Project Renaissance is an OpenOffice.org project aiming to deliver a new user interface (UI) for OOo.  The team recently completed the prototyping phase and is asking for users to provide feedback on the 8 UI options.  The UI options strongly resemble the Microsoft Office 2007’s Ribbon UI.

Response to the Ribbon like user interface options has been, well, somewhat one-sided:

e7 writes: “This would be a killer feature for not using OpenOffice.org… Don’t implement this, do other things – like live editing in presentation, a correct ttf/otf export or such things.”

Andis writes: “I would like to see list of problems in previous interface of Impress and how these problems are addressed in the new interface. Because now I see only problems (at least for me) with that new interface…..”

.wu writes: “that’s brilliant! add even more to the top part of the UI because, you know – the screens aren’t getting wider…”

The three comments are fairly representative of the comments as of August 5th.  The concerns boil down to why work on a new UI when there are other higher priority items for the OOo to tackle, why introduce such a significant change to users and why waste vertical screen space?

I can’t speak for the OOo community as to why they’re working on this versus some other requirements.

The second concern raised is interesting.  Since many MS Office users are still using Office 2003 and some have resisted the shift to Office 2007 because of the Ribbon UI, why would OOo follow suit with a Ribbon-like UI?  A UI that more closely resembles Office 2003 will make it easier to adopt OOo versus training 500 or 20,000 or 300,000 employees on using the new UI found in Office 2007.  A commenter, talkimposter writes: “…In fact I use OpenOffice at work because they moved to Office 2007 and I just can’t stand that STUPID interface for idiots…” On the other hand, while initial user reaction to the Ribbon UI has often been negative, this is typically the case with many release to release UI changes. However, as commenter sRc writes: “I like where this is going, myself. To be honest, the Office 07 Ribbon does look “functionally challenged” at first, but once you get used to it, it is so much nicer to work with then a standard interface. After working on a project in Office 07 at my work, I find myself missing the Ribbon now every time I load up OOo.”

The third concern raised is much more troubling.  Screens have been getting wider, and when netbooks are considered, OOo should be innovating UIs that conserve vertical space.  Widescreen displays were not common when Microsoft researched and introduced the Ribbon UI.  Could OOo be making a mistake and following the leader with a UI technique that no longer fits with today’s devices?  Said differently, would Microsoft have introduced a horizontal Ribbon if they were researching a UI for today’s computers?  Interestingly enough, Lotus Symphony uses a vertical Ribbon-like menu system on the right-hand pane.  This approach takes advantage of widescreen computer displays.  I didn’t understand that design decision until today since I still have a 4:3 screen for work.  So maybe OOo should consider UI research conducted more recently than trying to mimic Microsoft’s approach?

You can test drive the UIs and provide feedback.  The prototype test requires Java 6 and takes about 2 minutes to load.  Well worth the time and effort.

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”