that more people learned to use office after 2007 than before, so the majority of people have no problems using the ribbon.

Or maybe they didn't have other options...


MS Word 4.x on the Mac was pretty sweet.


I am also the same, I have a complete block on how to find things, they just aren't where I remember even though as others have pointed out its 12 years since the ribbon appeared.


In 2020 there is a search feature (similar to VS Code) so there's really no need to have to find anything anyway.


Oh nice that will probably solve my dilemma on knowing what I want but not knowing where it is!


It sounds like the issue is that the layout isn't spatial. There isn't a 1:1 mapping between place and object. The same place can have multiple objects depending on what tab's selected.


Adding to this is the ribbon content is just too busy. It fused icons with labels and stuffed it in some uneven grid. The regular toolbar was more or less even grid, well, a row. The usual menu is also structured on quite uniform grid. It's mentally easier to follow straight lines, we read in straight lines, scroll in straight lines, well, typing too. Yet when it comes to ribbon, the adjustable grid layout makes one adopt an adjustable scan pattern.

I find this pattern quite distracting. Always feels like I'm staring at the old-time toolbar customization dialog, as if someone spilled buttons out of a toolbox onto the screen, and to make it more fun, also mixed them with labels...

Anyone remembers the initial requirement for the ribbon to use the specific font, as it was used for positioning and could not be customized? Not sure if it's still the case.

I wish MS promoted a style-based workflow/mindset more than the free-hand formatting. Perhaps, this would by itself eliminate the need for the busy toolbars, if only during style design.


Interesting, maybe old menus had some trivial adequate nature for most users and ribbon, even with all its worth doesn't tap into that. Personally I'm still incapable of deciding.. because I hated nested menus (too deep, too adhoc) but the ribbon is a bit less easy to remember than I'd hope. That said it's a good step toward keyboard shortcut memorizing.


One thing about the old menus is that they were extremely configurable. Like, you could not just hide or reorder items, but reorganize the hierarchy if you wanted. People mostly used that for toolbars, but Office menus are technically a kind of toolbar.

Some of that still lives on in Visual Studio, where it is even extended to context menus: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/visualstudio/ide/how-to-cus...


The ribbon is also extremely configurable. You can move or remove anything you want. There's usually no reason to, but it's an option.

There's also the Quick Access Toolbar, which is exactly like the toolbars of old if you pin it below the ribbon (not in the titlebar).


Were Office toolbars customizable to that extent ? Also I don't think it applies to most users .. they were rote learners (because never had the time or context to learn to use the computer as an aid but as a protocol to respect)


Yes, the ribbon is a futile exercise. I'm pretty sure 90% of the people don't know how to use it, and the ones who know don't remember where things are. In this sense, menus are much more successful interface, at least you know where things might be. And in fact, when I use MS Word I first try to find things in the menu, and only reach for the ribbon for items I already know from previous experience.


I don't understand this criticism. The layout seems logical to me. If you want to insert something, go to the "Insert" tab. If you want page design options, go to the "Design" tab. What's so inscrutable?


There are plenty of problems. In the Mac, for example, menus are discoverable because you can go to "help->seach" and type what you're looking for. This cannot be easily done with the ribbon. Moreover, once you have a clue that you're looking for an "insert" option, you still need to search around in the ribbon, since there is no logic for where the option might be hiding. A menu you can read from top to bottom, but a ribbon you need to scan from left to right and top to bottom, making it much harder to use.


"In the Mac, for example, menus are discoverable because you can go to "help->seach" and type what you're looking for. This cannot be easily done with the ribbon."

I can't speak to the Mac version, but on Windows there is a search box at the top that returns a result for whatever you want.

"A menu you can read from top to bottom, but a ribbon you need to scan from left to right and top to bottom, making it much harder to use."

No, menus are 2D as well. There's 1 vertical dimension, and then there's the hidden second dimension where you have to hover over each item to see what's inside. For example, in Google Docs under the Insert menu there is an item for "Headers and Footers", which opens a menu with two items: "headers" and "footers". The ribbon flattens this and just lays both out in the tab.

"making it much harder to use."

"Much" harder? Really? Honestly, I've used both interfaces extensively over the years and I've gotten plenty of work done in both. I just don't see what the big deal is about this little war that's been going on for 13 years, and claims of one being "much" harder than the other seem greatly exaggerated. Like... oh, you had to scan in two dimensions to find functions. Okay, how much does that really impact your productivity? How much of your time is really spent scanning a menu? Once you found it.... you can make a shortcut for it. I've got a shortcut for all the common tasks I use, and it's really no different than a custom toolbar from the pre-ribbon era.


No way, searching items in a ribbon is much harder than on a simple menu, even if you have subitems. It is the difference between reading text (fast) and trying to decipher pictures, specially when they are not well organized. Most people have trouble with the ribbon, I am not the only one who noticed this.


Again, “much” harder is quite the exaggeration. I mean, maybe for you, sure, but I’ve had plenty of time in the past 13 years to figure out where things are. If I’m ever genuinely searching for something I don’t scan the ribbon option by option, I use the search bar.

As far as “deciphering” pictures, there’s an association that builds over time. When I see the picture I make the association automatically. There’s research that shows people recognize pictures faster than they read words, since words all look visually similar and pictures have more cues to differentiate between them.


You are talking about the experience of someone who has learned the ribbon for a long time. Of course, if you always use the ribbon, it will be more familiar to you. Just like if you were taught Mandarin as a child it will be easier than speaking English. It has nothing to do with how easy it is to use these two different alternatives.


I didn’t have a hard time learning the ribbon. Going back to my original post, I just don’t see how it’s so inscrutable as others in these comments claim. Could it be that all these claims of the ribbon being a “much” harder are overblown? It honestly doesn’t seem so much different than a menu system to me, and again there are pros and cons for both. I think if you’re going to continue making this claim you should attempt to quantify it.


It may also be that claims that the ribbon is easy to use are overblown, and are result of familiarity instead of any true advantage. If you want to claim that the ribbon is easier to use you should also quantify it, otherwise your personal claim is just an anecdote.


I'm not saying it's easier to use. I've said multiple times in this thread they seem just about the same to me. They're just two ways of displaying a hierarchy of functions. One way hides a lot of it in menus and takes up less room, the other way lays it out on the screen and takes up more room. I get a lot of work done in either interface. There are pros and cons to both. In the end I can write documents in both. I personally find it easier to discover new functionality in the ribbon, but I feel at peak competency they difference is a wash.


I'm going to disagree here.

Alice is a new user who has never used Word before. Between word 2003 and 2020, I grant she'll pick up 2020 much more quickly - point in favour of the new one.

Bob is an employee who uses Word just short of 4 hours a day, 5 days a week writing and editing reports (the rest of the time he spends in Outlook, excel etc.). If there's a task that Bob does 50 times in a typical week, then it doesn't matter so much to him whether it takes a bit longer to learn the command (after about the 150th time he'll have got used to it), but it matters a lot how fast he can do it once he's learnt it. Bob literally becomes more productive by having an interface which he can operate by muscle memory, in a way that more than pays off the initial training costs.

Think of keyboard shortcuts for example: they're completely unintuitive to a newcomer, but with experience, Control+Z and Control+C, Control+V and the like save time, and time is money. My favourite word trick in this category, incidentally, is Control+Space "remove formatting" for text you've pasted in from elsewhere; it doesn't work all of the time though. You used to be able to do Control+Shift+V for "paste as plain text", I don't know which version removed that again but I consider it a great loss. Paste -> Keep Text Only takes just longer enough to be annoying.


So what's kept Bob from committing the ribbon interface to memory in the past 17 years?


The ribbon interface removed customizability, and inflated the size of all the common commands (and also made it impossible to get them back without 3rd party extensions).

Pre-Ribbon I could have the menus, file operations, font and paragraph settings, and the reviewing tool bar at the top of my screen. I could have the object and image editing at the bottom.

Post-ribbon the exact same amount of space is does a third as much. Reviewing for some reason is now on a separate tab. The menus are less commonly used functions are non-existent, stuck somewhere under "File" which now takes over the whole screen when I open it.

It is not just "different" it's worse. It removes the basic ability to prioritize my interface to the types of tasks I'm doing, in favor of some vaguely defined every-user who is not actually a real user.


Just to be clear, the ability to customize existing tabs, and make new ones with whatever commands you want on them, is insufficient? Or is this only a complaint about the defaults?


For those who don’t know: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/customize-the-rib...:

“What you can customize: You can personalize your ribbon to arrange tabs and commands in the order you want them, hide or unhide your ribbon, and hide those commands you use less often. Also, you can export or import a customized ribbon.”


Thank you! I didn’t even know this was possible.


They've optimized it for the least common denominator, not for specialized use or for power users. Short term this is a positive approach as it's more approachable for people who are just learning or are very lightweight users. But for people who have a lot of experience or use it often, it's a serious regression.


I'm a "Power User" and I've memorized every single hotkey on the Excel ribbon interface to the point that I don't care where they are.

Wrap text? Alt H A W

Open settings? Alt T F T

Change to page break view? Alt W I. Go back to normal view with Alt W L

Take the border I currently have on the top edge of a cell and swap it to the bottom? Alt H B M Alt+T Alt+B

Paste values transposing? Alt H V S V E. Want to follow the old accelerator? Alt E S V E also works

Power users don't need to care what the ribbon / menu looks like. They learn hotkeys.


I'm an emacs user. You have made me feel warm inside.


Emacs is a lot like Excel in many ways: they both make you feel like wizards. I suck at excel, but I've seen some analysts who are crazy good at it. You watch them use it and numbers and shit just start appearing out of nowhere. It's pure magic!


On top of that, old shortcuts still work. For menus that disappeared more than a decade ago!!


power users have macros and hotkeys. I've met plenty of excel power users, and I haven't met many excel power users that click on anything in the ribbon all that often. Maybe it's different since they're bankers and the amount of time they're spending on spreadsheets is an order of magnitude more than other people that could still be called power users but maybe don't have their lives revolve around excel and powerpoint, but hotkeys and macros are where its at


Except this is where the intermediate user point becomes valuable: if you spend close to all your time in spreadsheets, then yeah, sure, you're probably in hot key land.

Of course that's discounting the idea that a power user would still want to customize their UI to get less frequently used but still common functions into view and keep them there.

Which is what I, an intermediate user, definitely want: at the time the ribbon happened I was in chemistry research. Excel and Word are important parts of that process! And having them work the way I want was valuable to me. Just not so valuable that I needed to learn a huge number of hotkeys. And yet somehow, the ribbon manages to still be in the way rather then letting me keep a productive, dense UI in view for when I am in those tools - which I'm definitely not in all the time since most of the actual job is being in the lab.

The Formatting/Reviewing split was one of the most irritating possible things as a result of the ribbon: I can't keep the formatting tools in view alongside the Reviewing tools? Like, what?


I believe it's because the ribbon is context-sensitive. What shows up depends on what has focus, and that makes it harder for retention, similar to how Office 2000 has automatically hidden menu items that ended up being confusing.


At least for this Bob here:

1. The ribbon interface has more levels of depth, which equals more clicks. If most of your commands are in the same toolbar, you can have a lot of commands that are only one click away, even if you don't customise. For example, to "insert symbol" in word to get an em dash or non-breaking space or similar, you have to select the insert tab, click the symbol dropdown and then "more symbols ...". Used to be one click on the "omega" button, or two via the menu (insert / symbol). The fact that I have to move the mouse from one end of the screen to the other and then half the way back again also doesn't help.

2. Maybe this is just me but Alt+N, U, M for "insert symbol" is a lot harder for me to memorise than "the button with an omega up there to the right". It feels less intuitive somehow - I really like working with visual muscle memory (if that's a thing) where I remember the place and shape of a button.

3. Customisability. Yes you can do this to some extent with the ribbon, but in Excel you can't just swap out "merge and center" with "merge across (but do not center)", you'd have to replace the whole "section" - I've tried.

4. Speaking of visual muscle memory - the number of times I've come in to work and found that my ribbon has changed in an update overnight. Some of these are work installing new plugins, but most of it is microsoft adding new "features". No thanks, I don't want my documents "integrated with LinkedIn" when I'm working to a deadline.

5. There have been several major changes to how the ribbon looks and works as Word has gone through new versions since it was introduced - in a lot less than 17 years. Of course that happened with toolbars too (I think around 2000 everything went "flat style", but you could at least turn it off), but I found it easier to adapt back then. Maybe I'm just getting old but each new version that comes out feels like learning half the things I need for work all over again.


Paste as Plain Text should be the default. The inability to do so via the right-click context menu in Office (like Chrome allows) drives me nuts. Perhaps an exception if you are copying/pasting from the same document, although personally I'd still prefer plain text.


You can make it a default. It's under 'Advanced' in options.

Also, when you paste, Word shows a small button labeled 'Ctrl' — you can click it or press Ctrl, and adjust your paste.


> used to be able to do Control+Shift+V for "paste as plain text", I don't know which version removed that again

Try Control+Alt+V. I have Office professional plus 2016, works here, however it opens a popup. Plain text is at the end of the list, making the complete sequence Control+Alt+V, End, Enter.


Thanks!

I remember in years gone by, there was a (Sun?) keyboard with extra keys down the left with names like cut, copy, paste, insert, close and so on. I'm half tempted to buy one of those gaming keyboards with programmable macro keys and map one of them to this "paste as plain text" sequence.


That is no shortcut, that is an abomination. Basic Ctrl-V should be simple plain text paste. honestly, how often do you want the formatting from the source, vs. seamlessly matching the target?


> That is no shortcut, that is an abomination

I can see how it's unusable on a laptop, on a full-size PC keyboard that's OK.

> how often do you want the formatting from the source, vs. seamlessly matching the target?

I don't write word documents unless I want rich text features. Just for text there's nothing wrong with plain text or markdown files.

Copy-pasting from visual studio is the easiest way to apply good quality syntax highlighting to a code snippet. The IDE is even smart enough to copy them with dark-on-white colors despite I use dark theme.

Also, I often cut & paste within the same document.


>> I don't write word documents unless I want rich text features.

Just for clarification, Paste as Plain Text doesn't paste an unformatted string, it blends with the target formatting. So for example if you are copying a phrase you copied off a web page into a Word doc where the current paragraph is 12pt Georgia, you get 12pt Georgia no matter what the formatting was on the original document. The default Paste will attempt to replicate the color, weight, font size and family of the original web page into your Word doc, which is highly unlikely to fit in with the rest of your document.


Your argument supports his - Ribbon is better for discovery, keyboard shortcuts are there for routine performance.

It's not just begginers who value feature discovery.


Speaking only for myself, but the ribbon interface helped me learn the majority of keyboard shortcuts I use today.

Once I leveled up past basic Ctrl+C/V/X, hitting Alt and having the Ribbon UI guide me through the shortcut combinations was helpful. I concede Control+Shift+V is easier, but having a visual guide until I finally memorize all the different paste options with ALT H V has it's merits as well.


I have better luck pressing shift as the first button in the sequence for the "paste as plain text" but I agree it does not always work.

Shift+Control+V


indeed. Focusing only on the newcomer and more precisely the person using it for the first time is just a fraction of the "problem".


> The ribbon interface was adopted in 2007. That's 13 years ago.

Came here for this. The first version of Office for windows (which is what most people are familiar with in terms of UI) is from 1998, so the non-ribbon interface has been around for 9 years, vs 13 for the ribbon interface.


Office 95 doesn't look that functionally different from Office 2003:

Office 95: https://i0.wp.com/isoriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/06...

Office 2003: https://imag.malavida.com/mvimgbig/download-fs/office-2003-s...

Honestly even Excel 3.0 (1990) doesn't look that disimilar (https://goughlui.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/about-excel....)

So that's 17 years for toolbars vs 13 for ribbon


Still, I guess more MS Office users will have used the new interface for longer than the old one than vice versa (I googled for data, but couldn’t find numbers)

It even wouldn’t fully surprise me if, a few years from now, there were more MS Office users who never used the pre-ribbon interface than who had used it.


> The first version of Office for windows [...] is from 1998. [...] 9 years, vs 13 for the ribbon interface.

You are not even close to right. Excel for Windows is from 1987 (20 years with non-ribbon menus), Word for Windows is from 1989 (18 years with non-ribbon menus). And of course the menu bar paradigm itself is older still.


you came here to be wrong?


I haven't used Word much at all since the ribbon interface. Like others, for whatever reason the ribbon makes doesn't work for me, neither cognitively or via muscle-memory. The categorization doesn't help me predict where to find something (fails "new user" ease of use), nor does repeated use make it easier or faster. And of course I don't use it (or windows) much, so I don't think in Microsoft(tm) English, adding a minor layer of translation for some jargon.

I have to use Excel enough that I've finally rote-memorized where frequently used things are. But when I have to find some tool I don't know where is, it is faster to google for instructions than hunt around the application itself, so I do that first.

I'm sure it is fine if you live in MS-land. I don't, and it fails for this casual user both for discoverability and streamlined use.


As an ex trader, I can confirm that the new ribbon interface, when it first came out, caused me and my colleagues a world of pain.

We knew all the shortcuts keys in the old version. The ribbon UI meant that a big chunk of the previous shortcuts didn't work anymore.

Killed our productivity for a good few months.


Had the ribbon interface been the original UI and the traditional menu-based interface the new UI, it sounds like you and your colleagues would have still faced the same frustrations. To me, it sounds like your issue is with change rather than the effectiveness of either type of UI.


For me, that's the point.

For a program as ubiquitous as Word (and as complicated as Word), unless there were clear benefits from the new interface, it shouldn't have been changed. The change itself was the problem.

Your comment is getting at an important, fundamental UX principle: all conceptual change is inherently painful, and every time you ask a user to re-learn something you are always wasting their time, even if the new design is better.

Sometimes a UX designer looks at two interfaces as completely separate, and thinks their job is just to pick the best one. The reality is that usually UX decisions can't be separated from the current state of the app. UX design is more like surgery, and the invasiveness of the operation has to be a consideration.

Having said that, I'm mildly skeptical that the interface didn't need to be changed. The old interface for Word was extremely user-unfriendly. If you go through a few of the interviews about Ribbon[0], there was some really interesting thought put into the new approach around discoverability, and while I'm not sure I agree with all of the theory they used to justify it[1], the changes did seem to be addressing a real problem.

But I think it's debatable whether or not the discoverability benefits were worth the pain, and I think there may have been better ways to roll out the changes.

[0]: sorry, too lazy to hunt them down and link them

[1]: I am mildly skeptical of contextual menus/toolbars. They're not wrong, they just have drawbacks that people don't always consider. Sometimes it's useful to tell people what is disabled, and to give them grounded, unchanging "landmarks" in the UX that they can use orient themselves while using a program.


I think that choices like this come from a weird symbiotic relationship between UI designers and product managers. The UI people need to justify their jobs; if they sit on their hands all day because the UI works well, they can't make that justification. Managers don't want to "see a product stagnate" and to fix that they want a "fresh new look". The users don't enter into this relationship.


No, not really. Some 1 or 2 key shortcuts became 5 key shortcuts with the new ribbon UI.

It was a real nightmare! Especially when the old shortcuts were also remapped to a completely different function, and your moving s so fast you don't realise where your data has gone!


The ribbon allows you to add your most common used commands to a quick shortcut list that are only 2 keys.


Of course there's an issue with change. That's the whole point. If you were a pro Emacs/Vi user that used shortcuts to do pretty much everything and it made you fast and productive, what do you think would happen if suddenly you had to use new shortcuts for all the ones you had already commited to memory?


Good old Microsoft changing the shortscuts every major release, because. Because? Because fucking why? Why do they do this.


Your experience reminds me of https://xkcd.com/1172/


But, the new ribbon interface was much more inconvenient.

If I recall correctly, pasting data while removing duplicates in the ribbon interface was Alt+AQORT, but only Alt+XY in the old Excel (I don't remember what X and Y were, but I know it was a 2 key combo!)


Excel kept the old Alt based keyboard shortcuts, e.g. Alt D F F for Data > Filter > AutoFilter still works.

If there was an alt-keyboard shortcut for paste removing duplicates, that should still work.


That's the point; the old shortcuts did not always work. Worse still, they did something totally different. For "power users", it was a horrible experience.


AutoCAD went along a similar trajectory actually - from menus to toolbars to a ribbon. The difference is, you can still turn each of those modes on and off, including using two or all of them at once. Whereas Microsoft just kind of went "Okay y'all are gonna use a ribbon now."

Edit: Forgot the AutoCAD command line. You can still turn that on too, and type commands like it's the 80s. It's actually kind of a paragon of a mature product that maintains all its older interfaces.


Haven't used AutoCAD in anger for a while, but my default rest position on the keyboard is still fingers over Esc, thumb over space. I always preferred using the command line. Not out of some 'power user' power trip, but more for screen space and efficiency. Being able to use AutoLISP was pretty neat too.


I came in during the "toolbar" era, but ended up using the command line quite a bit. It was custom ACAD macros, and then AutoLISP, that got me back into programming after a long hiatus.


Oh it’s bad to learn where just to click, I recently learned that’s how most people do it.

You might find this interesting - https://www.truity.com/blog/intuitives-guide-getting-along-s...

There was a discussion on HN about this a while back but most people learn computers by “if I want x I do y.” And guards just how they learn. Changing UI for them is catastrophic because they literally have to relearn -everything-. Op is probably a sensor and finds that stability tremendously useful.

This really helped me be less frustrated in seeing how people can’t just figure out technology on their own and how I can just mess with it until I figure out the ”language” the app is using to have users interact with it. Most people can’t do that.


> "There was a discussion on HN about this a while back but most people learn computers by “if I want x I do y.” And guards just how they learn. Changing UI for them is catastrophic because they literally have to relearn -everything-."

Yes, but it's surprising to see a large contingent of them on HN and other technical forums. The rapid change of software technologies all but mandates adaptability and willingness to learn.


The ribbon was one of the worst things to ever hit Office. I remember it was met with universal horror when it first came out, but they were fully committed (apparently not having done ANY user testing) and insisted people would get used to it and prefer it because: we paid someone a ton of money who told us it's better.

Like many others, I STILL to this day have to google to figure out where things are with the ribbon interface, probably the least intuitive interface I've ever used.


> but they were fully committed (apparently having done ANY user testing)

It is a little hard to parse what you mean, but Microsoft did a quite substantial amount of research leading up to the ribbon. A quick search on the net will lead you to summaries of it.


Sorry, I left out a *not.

I vehemently disagree, in 2007 NOBODY liked the ribbon. My wife's company refused to upgrade until absolutely forced to because it was such an atrocity. The most glowing reviews I ever saw were "I guess I'll get used to it eventually" and/or someone who used office once a year and found navigation easier when the extent of their workflow was changing font sizes.

https://www.zdnet.com/article/oh-the-horror-why-is-microsoft...

https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/msoffice/forum/all/turn-...

https://www.infoworld.com/article/2651076/microsoft-s-ribbon...


People hate change, that's not a reliable indicator. You could increase the quality immensely, most users would still feel attacked because they have to spend an extra effort to adapt.


I don't think anybody is bemoaning the loss of the old Office buttons. The buttons were always kinda bad.

The problem is that the ribbon also killed the menu bar. Menu bars are a standard, known quantity across every application, which clean easy semantics for keyboard access. On some OSes they even augment the menus with searchability, celebrating the power of plain text.


Alt-key shortcuts work on the ribbon and search is build in as alt+Q (at least in Excel and Word). I use both daily.


> What is the jank? It's a tabbed interface of buttons instead of menus and sub menus.

That keep changing and moving about.

I use Word on Mac. It has the ribbon. 90% of the time I use the old style menu bar at the top of the screen.


Word for Mac is almost the perfect evolution of the UI.

It has the menu bar, which every Mac app has since it's a fixed and global UI element. It has the ribbon which is good for many users and makes many tasks easily accessible.

I'm not sure how you'd make this compromise on Windows without making a mess of things, but on the Mac it works very well.


I've used office daily for 20 years but rarely have to use the ribbon menu at all and, if I do, it's rarely off whatever is up there by default. But every time it is, it's way more painful to explore compared to a plain text menu and after I find what I'm looking for, it's hard to get back to the default.


At the risk of starting a fire here, I'd say a much better approach to that was unity's HUD. You could simply fuzzy-search through all the menu items. It made using GIMP delightful. :)


That is the one thing I miss most about Unity! It was such a sweet feature. (Also, Unity minimised on the vertical space it used, which was great for small laptop screens.) The new GNOME versions are much improved compared to a few years ago, but I do wish Canonical had stuck with Unity...


There is a population of people who just hate the ribbon. In my experience, they are usually attorneys talking about word. It's the same argument that their attorney ancestors made about Wordperfect 5.1 keystroke commands.

Personally, I don't see the big ribbon issue. It's easy to search for arcane features in the help menu.

IMO, they really need a Mac where you get the top menu bar and a ribbon-like thing. Or some sort of gnarly keyboard mode that would become emacs for lawyers.


I suspect it might be dependent on whether someone is stronger visually or spatially vs textually.

I find ribbon interfaces highly irritating anywhere I find them, which is rarely - they haven't really caught on outside a couple of MS apps, AFAIK.


Attorney ancestors?


It's just a cutesy way of saying a long time ago when all the lawyers used Wordperfect. (A word processing program that I hated almost as much as Wordstar.)


They are still out there.

Last year we recruited an attorney from a firm that still uses WordPerfect for all their documents.


There are still law firms that require all their attorneys to use WordPerfect.


In some places, not so long ago :)


I imagine a lot of big law offices still have computers with WordPerfect on them so they can read old files if necessary.


WordPerfect is still maintained by Corel. The most recent release was in May.

They also maintain PaintShop Pro, WinDVD, and WinZip. I think they're running a retirement home for distinguished software products.


Corel is the Microfocus of client software!

The thing is I get why people hang on to COBOL or Attachmate. The company licensing WinZip is the puzzler to me! :)


> Attorney ancestors?

GP probably meant something like "forerunners" or "predecessors"; some form of "those who came before" that doesn't necessarily imply a familial relationship.


I think the old style menus were more functional for technical people and other experts, but the ribbon might be easier for new users. MSFT seems to have understood that trade off. It's interesting that the Metro design, which seems closer to the ribbon, didn't take off the same way.

But from functional perspective I do like the old interface better, and especially that I can pullright to get at things without having to make multiple clicks.


> It's bad UI if people just learn where to click.

A combat pilot would respectfully disagree. :)

Source: Diving pulling 5Gs canopy side down.


> The most common operations are descriptive buttons.

The most common operation is trying to decide which ribbon something is supposed to be on. And it's difficult to get straight even after more than a decade, if you're just an occasional MS-Office user.


> It's bad UI if people just learn where to click.

That is literally the entire and sole purpose of a user interface.


I curse the ribbon. I still haven't found all of the 2003 features.


The ribbon changed again in office 365.


In looks only. Functionally and layout-wise, it's pretty much identical.


AutoCAD went ribbon around 2010...


Yes, the ribbon interface was initially pushed on the world in 2007, and it's still as bad as ever.


Recently, I installed Office 97 onto Wine just for curiosity.

I could still do much with it. The only feature I really missed from Word was academic references. I could create documents indistinguishable from modern Word using the old drawing features combined with modern fonts.

The drop down menus, combined with the floating toolbars were much more intuitive than clicking up and down some "ribbon". The drop down menus map directly to the logical path of a task in my mind, eg "Insert -> Image -> From File". Having a small toolbar at the bottom with basic graphical tools is much more convenient than clicking back and forth from tab to tab.

It's a shame MS couldn't accept that what they had until Office 07 was a workflow polished near to perfection, perfected after years of refinement and familiarity.


>perfected after years of refinement and familiarity

That can be a problem though. One person's familiar tool with its well-known quirks and peculiarities is a newcomer's inscrutable and illogical interface.


You're thinking like an SV webdev who's largest concern is to onboard as many new users as possible so you can flip your startup.

Office is a professional productivity tool that's been around for decades and is used by millions of people for their entire workday, every day.

Learning to use a new tool takes a tiny fraction of the time you're going to be using that tool. One should make the tool best at actually doing what it's going to be used to do.


I'm neither in SV nor a webdev. I just remember how many ordinary users hated the ribbon when it first came out. Presumably they adapted over time; I can't really speak to whether Microsoft would have been better evolving the existing menu system. Personally, I could take it or leave it--and at least intellectually the arguments for the ribbon made sense to me.


Ordinary users hate change. They always do, regardless of how successful (or not) the changes are later judged to be.

This doesn't argue against change so much as argue that the costs need to be worth the disruption - you don't move houses over a carpet stain, and you don't rebuild your UI lightly, either.


Generally, though, you shouldn't optimize GUI:s for new users but for intermediate users.

[0] Cooper, "About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design"


That should be a tenant of UI design, especially for any kind of productivity software.

Think of the Blender, GIMP or Sony Vegas GUIs. Daunting the first time you open them, but after you've successfully finished a few creations you'll begin to appreciate their power.

For any serious work, overly-simplified GUIs are quickly exhausted. They may get a pass for IM or social media apps, but I can't think of many other useful applications.


I went through a recent experiment like this as well. Instead I installed Office 2003(The last of the old toolbar offices) on a clean Windows 10 system. I was looking to validate my theory about the speed and bloat of the new versions of Office. I just had this nagging feeling that the software wasn't as fast as old versions. It was confirmed. Using the old Office just felt so pleasant with how fast it loaded and simple it is in terms of cognitive load.


> eg "Insert -> Image -> From File".

In the latest version of word the progression is:

"Insert > Pictures > From This device"


So, it's catering to tablet and smartphone users rather than desktop users, who have many "devices" on their system. :-(


The ribbon interface it not just a "fad", it is a clear UI improvement since it removes a level of indirection.

If you wanted to see how a font looked in the classic Word UI, you highlighted a text and selected a font from the dropdown. When the dropdown was changed to show the actual font, it was the first step towards the ribbon, where the UI generally shows the actual effect of the options.

Programmers does not understand this difference, since they are used to work on abstraction levels removed from the actual output. So the ribbon seem like a fad just like the mouse and icons was seen as a fad by many developers back in the day. ("Why don't people just learn LaTeX?")


I don't think the ribbon itself is a bad idea, but I absolutely hate the following two things:

1. Latency. When you click a dropdown, the whole interface can freeze for several seconds while Word presumably renders the menu or something. I can just about understand that for the fonts menu, but for the "bullets and enumerations" dropdown it's just plain bad.

2. Things moving around in the ribbon because Microsoft decided to push an auto-update to include some new search with bing or "data insights" feature.


I think they've improved it a lot since then, but I remember the Fonts menu getting incrementally slower as you piled more fonts into your system. At one time I think it actually held up Word loading entirely.


I disagree.

The number of times I had to use "Tell me what you want to do"-field is on a stupid level compared to the rich toolbar and extensive menus that existed pre-2007.


I mean ironically that's actually a much better solution - I love Jetbrains "search everywhere" field in Idea to find specific commands quickly.

So why in the heck the ribbon even needs to exist is baffling - just make a command search/command line input, and then if it's literally on a toolbar on screen, highlight it for me (configurably) so I as a new user know what to click on next time.

The ribbon is just somehow, always exactly wrong.


Great news. Now we have a search bar slapped into the middle of the title bar like an albatross. Nicely wedged in between all the other nonstandard title bar chrome.


While I somewhat get what you mean (and hate ribbbons), the Office UI is just way less crappy than LibreOffice's. It has smooth scrolling, some animated state, and they're at least trying to get rid of some visual and semantic cruft, so it's a lot less of a pain to use than LibreOffice.

Of course progress sometimes means breaking changes, software in general and especially LibreOffice is nowhere near a point at which we can afford to stop improving. It's not about changing things for the sake of changing things, it's about making things less painful (and hopefully ultimately delightful) to use.


I 99% agree with you, except that I believe LibreOffice is not just old, it's subtly bad. I didn't notice it before but it's too adhoc, just too laggy, just too crummy at times. It lack tastes, consistency and responsiveness that you got even in office 2003.

I wish LO to improve everything, they came from far and did a lot. But it's not enough.. kinda like blender 2.7 to 2.8.


Isn't Blender 2.7 to 2.8 widely considered a successful redesign? Blender is experiencing continuing and dramatic industry support. I've heard Blender is comparable to the proprietary alternatives.

I've not used Blender much though.


Oh sorry, bad phrasing, I meant right now LO is stuck at blender 2.7 and needs a 2.8-like push.


It's not just slow, but just the subtle things in how it behaves. For instance, try navigating a spreadsheet in LO with only the keyboard. It's super annoying. Then try the same thing in, say, Google Sheets, and it does exactly what you think it should do. And that is a huge difference in terms of UX and productivity.


yes, UX is stuck in 90s way but not the best part of it.

I wonder what's the state of the codebase and if it could handle a significant UX redesign.


With teaching UI you breed the class of people who will shout the loudest when something changes. Teaching your parents that "the internet" is the blue icon in the taskbar will teach them to call you when microsoft decides to install chromium-edge on their machine because "the internet is gone". Don't teach anyone how to use a specific UI, teach the concepts that made the UI look the way it does. And with that anyone will be able to transfer that knowledge to a slightly different looking UI without much of a problem.


Sometimes the views you see here are extremely biased. It's normal, we use computers all day, we are experts. We learn and adapt.

For some people, a computer is just another tool they've been recently forced to use in order to live in society (in many countries, you cannot longer reallistically do your taxes without a computer for instance).

As programmers, and especially those who work in UI/UX design, we owe some respect to those people, because those who take the extra effort to learn a radically new technology at an elderly age, are completely, utterly confused when companies decide to move stuff around just for the sake of it (or as a result of A/B testing?).

And yes, sometimes the only way I've been able to teach people how to operate a computer is by literally describing the UI and the icons. In my experience, finding a good way to teach via fundamentals to someome who doesn't care is extremely difficult. And believe me that I've tried it many times.

OTOH, note that none of my points apply to early education (school). In that case, I completely agree we need to teach the fundamentals, not UI.


>Don't teach anyone how to use a specific UI, teach the concepts that made the UI look the way it does.

With all due respect, good luck with that. A lot of people aren't interested in learning about file systems or how DNS operates. They want to know what button to order from Amazon.


The older UIs had those concepts, but it wasn't stuff like "how DNS operates". It was stuff like, "every app that works with documents has a File menu with New, Open, and Save in it". Or, say, "if you want to see all available actions for something that's represented by an icon, right-click for context menu". I taught my mom like that, and she was amazingly productive at learning new apps. She didn't always find the most efficient way to do something, but she always found a way to do whatever she needed to do.

Modern UI ditched all that. Just about the only consistent element is the hamburger menu, and how it looks once you open it varies drastically from app to app. In many cases, it's hard to even tell which elements are active and which aren't (because everything is flat!), and if they're active, what exactly they will do if you try to interact with them. When I got her an iPad - the very first one - she really struggled figuring it out, because not only all the existing concepts didn't apply, but there was no rhyme or reason to it in general.


> A lot of people aren't interested in learning about file systems or how DNS operates. They want to know what button to order from Amazon.

That's like saying people aren't interested in learning how to use a phonebook or how to call directory assistance. They just want to know who to talk to so they can order what they want from Sears.


And by and large people learn the bare minimum needed in order to do those things. Certainly most of us have a pretty vague notion of what all exactly happens behind the scenes when we dial a phone. If the call doesn't go through as planned we might have some idea that the cell reception is bad or something like that. But we're probably not in a position to debug what's wrong in any significant way.


How so? I don't understand this analogy at all. UI/UX design changes frequently involves changing the appearance and possibly location and even functionality of familiar things. If we changed the lettering in a phonebook, or even merely on the cover, to be, say, klingon font, we shouldn't expect the typical user to reach for that phonebook, yet essentially what the GP is suggesting is that it's sufficient for a user to understand the "phonebook concept" and users can learn the implementation details trivially based on that.


> I don't understand this analogy at all. UI/UX design changes frequently involves changing the appearance and possibly location and even functionality of familiar things.

And that's the fundamental problem because that doesn't take into account people who are familiar with how a particular application works. For example, if you compare a tape recorder, VCR, a DVD player, and a streaming service where you can play, pause, forward or rewind, it's essentially the same interface and that has been the case since the '70s.

It's similar to dialing a phone with a touch-tone system versus dialing a number on a smartphone (other than having to press a call button). The only major change in the UI was when the transition between rotary dial to touch-tone took place. Automobiles are another example (placement of the brake, accelerator, shifter, turn signal stalk, headlamp controls, etc (though things do differ from model to model to some extent).

So why do we keep changing the interface of computer applications every so often such that proficient users have to relearn how to do things? The reason appears to be that we're chasing a goal of making the UI more intuitive so that someone who hasn't used it before can figure it out, but that never seems to happen.

But, if people just learn how to use the existing UI, then they can use the application and other applications like it because of a standard interface.

> If we changed the lettering in a phonebook, or even merely on the cover, to be, say, klingon font, we shouldn't expect the typical user to reach for that phonebook, yet essentially what the GP is suggesting is that it's sufficient for a user to understand the "phonebook concept" and users can learn the implementation details trivially based on that.

A more accurate analogy would be to change the order of the listings in the phonebook to start from most common names and end in least common ones instead of being in alphabetical order because of the belief it would help new users find the information they're looking for faster compared to the traditional interface.


That's exactly true. People don't care about the means, only the ends.


I think this problem is not at all exclusive to propietary software. Take blender, for example. I spent quite a bit of time learning all the bits of the interface 5+ years ago. When I tried to go back, the software UI had changed so much that basically most of my knowledge and muscle memory is now worthless, having to google how to do every tiny operation. And this is not yhe first "huge overhaul" of the UI and keybindings they've made.

And it's not like you can easily get an old version of blender and make it work just because it's free software. Leaving aside the fact that I'd be missing out on newer features, system libraries get updated and at some point the old version stops working with a random crash. Then you need to start compiling from source and basically maintaining your own fork.

IMO this is what happens with large enough pieces of software where the devs care more about increasing adoption in spite of any happy existing users.

Sorry for the blender micro-rant, they are doing a great job. But still I felt it was the perfect example of microsoft-y behaviour in free software land


Meanwhile, I’m a prospective Blender user, and I hear it’s waaaaay better from 2.80, so that for various things where I might have used another program or given up and used nothing I would now be very likely to use Blender. It’s always a balancing act: satisfying existing users, against genuine improvement that will make it better for new users and existing users that put in the effort to learn the new way.


Blender is way better since 2.80 imho. I have been an a blender user since about 2005. I find 2.80 improved the UI considerably. For me it was well worth the little effort I had to put in.


I just don’t think the specific way to do each operation in the UI is an essential part of Blender. Anyone using it professionally or even as a serious hobby will pick up on UI changes quickly. The real work you do on Blender is the actual art, not just manipulating menus and buttons.


No offense intended, but isn't the real work you do in MS Office creating documents? Software is never about manipulating menus and buttons per-se.


It seems unrealistic to want new features but also be against any kind of refactoring or efforts to bring in new users. As you have found, it's time-consuming to backport things and the people who actually want that are not usually willing to do it. Probably because it doesn't bring in new users and therefore makes no money. Free software really doesn't change anything abut this, projects that want to become popular still need to prioritize growth.


The ribbon interface is one of the best things to happen to office.

It was horrible to use before that.

For an app as complex and feature rich as word or excel, the ribbon interface is a great way to organise commands.

Not to mention context specific menu tabs.

Especially in Powerpoint, my productivity has increased tremendously. I just create a table and automatically go to the last tab to format it.


> The ribbon interface is one of the best things to happen to office. It was horrible to use before that.

Says who? Do you have any UI/UX study to back up that claim? Most of us on this page seem to believe the opposite is true.

> For an app as complex and feature rich as word or excel, the ribbon interface is a great way to organise commands.

Exactly the opposite. That is, a ribbon _may_ be relevant to a feature-poor application, but much less so to a feature-rich application.

> my productivity has increased tremendously. I just create a table and automatically go to the last tab to format it.

You're conflating context-sensitive UI changes with the use of ribbons. That's a different argument. Also remember that if a Table toolbar or sidebar appears, you can have the same effect - better perhaps - without ribbons.

For an app as complex and feature rich as word or excel, the ribbon interface is a great way to organise commands.

Not to mention context specific menu tabs.

Especially in Powerpoint, my productivity has increased tremendously. I just create a table and automatically go to the last tab to format it.


> Says who? Do you have any UI/UX study to back up that claim? Most of us on this page seem to believe the opposite is true.

I never said people found it good. I said, implicitly, I found it good. Perhaps I should have made it explicit in my comment.

Also, it doesn't matter whether most of you believe the opposite was true. I was talking only about myself.

No need to be so, aggressive, perhaps.

> Exactly the opposite. That is, a ribbon _may_ be relevant to a feature-poor application, but much less so to a feature-rich application.

Compared to the alternatives, the Ribbon has more density, in the sense that it packs more buttons and controls than a normal tool bar.

Even AutoCAD uses a ribbon menu. I am guessing because the command density is much more than a normal toolbar.

> You're conflating context-sensitive UI changes with the use of ribbons. That's a different argument. Also remember that if a Table toolbar or sidebar appears, you can have the same effect - better perhaps - without ribbons.

My point was that the context sensitive UI is more apt to be used with a Ribbon system, than alternatives, like in 3DS MAX, where the context sensitive stuff comes up on a right-click. Or in Office itself after we highlight an item.

I reiterate, it is a personal opinion. No need to get so defensive about it.

Some people want their commands and work area to be separated. Some like it otherwise. I prefer the former. When I click my table in PP, I don't want something overlapping it with a menu item, that is not stable, and disappears after a while or after another interaction. It's distracting to me.


As mentioned elsewhere in this thread, Microsoft did extensive user testing in the course of development of the Ribbon UI:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23797590


> For an app as complex and feature rich as word or excel, the ribbon interface is a great way to organise commands.

With some reluctance, I agree with you. But it does bother me that I rarely use much of that complexity, while still being required to engage with a UI that seems mostly designed around hiding things that I don't need anyway. I wish there was a way to use the Office apps with a simplified feature set. Of course, I understand why not: everyone's essential features are different. So I carry on poking at ribbons looking for things.


That is a by-product, and a testament, to the complexity of the software.

Take Word. It has millions of users around the world. And everyone of them uses at most a different 20% set of the full features 80% of the time.

But, it's only one software. It has to satisfy everyone.

So you end up with a reasonably complex UI that everyone has to bear.

However, you can customize it, and I wish there was more documentation and more effort put into customization of the menus.

I mean, let there be a menu customization system that is fully drag and drop, rather than the clunky stuff presently there. It would be a game changer.


> It's weird to me that people complain over "old and ugly" interfaces.

You might be interested in checking out the work of Donald Norman. He makes a great case that attractive things work better. Old isn't necessarily a problem, but ugly is.

https://jnd.org/emotion_design_attractive_things_work_better...


This seems intuitive enough to me but years on HN have let me know it's a rare opinion, at least among developers.


I used to feel that way about the ribbon, but I quickly got used to it and now consider it an improvement.

What I’ve never got used to is the flattening of the UI in versions 2013+.


I never loved the ribbon and I suspect that Microsoft underestimated how disruptive the change was for a lot of people. However, I saw a presentation by one of the lead designers around the time that it was introduced and he certainly made a good case for how the older interface had accumulated way too much cruft.

ADDED: Ah, this is probably it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl9kD693ie4

(That said, MS Office in general had been loaded with so many functions that 1% of users used but that were absolutely essential to some 1% that it's something of a mess anyway. It's one reason I prefer the relative simplicity of GSuite these days.)


> I saw a presentation by one of the lead designers around the time that it was introduced and he certainly made a good case for how the older interface had accumulated way too much cruft.

I have also seen well-intentioned arguments for why Clippy was a good idea … but he wasn't.

To this day I miss the Word 5.1 on Macintosh System 7. That was more-or-less the Platonic ideal of a word processor; it's been all downhill since.


Clippy was literally the precursor of things like Alexa and Siri today. The technology wasn't there to back it, but the idea of an anthropomorphic assistant has literally come around to the mainstream today.


MSFT had reason to believe that the Ribbon was more accessible and discoverable to users than the old menu structure. I was dubious at the time, but since the shift I have come to believe that they are correct. I think the Ribbon is better for the vast majority of users.

Interfaces shouldn't be changed for no good reason -- and MSFT is certainly guilty of chasing fads or tweaks without a clear benefit, too, in other areas -- but neither should an interface be frozen in amber if a better idea comes along.

(Also remember that mass market software isn't designed for people who post on HN.)


> MSFT had reason to believe that the Ribbon was more accessible and discoverable to users than the old menu structure. I was dubious at the time, but since the shift I have come to believe that they are correct. I think the Ribbon is better for the vast majority of users.

Microsoft also removed the start menu on Windows once and everybody hated it. Sometimes, MSFT is wrong.


I would absolutely never dispute this, but I also don't think it has anything to do with my statement.


It's common occurrence having software dismissed as second rate because it's "ugly" or non-conforming to current design trends. Although form and function should enhance each other we've now reached a point where changes to form actively harm function. Toolbars are gone, menus are gone, icons are abstract outlines of what they represent, discoverability in GUI applications is hampered. I can find quite a few examples of applications both mobile and desktop that have become increasingly frustrating to use for no benefit whatsoever. "Where has this button gone? I'm sure it was here before"; "Oh I need to click the nondescript three-bullet button, then tap actions and there it is!"; "But the colours are now nice". Especially in a productivity tool I'd rather not have the interface change every other release because it's "ugly" by some abstract metric. Although I believe the ribbon turned out to be a decent design I'm fairly certain that wouldn't have been the case if Microsoft had changed again to something completely different within a release.

So, yeah... Please give me ugly but predictable interfaces.


What’s so undesirable about teaching some technology in school and that technology changing over the years? Heck, I took computer hardware vocational classes in high school, and we learned about ISA, ATA, and PCMCIA. I would never bemoan either learning those things or those things changing. It’s not like that learning was made useless when the technology changed.


My kids are recent high school graduates. When they were in grade school, they learned MS Office. They easily picked up the newer stuff as it has come along, and at the same time, the schools have gotten a lot more flexible. It just wasn't a problem. Today they use Google Docs or whatever.

At my workplace, I see gradually declining use of any kind of word processing. Folks just edit in the e-mail or chat editor. One colleague makes video blogs.

Word processing seems to remain, largely for documents that will never be read, such as HR announcements and dissertations. ;-)

I've written lengthy documents in the chat editor, and have discovered to my great surprise and pleasure, that people actually read them. One thing that seems to be important is for people to be able to read things easily on their phones.


> I still have the same keyboard layout as back then but MS Office now has some janky "ribbon interface" which bears no resemblance to how it used to be.

This is a general pattern for GUIs as of late. It changes every so often until the point where if you haven't used the software in a while, you no longer know how to access a particular function via the GUI interface.

For example, web browsers used to have the standard drop down menus (file, edit, etc). If I want to view page source, the option would probably be under the view option and titled appropriately. These days, I have no idea where to find it, but at least I still know the keyboard shortcut to do the same thing and that hasn't changed at least.


Speaking of which, if you want a browser that still provides (opt-in) a classic menu bar with all the usual categories you'd expect, check out Vivaldi. Made by the guys who did the original Opera (before it went down the drain), so of course everything is configurable, stuff like vertical tabs is there out of the box etc.


I think it is simply whether you are used to them only. My first time using Office is Offline 2007, the first Office with ribbons. When I want to use "old" UI in Office 2003 or LibreOffice(turning off ribbon), I also have problem finding the feature I want.


While Microsoft has changed a lot of stuff, the keyboard commands in Windows and MS Office have remained mostly consistent in my experience, so when trying to work on someone else's computer, some things I could still figure out easily enough even though the system seems different. This could be done just as well in free software projects too (some of which already do, I think).

(However, for my own stuff, and on my own computer, I use neither MS Office nor LibreOffice nor other similar software, since I do not need them; I can use plain text, I can use TeX, I can use PostScript code (with Ghostscript), and whatever.)


> Learning something is more worthwhile if you are able to trust that it won't change underneath you.

I think there is something even deeper than this. The usability of UI is directly proportional to quality of users' mental model of what the application's doing.

Minimalism can be helpful for removing the "magic." I like the way Google Docs has evolved their UI. They started matching the feature set of desktop applications. Slowly, they have removed and simplified features, leading to a beautifully minimal yet powerful interface for typesetting and writing documents.


Next thing you know they'll start insist on adding lowercase characters to the character set and forcing us to use color displays and Arabic numerals instead of good old fashioned Roman ones!


I believe schools are mostly wrong in their computer education approach. The purpose and functions of MS Word (and most word processors for that matter) have not changed significantly in the last couple decades, despite the change of paint. Schools should be focused on teaching people what common applications are for and what they are capable of - not which buttons to press to perform specific tasks.


If there is one thing I would suggest for all large open source projects, it's separating the functionality, data model etc. from UI as much as possible.

It should be possible to have two separate open source projects. One is just extensive framework library with good API and the another is user interface. This would allow multiple separate UI's, web interface, command line, mobile, tablet, etc.


This "once you learn the complicated non intuitive user interface it becomes good" mentality is the reason why a lot of people don't like Linux (in my opinion). The whole Linux world just has such a poor UI/UX design that you don't want to interact with it in the first place - not all but most of it anyways.


> Consistency is worth so much more than fad-chasing. Learning something is more worthwhile if you are able to trust that it won't change underneath you.

Almost anything could be described as a fad. Interactive computers were seen as a fad once. Punched cards were good enough! The command line was good enough!

For complex applications (roughly defined as, lots of nested menus), the ribbon UI is an improvement as it surfaces more features. In itself it's an evolution of the customized toolbar approach - there's plenty of UX research that showed that most people only had the standard toolbars. (Office still does offer a context sensitive "toolbar").

> we had an exam where we got a printed out page and had to reproduce it in an hour. This was supposed to be fundamental computer knowledge like learning to type.

I'm hoping this didn't mandate a particular program, but even assuming it did -- Microsoft Word's basic shortcuts all still work exactly like in 1995. The common toolbar buttons (bold, italic, lists, etc) are in the same place. Even the original keyboard shortcuts for deeply nested menus (e.g. Alt D F F, in Excel, for showing the filter UI, i.e., the old 'autofilter' command) still work.

So where is the problem exactly?


>Almost anything could be described as a fad. //

I think the key thing here is that MS Word had the features most people need back in Win3 days (possibly earlier?).

There's stuff you want to do that punch cards don't allow, eg duplicate a program virtually; but there's not stuff people wanted to do that menu based wordprocessor UI prevented.

Ribbons fine, but no advance for me over menus, on balance I prefer menus but that might just be familiarity and age.


> I think the key thing here is that MS Word had the features most people need back in Win3 days (possibly earlier?).

That's a very narrow view of what people need. Children at home these days "type" essays into Word by dictating as a first-party feature. This is a pretty recent step forward -- in the past it used to be a very expensive third-party add-on with much less accuracy.

Good, scalable multi-user document editing has changed the way students and even workers take notes in classrooms and workshops. Again, a fairly recent phenomenon (although Word still isn't as good as Google Docs here -- c'mon Microsoft, keep up).


> Consistency is worth so much more than fad-chasing.

Consider consistency across applications though. People like conformity.


A good interface should not need to be learned. Everyday new people are born that have never used a bad interface before. There is no justification for keeping bad interfaces around just because you can learn them.

Interfaces that are hard to learn are also hard to recall. These lead to mistakes.


I also took a pre-ribbon exam for Word in high school, and I’ve had no trouble applying those concepts to successive versions, even though I’ve never been a heavy user. I dare say most software doesn’t change quickly enough for intensive early use to become totally irrelevant.


In high school they taught us Lotus 123 spreadsheets, oh my do I feel old! Never used those again afterwards. I agree about the proprietary software gripe, but it could have been worse.


Your school was wrong to teach any program. Ui follows fads and always will. Thus you need to learn how to use any ui that might come.


I agree with this, but it was far less clear in the 90s. I think a lot of people (myself included) were expecting/hoping that UIs in productivity software were converging on some sort of finished design or standard that there wouldn't be much reason to monkey around with.

MS Office programs - and many other proprietary software titles - were taught not only in many schools, but also in various vocational programs. You could get 'certified' in having 'mastered' a particular UI, and you expected that knowledge to continue to be useful for years. Seems quaint now, but there were some nice things about it. A carpenter doesn't expect their saws & hammers to radically morph every product cycle.


In the 90s word was still trying to take the crown from word perfect. Everyone knew guis were the future, but the F Keys in word perfect were important to know.


I don't think so, but I also don't think that it's going to be popular opinion around foss/computer people

MS Office software is used around shittton of workplaces and from time to time in day-to-day life, so making people somewhat proficent at it is good for everybody except MS competitors.

I'm not sure what do you mean by teaching "UI" - they teach how to get things done with given software.


It’s hard. I learned a lot of programs (some that don’t exist) autocad and lotus 123. Some of the principals of spreadsheets and vector programs I remember to this day. But having hands on with the software certainly helped learn it.


I wonder what people who have spent their adult life studying and implementing UI/UX think about it.


The only thing I want LibreOffice's UI to do is get the fuck out of my way.


Just use LaTex with Vim for documents if the org you work at allows it.


I find Emacs with AUCTeX to be the ideal TeX environment, but at least Vim is a sane environment. Word processors in general I find a very user-hostile environment for creation.


That wasn't to make you memorise a GUI but to make you understand the connections between visual indication and concealed action.

Without "fad chasing" (which is a sunk cost, a week every few years of pro graphics design), without even copying microsoft office's layout, you are losing out on new users. Why would anyone use libre office because it's open source rather than being a better functioning product that is more pleasurable to use (and look at)?


There seems to be a very large elephant missing from that discussion which is the rise of SaaS office suites. Speaking personally, I'm very glad that there is a free software office suite (as well as drawing programs etc.) However, I sincerely hope that collaborating on documents and presentations by mailing them around to people and trying to merge their edits and comments is never again the norm for me. Shared documents are probably a much overlooked enabler for people to work remotely in the current situation.

Added: They do mention LibreOffice Online but that seems like it should be a more central point in the discussion.


I agree, the main point I would expect from "The next five years of LibreOffice" would be a self-hosted competitor to Google Docs and Office 365. There's definitely a place for a local application editing documents, but I don't think that's what's going to matter the most five years from now when compared to a solid web based alternative -- and I also don't think a "code freeze" for the "normal" LibreOffice (not that I'm advocating one) would make the product unusable five years down the road.


There's definitely a market for self-hosting as in the case of Nextcloud, for example. There are lots of reasons companies, much less governments, may not feel comfortable using Google or Microsoft SaaS offerings.

But, as you say, that's different from running a local application. While some heavy-duty multimedia still benefits from running an app locally, that ship has mostly sailed with office suite software. I still have LibreOffice installed on most of my systems, but even if I'm not collaborating on a document, it's incredibly useful to have docs that are "just there" and I can access from any device--even including my phone in a pinch.


They have a self-hosted online suite, it's called Collabora.


It's a spinoff

https://www.libreoffice.org/download/libreoffice-online/

The former LibreOffice development team from SUSE joined Collabora in September 2013 forming the subsidiary Collabora Productivity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collabora_Online


I find it really odd that they chose server side rendering. I only did a very brief demo of it, but I was not impressed.


Yes, unfortunately. Makes impossible to work under unstable connections.

I hope Webasm enable porting at least some of the rendering code to client-side in the future.


Why not just use a desktop program with online features, then?


I'd assume that's less of a "chose" and more of technical limitation caused by wanting to reuse all the legacy code.


It's there but with the clear and explicit intention that the free version will lag behind the commercial offers.


I don't think making a web-based version would make sense for TDF. It would basically have to be done from scratch and OnlyOffice is already years ahead of them in that. Any attempt to port the existing code to the web also seems destined to fail (see Collabora).

What I think would really make LO stand out is strong collaboration support in the existing desktop editors. A self-hostable headless sync backend that streams real-time changes from and to everyone who has the document open would be even better than GDocs, which is notoriously slow due to being all in a browser.


IMO if LibreOffice really want to be in it for the money, they need to move away from trying to catch up to Office (not possible) and target some other niche which actually differentiates themselves. The fact that Airtable and Notion are around and pretty successful means that people can and are spending money on document management solutions that are not Office.

A better API is one such point. Microsoft APIs always suck, and LibreOffice could be the thing that has a rich interface that allows you to build XLSX and DOCX files via an API. For a product that has been around for more than 20 years (if you count StarOffice), I expect the API story to be much better than https://api.libreoffice.org/examples/examples.html


Agreed - students have already moved to google docs or MS Word with OneDrive. We are used to giving feedback using these tools, students making changes and getting those signed off by us.

Full history of changes. Full history of lecturer comments. Backed up online. Editable on phones, laptops, PCs...

This is the world they are expecting when they enter employment, or start their own start up.


To be honest, I'm a bit surprised that there's still the level of apparent interest in standalone LibreOffice that there is. I work somewhere that was almost exclusively a LibreOffice shop but we adopted one of the online services. Although we didn't really force people to switch, I don't know the last time I've seen a LibreOffice document even if I imagine some people still use it.


Office suites are a huge piece of the pie so even minority use cases get a decent number of users.


Collabora is an open-source, self-hosted, online collaborative office suite built on top of LibreOffice. Take a look, you may find it useful.


It's been a few years but I had a client that needed some secure remote file access capability "like DropBox" so I spun up an ownCloud VM and it had a surprising amount of collaboration tools built-in. It had all the groups, permissions, sharing, etc stuff you'd expect, and you could open and edit Office documents in the browser (it was a web-based Zoho Word/Excel type editor if I remember correctly.) It also had automatic versioning so if someone jacked up one of the files, they could roll back to whenever.

For anyone looking for that sort of thing, ownCloud might not seem like an obvious choice but I was pleasantly surprised.


> They do mention LibreOffice Online

And it says there is revenue there, correct? Maybe that's why it isn't expanded.


Democrats in the US House of Representatives just approved a $741 billion defense spending package. It will almost certainly clear the senate and be signed by the president.

Imagine taking enough of that money to support these 40 LibreOffice developers and maybe say 20 more. There would be no need for these acrobatics around source availability.

I understand why the companies need to do this. But there is an existing system for funding things with widespread benefits to society. It’s called the government.


>Imagine taking enough of that money to support these 40 LibreOffice developers and maybe say 20 more.

There are infinite ways to spend every dollar, why is LibreOffice funding worthy? In other words, why is LibreOffice's popularity so low that it cannot find a way to fund its operations? Which then raises the question - why do you want to fund an unpopular project?


As schools move more and more online they are locking into proprietary office programs that suck funds from schools, and students can't afford. Sure, as long as they are students they can use the school's software for free, but once they graduate they can't.

So in effect the government is already funding google docs and office 360. I would prefer the government fund opensource software that anyone who pays taxes can use for free.


>So in effect the government is already funding google docs and office 360.

Government buying services, or software, or anything, isn't really like 'funding', it's paying for services rendered.

>As schools move more and more online they are locking into proprietary office programs that suck funds from schools

And who is to say that LibreOffice is a good alternative. I'll tell you right now, it's not - which why it isn't really being used. It's a pain in the butt to deploy, and support at scale (from identity management, to sharing and collaborating, to security fixes and patches).

>I would prefer the government fund opensource software that anyone who pays taxes can use for free.

Sure. I have a preference for a lot of things too but we live in a democracy, so nobody gets to dictate their preferences. But feel free to engage with your local school board and make your case. Feel free convince your peers to make the case with you.


While not open source, you can definitely use Google docs for free student or not.


But it is a proprietary, private owned software. That can change anytime. Maybe not in the next 10 years, but it can and I suspect that it will.


Maybe, but

>So in effect the government is already funding google docs

Is just purely incorrect currently.


I think the cost should be compared to whatever they pay Microsoft for Office subscriptions for the federal government.


I think the idea is that 1% of a b52 bomber might take LibreOffice to an unparalleled place for a libre project.


I get the 'idea'. There are more things to fund then there are funding dollars available ... by many orders of magnitude, so you have to make decisions. One of those decisions is whether or not to pay for a certain numbers of b52 bombers. Another, completely separate decision, is whether to fund a very specific niche open source project. Linking those two is disingenuous. If you want funding for LibreOffice, make the case to your representative. Make the case to others so they make the case to your representative.


But why is LibreOffice so special? Surely there are thousands of other projects that would also love 1% of the b52 bomber budget.


Sure, but it could also take other projects to unparalleled places. Why does LibreOffice deserve that money over other projects?


It's not really worthy of funding anymore. Certainly not by the government. It's just not competitive with other options. I used to be a longtime Libre Office user. Back then, MS Office was expensive and only available on Windows. Even the Mac version wasn't completely compatible.

MS Office is better than it's ever been, with a variety of licensing options that are affordable. And if you're a student you can get it for peanuts or free. Being able to use the same tools on desktop, web and mobile with everything accessible in OneDrive is a no brainer and outstanding value for the high end price of $99/yr for a family plan. If you're on a less expensive individual plan, a student plan or a discounted plan through your employer's HUP benefits, it's really kind of an easy decision.


Imagine paying a subscription to access my own documents! Paying for privacy to be hoovered up to another corporation.

Sure, I bet they have some good features that I probably wont use.


As a counterpoint, I imagine the amount of money the US government already spends on MS Office could fund development of something as good or better than Office, while giving it away free to the rest of society improving productivity. Although, I wouldn't bet on the management of that project playing out like that.


This is exactly what Sun thought. They looked at their licensing bill for using MS Office and thought they could develop an Office suite for less than that themselves. They bought this little German company which made "Star Office" and started developing it for their own use and also selling it. Turns out, it didn't work. So they Open Sourced it, called it OO.org... it still didn't work. 20 years, many rebrands and many changes of ownership later, that same piece is software is still struggling to find a way to exist. Turns out, developing a competitor to MS Office is not that easy or cheap.


The government writing software for their own use is quite a bit different than Sun buying or writing one without customers lined up.


Do you think it would be right for the government to fund a competitor to an American business? Wouldn't it make sense for the government to just use or license Libre Office if it was good enough to meet their needs?


Eh, I don't see the problem. If the government decided not to renew a contract with SpaceX because they thought they could do it better themselves, should they not? Tax money spent on government research should be public. I do think they should follow any of Microsoft/SpaceX's IP laws (but also file their own for the public).

> Wouldn't it make sense for the government to just use or license Libre Office if it was good enough to meet their needs?

Sure, if the math and logistics worked out. I kind of think Office and Microsoft are too entrenched now.

I think the reason it wouldn't be a huge deal is you would still need some sort of business arm for it to get traction--like a Red Hat. So basically Microsoft would just lose a government contract.


>I imagine the amount of money the US government already spends on MS Office could fund development of something as good or better than Office

No, it can't. Microsoft lives and breaths Office 365 because that is a core part of their business. There is zero chance that a government will care as much about this as Microsoft does, or the 10,000 other companies that are trying to supplant incumbents. Add to that the fact that funding will be uneven, because if the tool achieves a 'good enough' status, why keep funding it when you have all those other interest groups vying for money. The project will be susceptible to lobby and interest groups. Maybe a Senator will see it as a job-works program and move development to Alaska to provide Alaskan programmers jobs.

Time and time again these massive government-run software project collapse on their face.

In the commercial space, government just cannot compete with private industry ... at all. And this is not a libertarian disparagement of government. Government has a proper function, and competing in software with commercial offerings is not one of them.

>while giving it away free to the rest of society improving productivity

Says who? In fact, this is guaranteed to not be the case, because who is to say that funding a word processor is a productive application of capital when you're not responding to market forces.


Yes, it can.

We have federally-funded national Research labs that regularly take on nuanced, technical challenges like this, and they work great. It's not like a federal bureaucracy designed and built multiple mars rovers, engineers did.

>Add to that the fact that funding will be uneven, because if the tool achieves a 'good enough' status, why keep funding it

If it is good enough, sure, it doesn't need the same amount of funding required to get it to that point. That is a good thing.

The federal government isn't the only potential source of government funding.

>In fact, this is guaranteed to not be the case, because who is to say that funding a word processor is a productive application of capital when you're not responding to market forces.

I don't follow. Because we can spend less money building a thing once than renting it annually for decades and decades, which is a response to market forces.


>We have federally-funded national Research labs that regularly take on nuanced, technical challenges like this, and they work great.

Not in commercial space. Government is good for funding cutting edge research with no obvious commercial benefit. That's a good role for government. Government is atrocious at competing with commercial offerings.

>It's not like a federal bureaucracy designed and built multiple mars rovers, engineers did.

Right now there is no way for private industry to do better than NASA because there is no clear commercial benefit and the money to develop potential commercial benefits are completely prohibitive. The missions that NASA engages in, from rovers on Mars, to New Horizons probe, to James Webb telescope are very important, and could not be done by private industry (though private industry is sub-contracted for many parts of those projects). That's a proper role for Government - identify gaps that the market has left but that have societal importance and fill then with funding from taxpayers.

>If it is good enough, sure, it doesn't need the same amount of funding required to get it to that point.

Word processing has been 'good enough' since 1995 - why isn't everyone using Office 95, or LibreOffice.

But you do demonstrate why government software projects fail - there is never and 'endpoint' (or 'good enough' point) to software. You're always updating based on market needs.

>Because we can spend less money building a thing once than renting it annually for decades and decades

I reject the assumption, it won't be cheaper to move off of Office. It won't be cheaper to build an alternative. Again, why isn't LibreOffice everywhere? The product is free. Why are companies paying for Office? Are they stupid? Maybe because there are hidden costs, from maintenance, deployment, collaboration with other sites, training, etc. that make using LibreOffice actually more expensive in practice than Office.

And by the way, for many companies, Google Suite has supplanted Office (which is typically a paid product). But again, somehow the fact that LibreOffice free, didn't translate to being competitive with that offering.


> Time and time again these massive government-run software project collapse on their face.

Which is why I said "I wouldn't bet on the management of that project playing out like that." I also completely agree Microsoft is way too entrenched to start something today.

> In the commercial space, government just cannot compete with private industry ... at all.

I kind of think you're overstating what I was suggesting (likely, I stated it poorly). Instead of paying Microsoft $x annually for MS Office, I think for less money they could write and maintain something that fits their own needs. Since it was developed with tax dollars, release it publicly. I doubt businesses would adopt it unless some independent companies popped up to facilitate it (like Red Hat does for OSS).

The goal wasn't to replace Microsoft Office in society, just to fulfill its own needs.


It begs an interesting question: does defense spending have a positive ROI? I don't know the answer to this question. But I'm thinking funding R&D, trade route protections, and perhaps some nefarious things can all contribute positively to American interests and thus American society.


Ginormous defence spending is how the US do a "social state". That's pretty obvious once you see how defence money is peppered all across the country.


It doesn't mean its productive. We could be spending half a trillion on civil engineering to rebuild cities, roads, high speed rail, canals, etc. That has appreciable and visible benefits to society.

Occupying a desert on the other side of the world largely to disrupt oil pipelines seems less effective as stimulus.


It's a republican jobs program.


Nah the defense industry is smarter than that - it's a bipartisan industry. F-35s have components that are built in every state for a reason.


Which also begs the question: How many such projects in different industries (eg, agriculture, aviation, food, healthcare, etc) would need a slice of that defense pie?

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[Note: I'm not advocating for/against the idea of the parent comment, just adding a layer to it]


> "It begs an interesting question: does defense spending have a positive ROI?"

It's analogous to the question: Does homeowner's fire insurance have a positive ROI? The answer is no only if the homeowner's house doesn't burn down and it's enlightening to look up how many house fires occur daily.

If that's not compelling then perhaps contemplate what would people have said the ROI for national readiness for a pandemic was a decade ago and what they would say today.


> But there is an existing system for funding things with widespread benefits to society. It’s called the government.

Not if you ask the current ruling party. Even a cursory glance at the state of the Union should make it obvious there's nobody left who cares to fund things with widespread benefits to society.


The funding necessary to support LO development is so tiny relative to the US defense (read: offense) budget, that it's not even worthwhile to make this reference. The US DOD's stationary budget would probably cover this.


A great example of this working for real is Ghidra[0]! Funded by the government, a spectacular piece of open source software.

[0] https://ghidra-sre.org/


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