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The Condescending UI 980

theodp writes "Paul Miller has some advice for user interface designers: Don't be condescending. 'The Ribbon in Microsoft Office products,' complains Miller, 'is constantly talking down to me, assuming I don't know how to use a menu, a key command, or an honest-to-goodness toolbar.' Miller's got some harsh words for Apple, too: 'And of course, there is the transgression of the century: Apple's downward spiral into overt 1:1 metaphors. The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book...these new tricks are horrible and offensive [and likened to Microsoft Bob]. They're not only condescending and overwrought, they're actually counter-functional.' So, how does Miller cope while waiting for his UI knight in shining armor? 'I recently switched my Windows 7 install over to the Classic Theme', Miller explains, 'which is basically Windows 95 incarnate, just with all the under-the-hood improvements I've come to rely on. I really like it. It feels right, and if it isn't beautiful, at least it's honest. I wish there was a similar OS 9 mode for OS X.'"
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The Condescending UI

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  • by InsightIn140Bytes ( 2522112 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:16AM (#38334188)
    Many people like how easy and straightforward Mac OSX is. I didn't like Ribbon first either, but after getting used to it I like it much more than the previous Office UI's. It does take some adjustment if you've used the old ones, but that's true for every kind of change. And people don't like changes, but the truth is, Ribbon is much better interface. It would be stupid to drag using bad interface because old users hate change. Everything is displayed much more clearly. I noticed this especially when I used Office products I haven't really used much before. If I had used them, it was always more work adjusting. But when they were new to begin with, there was no problem. I think Ribbon is still a great idea, especially for non-geeks. I guess they could include both interfaces though, like Opera does (not with Ribbon, but with hiding menu).
  • Easy and Advanced (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:21AM (#38334204) Journal

    We're back to this discussion again.

    Unskilled Users (not necessarily new!) like the new Padded Rails simplicity. I have advised a couple of such users now and they really do like things being as "Safari is the internet". They don't know what a web page address is. They just type words into the search bar until it (hopefully!) shows up.

    So if companies would quit playing Proprietary Lockdown games, we really do need "Basic / Advanced" versions of a UI at the click of a button.

  • by Xugumad ( 39311 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:21AM (#38334206)

    I've spent a decade in the firing line (developer exposed directly to users), and this goes directly against everything we've heard from the vast majority. Yes, your power users are going to be frustrated by simplified UI, sorry guys, you're not our main audience. The average user does not want to spend time learning the UI, they want to pick up the app, do what they need to do and move on with their life.

  • by loufoque ( 1400831 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:23AM (#38334218)

    I thought everyone that knew about computers and used windows already ran it in classic mode. It's the obvious thing to do.
    It was especially obvious in Windows XP where the main theme looked like an amusement park for disabled kids.

  • by InsightIn140Bytes ( 2522112 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:28AM (#38334250)
    I don't think he has. He sounds like grumpy old guy who just wants to do things the old, especially since he is talking about how Windows Classic theme "just feels right" because he knows how it functions. He just wants to use something he has got used to it, and doesn't even think if it's really better for other users. Having used both, Windows 7 theme is still much better than classic one, especially since it groups windows in task bar and only show icons with a hint of the windows title. When you hover your mouse over the icons, it quickly shows all windows. This is much better design than in the Windows Classic theme where everything was just dumped together.
  • by decora ( 1710862 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:29AM (#38334256) Journal

    it's not condescending. it assumes you have memorized dozens of little one-letter commands.

  • by buchner.johannes ( 1139593 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:30AM (#38334258) Homepage Journal

    Experienced users want it the way they got used to.
    Finding interfaces that new computer users can learn quickly and be productive in is difficult (you also need new test subject all the time).
    This story and the GNOME3 discussion on /. seems to be a case of "I want it like it has always been", not being interested in what could be done better. I know new ideas in UI development can make you very productive, a very good example is Mylyn [].

    On a related note, Apple has always used silly analogies ("Desktop", "Trash", Eject by dropping to trash). I hope I offended everyone now.

  • by visualight ( 468005 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:31AM (#38334268) Homepage

    The problem is that if weren't unnecessary abstraction layers and illogical "real world" metaphors there wouldn't *be* any unskilled users. These interfaces not only assume you're ignorant, they *keep* you ignorant.

    The premise that I disagree with is that it's okay for people to go on thinking that "Safari is the internet". This isn't rocket science. Having some basic grasp of a hierarchy, or understanding the concept of a URL would not be difficult if the UI(s) weren't so disconnected from reality.

  • by lightknight ( 213164 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:43AM (#38334318) Homepage

    Nonsense. I like my eye-candy, and the silver Luna theme in XP was awesome.

    If I'm going to be staring at my computer screen all-day, it might as well be pretty.

  • by InsightIn140Bytes ( 2522112 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:44AM (#38334324)
    It's more ignorant to think that users need to know the underlying system or how URL is formed to use computer or internet. Truth is, no one wants to have to learn things they don't care about. While you may think it's essential for everyone to know how computers operate, many people think otherwise. Likewise, I bet you don't have to learn things you don't care about just to enjoy them. We have almost 7 billion people on earth - we can specialize in things and enjoy all the things world offers but someone has to simplify it for the rest of us so that we have the time to enjoy and use everything. You can't learn everything, and for majority of people computers are just something they want to use, not something they want to learn to understand.
  • Re:Like and Okay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:47AM (#38334348) Journal

    It's a difficult problem!

    I remarked that my two Anecdotal Users "liked" that ultra low level understanding of Safari = Internet. I think it's rather disturbing, but I will politely call it the "wide base of learning problem" where any brand new field of information will have a wide swath of extremely confused users in a big circle at the base. These are decent guys who just didn't get the whole Computer Revolution thing, but they're stuck needing to check their email, so that's the best they can do.

    Likewise, don't ask me any car questions. Or road navigation. Or hunting/fishing/golf/_____/____/_____ questions. I'd look equally dumb. Not even Command Line ones! (Oops, is my Geek Cred now at risk? Oh well!)

    However, once I DO know how to do something, the message for companies is "don't take it away later." It's like the story Harrison Bergeron - "Let's move everything around so much that Everyone Becomes Equal because none of the stuff the old power users liked works anymore."

  • Re:Windows 7 theme (Score:5, Insightful)

    by InsightIn140Bytes ( 2522112 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:49AM (#38334364)

    I hate "pinned" apps. If it's not open I don't need it "pretending" to be open on my task bar. It's already got a desktop shortcut.

    In turn, this is one of the things I love about it most. I rarely see my desktop. In fact, the only time I do is when I boot up my computer. If I have to minimize everything to start a desktop shortcut it messes up my workflow and the window orientations. I pin my most used programs to taskbar and they're quickly there if I need them, and they're out of way when I'm actually using them already. If it wasn't for that I would have to go to start menu, write part of the programs name and run it there. I also do have separate pinned programs in start menu, but they're ones I'm not constantly running. In task bar I have those that are almost always running. That combination makes things much faster and nicer.

  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:52AM (#38334374) Journal

    I will agree with you I don't know where all the ribbon hate comes from, at least from a UI perspective. Now the API interface, for it SUCKS, if I wanted to use XML to build my interface, I'd write a browser based app, thank you very much. I don't see the ribbon as being much different from the old toolbar from a user perspective though. If anything its how tool bars would have been if displays had been higher resolution in the past.

    The modern Apple and MS Bob like one to one metaphors are wrong headed. The author is dead on there. It does not scale at all. It works ok for things that have a good one to one metaphor with near universal familiarity, but it falls down for more esoteric things.

    I struggled for nearly a half an hour the other day with an OSX machine. I wanted to add a new certificate to the system wide trusted roots. I have a pretty solid understanding of the functional elements of public key cryptography the stumbling block was entirely UI. I knew what I wanted, but the UI was not easy. First finding the darn thing, then trying to make sense of the really forced key chain metaphor. I suppose the key chain makes sense of user certificates but falls down when it comes to roots and intermediates. Perhaps something like a notary stamp icon would make more sense, but how many users would recognize that? Computers are all about abstraction all the way down, both in terms of what we do with them and how they operate. One to one metaphors don't offer a flexible frame work for things that don't have a physical analog.

      Its terribly inefficient from a developer perspective you have to create a new interface for every task, or its terribly confusing from a user perspective you force something on them that really does not make any sense. It also means that every application is different with its own rules, users can't take knowledge with them from task to task. Not only do they have to know what they want to do, but they have to know the unique mechanics for doing it. Instead of just going ok I want to store my changes, I am sure there is a save command on the file menu, now its um ok I drag the icon to my book shelf?

  • by TuringTest ( 533084 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:56AM (#38334404) Journal

    The best advice I've found for thinking about user interfaces is by CS. De Souza, the author of the
    Semiotics of Human-Computer Interaction []. She calls the interface a 'design deputy', meaning that the interface is to be seen as a message from the designer saying "this is what I know of you and what I think will serve you best".

    The most the designer knows about the users, the better tailored the interface will be. A designer may indeed be condescending when giving that message if she doesn't really know enough about the targeted user.

  • Re:Yawn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:57AM (#38334412)

    Except there's no consistent menu bar.

    They didn't retain the consistent default text-based menu bar that typically starts with "File, Edit, View...", and usually has selections like "Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste, Perferences, Options, Tools, Blah blah blah..."

    You can't press "Alt", and expose the menu bar. So FTFY.

  • Indeed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lightknight ( 213164 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:59AM (#38334424) Homepage

    That appears to be the focus of GUIs these days.

    A well-designed GUI is fast, efficient, user-friendly, and conveys the maximum amount of information possible to the user without overloading the user's senses.

    Many GUIs these days fail to do this. Why? Many reasons, which I will now list:

    1.) The CLI Guys -> these people believe the command-line interface is that cat's ass. Anything that can be done with a GUI can be done with a CLI, plus it works with pipes! What's not to like?
    2.) The Artists -> these people think that a GUI is a social commentary on the growth of the computing industry and mankind's adjustment to technology. They treat every GUI like it should belong in an art gallery somewhere, and their work tends to resize like sh*t. Elements are not anchored correctly, discerning what is an clickable element and what is just an image / background may take several moments and a careful read of the online help manual. Look for navy blue text (size 8) on a royal blue background.
    3.) The LCDs -> these people create GUIs for the lowest common denominator. They assume that the user is an absolute idiot, and make even the smallest configuration changes go through a 15-page wizard. The greatest experience an IT professional can feel is setting this program up correctly once, and never having to run one of those wizards again.
    4.) The Minimalists -> these people are like the CLI guys, but they decided to include a half-broken GUI just to tease you into thinking that you won't be spending several hours looking through various usenet posts looking for the proper flag to launch the GUI with. The GUI will be extremely simple, with a poor design and badly labeled elements (the checkbox with a non-descriptive name or in a few instances, no name), which includes a link to the manual explaining a highly comprehensive scripting system for anything more complex.


  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:05AM (#38334464)

    I've spent a decade in the firing line (developer exposed directly to users), and this goes directly against everything we've heard from the vast majority. Yes, your power users are going to be frustrated by simplified UI, sorry guys, you're not our main audience. The average user does not want to spend time learning the UI, they want to pick up the app, do what they need to do and move on with their life.

    And most of us have absolutely no problem with the "For Dummies" theme that's skinned over so many products today.

    The problem isn't even if it's the default look and feel.

    The problem is generated when frustrated (and experienced) users cannot change it to suit their liking.

    And while you may be doing your job to address your "main" audience of "I'm-too-damn-lazy-to-learn", I wonder if they recognize the irony of the downward spiral they're helping perpetuate by forcing you to placate to the masses that continue to lower the bar. You know what they say when you constantly try and make something idiot-proof. Someone usually comes along and builds a better idiot.

    We keep this up, and computers are going to look like Babys first cell phone because people don't want to spend more than 17 seconds learning anything these days.

  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:06AM (#38334470) Journal

    Ah Slashdot where there is never a middle ground, its vi + tex or Office 2010.

  • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:08AM (#38334480)

    which is exactly why the new UIs are so poor.

    Remember when Windows first came out, it has menus and every app had the same menu bar. Everything had a file menu that had new/open/print/etc items on it.

    You could open any app and instantly know how to create a new document - because there was the file|new menu item, every time. You'd received training for all apps, instant familiarity, instant productivity.

    Fast forward to today and we have different interfaces for everything. The new UIs with shiny orbs and animated transitions mean you have to figure out where all the new bits are for each app. Then some of them start working differently (eg Excel that has multiple icons in the task bar, but they're all running in a single instance so you close 1 you close them all kind of bo**ocks), and some don't even have menus - well, they have menus, but they're tucked away behind a little coloured icon so they appear when you click it, if you can find the f***er in the first place (eg the new hide-everything-away browser interfaces). The the ribbon comes along (which is a fine toolbar repacement BTW) but is used as a menu replacement too - with loads of bits hidden away in little menus behind tiny ">" icons.

    The old interfaces were fugly, but functional. They made us productive and really that's what is needed for line-of-business apps. No-one really cares that excel looks cool, not when you're typing in the accounts.

  • Training Wheels (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:08AM (#38334490)

    I look at it like training wheels on 2-wheel bicycles. They definitely make it easier for a beginner to make it down the driveway and back, but at some point they become a hindrance and you'll want them off.

    This isn't about old geezers pining for the UI they used back in the day; they're used to changing UIs and have been through many. This is about not being able to remove the training wheels, or to get a bike without them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:11AM (#38334514)

    To paraphrase you:

    "Ribbon is better, and if you don't like it, that is because you are resisting change"

    I think that's the biggest mistake the designers and proponents of the new UIs are making (mind you, not all of them, but it is widespread to the point of being annoying).

  • by stewbacca ( 1033764 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:13AM (#38334536)

    This article is terrible.

    People don't like the ribbon because it sucks, not because it's condescending. It makes doing the job HARDER for both new users AND experienced users.

    The bookshelf/faux leather metaphor is simply that. It has no functionality. It doesn't get in the way, so it's a complete non-issue. It is slightly offensive to anyone with a design-sense, but the world doesn't end because of it.

    The fact that geeks like this author feel like they are being talked down to is why the millions of other non-geeks call us geeks. Computers aren't the sole domain for us. Companies have to make money, and when there are millions of more computer-challenged customers than experts like this guy, so they'll make their product for them. The fact this guy is mad about that tells me somebody should give him a Linux build.

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:19AM (#38334582) Journal
    In my opinion it doesn't have to be the same way people are used to, as long as it can be much faster.

    I'm happy that Apple, Microsoft etc are taking care of the "newbie" users - that's actually a good idea.

    BUT in my opinion they should also provide short-cuts so that skilled/trained users will be able to do things much faster.

    Not everyone remains a "newbie". Being skilled at complex stuff is not beyond normal people. Many gamers can do many actions-per-second. And look at some of the experienced "old-school" supermarket cashiers (who can identify products and enter the correct product codes faster than low-end barcode readers can read a barcode) or those using those "dumb terminals" - using all the short cut keys to jump to various fields/pages to enter the data or search for stuff quickly.

    But what I see nowadays are UIs where you have click/swipe, _WAIT_ for fancy animation, click again, _WAIT_ for fancy animation, then only finally get what you want. That gets old if you already know exactly what you want.

    Any non-idiot can create a UI that allows a user to manage 1-3 windows/items. Give me a UI that allows a normal user to manage magnitudes more than 3 items/tasks easily. One that actually _augments_ humans, rather than gets in their way.

    All those fancy animations and pauses are like those cut-scenes in a game. They are very nice the first few times round, but most skilled/experienced gamers skip them in order to get to the real stuff they want to do.

    In most games, if a weapon/skill that has a long fancy animation before it actually does stuff, it's considered a disadvantage of the weapon/skill by experienced gamers. The same applies for Desktop GUIs.

    A Desktop GUI is crap if even GNU Screen is faster at managing "windows" in the hands of users who are experienced+skilled in both.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:21AM (#38334604) Journal
    They're never visible settings, but they're often undocumented user defaults. One of the reasons I use OS X, however, is so that I don't have to waste time poking undocumented settings to get a usable system, and so this rather defeats the point.
  • Re:Windows 7 theme (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gumbercules!! ( 1158841 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:28AM (#38334652)
    I got a new Win 7 machine at work a few months ago, and the first thing I had to do to it was to unhook a lot of the annoyances of the Win 7 theme.

    Thus proving the parent argument. You didn't immediately understand the new UI, so you gave up and reverted to the old one. So your actual exposure to the new UI, from your own text above, is either negligible at worst or minimal at best.

    To be fair, I likewise dislike pinned apps, versus the old quick launch bar, but this is because I equally never gave them a chance. Having seen others use them, I wonder if I made the right choice.
  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:34AM (#38334680)

    A delay that long would drive me completely bonkers. I don't need my eyes to catch it, I'm not reacting to the computer, the computer is supposed to react (preferably instantly) to me. It is my servant, not the other way around.

    The basic concept is a bug not a feature. No one who reads old fashioned physical books does it for the experience of the delay while turning pages. For example, I cannot go to a convenience store without an unwashed slacker taking their time at cashier duty. That does not mean that adding a USB operated B.O. generator, inserting "like" in between every three words, making it really slow, having to wait in line, and taking 45 seconds to figure out the change coinage for $1.76 would be a huge improvement to the web interface.

    IF you're using firefox, that means you can use greasemonkey to write scripts. I am not conversant in greasemonkey enough to do this myself, but I triple dog dare you to write a greasemonkey script, that wraps /. inside it, and each time you scroll down via "pg down" or wheel, it freezes for 300 ms, displays an animation of an ancient roman scroll winding up and unwinding, makes a paper turning sound, and then finally displays the next page of /.. I will make a bet that within a week you throw a chair thru your monitor, or disable that script, or admit I was correct.

    This is another example where horrific UI mistakes by OS designers are "OK" because there is no competition or choice, but a website would be laughed off the internet if it tried to implement something that awful.

  • by devent ( 1627873 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:39AM (#38334704) Homepage

    It's a shame you can't just change the desktop on Windows or OSX to something what you like. I would say the most best feature of Linux is KDE4 and it would be very nice for me to have the same desktop on Windows. Yes, you can install KDE for Windows, but it's not the same because the ugly and useless Windows desktop is still there.

    PS: to not to start a flame war, please replace KDE with your favorite desktop, like Gnome or Xfce.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:42AM (#38334732)

    Please enlighten me as to what it is people do with office software that is much more advanced than this?

    I haven't used MS Office in many years so I have no idea what the interface is like, but for me an office suite is good for writing letters, resumes and occasionally technical manuals. These latter require sections, tables, an index and... that's usually about it.

    I often wonder what the other 10 million settings and options in office suites are for, and if anyone uses them. What do people do with a word processing program that requires scripts FFS?

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:53AM (#38334796)

    The GNOME 3 discussion isn't just on slashdot. The change to GNOME shell even drove Linus away from GNOME.

    The problem with GNOME Shell is that it takes away options. All of them. It promotes some specific programs to indelible places on the screen (e.g. empathy) while relegating all others (e.g. pidgin or other IM clients) to second class status. It also adds complexity. The problem with the GNOME devs is that any argument against any of the decisions they take are met with the same argument you just gave - people are stuck in their ways, we're changing things for the better, you have no vision etc etc. It's not helpful.

    Sure, there are people who will resist change for the sake of it. There are also people who will resist change because it's a productivity hit to switch their way of working, one they're not prepared to take. There's also a third group who have genuine problems with the way things are going. Calling them luddites and putting them with group 1 is not helpful, and makes people (and interfaces!) come across as arrogant. In the case of GNOME they're going to be lucky if they don't lose the majority of their existing user base whilst they go on the search for a mythical new one.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:54AM (#38334808) Journal

    Many people like how easy and straightforward Mac OSX is.

    Many people expect and require condescension and don't know what to do when their hand isn't held. That doesn't negate the fact that the UI is in fact condescending.

  • by Half-pint HAL ( 718102 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:55AM (#38334820)

    I agree on the ribbon though - it is a menu, just one that stays open all of the time and presents larger targets. I'm not totally convinced that it's better than menus + toolbar, because the hierarchical nature of it means that you need more mouse clicks and movement to use two actions that are on different menus. The only real complaint about it I have is the amount of screen real-estate it takes up - this is not a problem on a desktop, but Word on a laptop with a smallish screen ends up with less than 50% of the screen usable for actually displaying the document...

    Also, we've all widescreens these days, and under the ribbons, everything looks really claustrophobic and letterboxy.

    Anyway, larger targets than what? Because in software with menus, I use keystrokes to get wherever I want to go. The ribbon is the graphical-only endstate of the process that caused Microsoft to drop visual underlining of hot-keys by default: no-one is willing to train anyone to use a computer properly. The average computer worker is woefully underefficient due to relying on mousing to do even simple everyday tasks such as switching between italics and plain typeface, or to send an email, or to lock, log off or switch off a computer.

    The problem is that the ribbon interface has given up the advantages to the true power users in order to make undertrained desk jockeys marginally more efficient.

  • by Stormwatch ( 703920 ) <> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:59AM (#38334860) Homepage

    Well, if they were doing 'serious work', they would be using TeX, not MS-Word, right?

  • right (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:00AM (#38334866) Homepage Journal

    While I don't agree to all his details, the general point is strong and true.

    One of the things that I have learnt to hate about all the recent MS Windows interfaces is how it tries to outsmart me. Not having used an option for a while? It'll hide it from you, so all the things that you need only rarely you always have to go and hunt around for. And I won't say anything about the "ribbons" interface, because there's not a single positive word I could say about it.

    I also see the same trend in websites recently. Dumbing down and pseudo-smart seems the new trend. I long for my Unix commandline, where the system assumes I know what I'm doing and considers its two main jobs to be: a) do what I tell it to do and b) get out of my way as much as possible.

    The computer interface is important, very important in fact. But not in and for itself. So let's kick all those artsy people and the managers and idiots out of user interface design and put some actual designers in charge again.

  • Re:This again? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:01AM (#38334874)

    It was Microsoft saying "there's been a proliferation of new commands in Office and we can't just keep putting menus and sub menus like this forever"

    Except that's exactly what the ribbon does, except it uses huge buttons instead of concise text. What the ribbon did was take away a static toolbar and a static menu, so you constantly have to hunt around for stuff, especially if you tend to resize windows a lot or move between computers with different size monitors (like a laptop). It is still basically a menu bar, only one level deep is constantly displayed. There are still submenus - they just look like a button with a downward pointing arrow on it now. Most of the benefits of the reorganized ribbon could have been achieved by reorganizing the menus and adding a context-sensitive menu bar (like the "Inspector" in the older versions of Mac office or the old pictures toolbar that would automatically appear when you were editing a picture).

    The ribbon would have been a neat accessory, or even replacement for toolbars. But ditching the menus was stupid and hurt the productivity of long-time Office users. Since the Mac version of office still has a menu system alongside the ribbon, and it surely sells fewer units, I don't think expense of development has anything to do with it - MS is just being dictatorial.

  • by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:07AM (#38334908)
    They can ladle in, layer on and apply all the eye-candy they want - just let me turn it off. That way, when you close a window in 7, you can delight into it's apparently falling back to the ground (sans shatter, one would think they'd remember the finale) and I can have mine simply disappear.
  • by hjf ( 703092 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:21AM (#38335012) Homepage

    Carrier IQ?

  • by AbRASiON ( 589899 ) * on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:21AM (#38335016) Journal

    I haven't been switched yet but I have briefly tried them.

    Holy ......... what a mess, or rather - what a ridiculously over-clean, sparse user interface. Minimalism for the sake of minimalism. No lines to define where one item begins and another ends, worse shading and use of colours to identify rows / columns / boxes / sections. The entire thing is designed by committee. The old one feels like it was designed by technical people with design skills. Now it feels it's designed by designers with technical lackeys to perform the work.

    The entire thing is more difficult to use and slows people down, a complete step backwards.
    Sorry for the language here but this picture I've made was designed for another forum. Including the file name. []
    I've outlined why the original one is better, it's designed logically and well themed, the colours match with gradients of light / dark depending on heading / menu / etc - there's simple, clean lines seperating items (which should be damned well seperated)

    User interfaces seem to be generally getting worse and worse, it's quite unfortunate.

  • by X3J11 ( 791922 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:29AM (#38335072) Journal

    Visual Studio on one monitor, Doctor Who on the other. I could code for hours / days like that. But we're out of Doctor Who...

    Me too! Christmas special soon!

    Though I am equally as likely to be watching old school Who, which I maintain was superior to new. I feel the shoestring budget and serialized storytelling made a better show.

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:38AM (#38335128)

    I hate to break it to you, but Ribbon gets progressively worse the more obscure the options you're using are. It's definitely worse than the older system as they can't use the entire height and width of the screen for the menus. Meaning they'll pick and choose the options that they think are important. And yes, they're widely used, but I rarely use any of the things I've seen in the Ribbon more than once or twice editing a document. Most of the time I'm cursing because they've moved an option or function to a buried menu and trying to remember where that submenu went is infuriating.

  • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @01:26PM (#38335976)

    unfortunately, this attitude of 'we must make it as simple as possible for new users' is quite prevalent today. this newage fisher price UI crap puts a cap on the user's potential with the machine by preventing the application from growing with his skill. While it might make things a tad easier initially, the user doesn't get a chance to learn more of the skills and processes needed to get more adept at getting what he wants. I think the society groupthink needs to relearn the old 'you get out of it what you put into it' adage...and we should accept that sometimes it's best to tell people to RTFM if they lack remedial skills. idiotproofing is a stupid race to the bottom.

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @01:35PM (#38336050)

    Many people expect and require condescension and don't know what to do when their hand isn't held. That doesn't negate the fact that the UI is in fact condescending.

    Interesting use of the words "condescending" and "fact" here. Condescension is a quality of human to human communication. It's subjectively judged by the receiver from the speaker/writer.

    For sure where there's a text message from the the developer to the user such as "You look like you're trying to write a letter, would you like me to..." that would be recognised as condescending by most. But non language based aspects of UIs? I don't think "condescending" can be used there. My microwave oven is easy to use, but "condescending"? That word just doesn't fit.

    But it's a very subjective topic. What the hell is the word "fact" doing in there?

  • by multisync ( 218450 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @01:44PM (#38336146) Journal

    The first thing I do at any Win XP machine is turn off "transition effects".

    The first thing I do on any Win XP machine is add the following to the registry:



    which disables all the annoying balloons. Switching to Classic view, as the summary suggests, makes the UI a lot snappier.

    If I'm going to be spending any amount of time working on the machine, I'll usually do some or all of the following:

    set the default Explorer view to List, enable Display contents of system folders and Show hidden files and folders, disable Hide extensions and protect operating system files, set the Sound scheme to No sounds, disable Hide inactive icons in the system tray. Actually, if I'm smart, the first thing I'll do is enable RDP, add my user account or admin group and note the hostname so I can do all the above from the comfort of my own machine. Also, the above assumes the account I'm using has local admin privileges.

    If the machine is on a domain and I'm logged in with my own account, when I'm finished I'll either blank the DefaultUserName and AltDefaultUserName registry keys, or set them to the regular user's account. This stops the user from repeatedly inputting their password with my account name until they lock out my account if I'm not there the next time they log in.

    Of course, there are dozens of other tweaks, depending on the machine and my reason for spending time on it, and I'm sure a lot of this could be scripted, although not as easily as it could be done in bash. Going through my little routine of tweaks, as well as scanning firewall exceptions, running services and installed programs, gets me acquainted with an unfamiliar machine, and often reveals issues such as spyware etc. Being unable to change certain settings while logged in with admin privileges is a sure sign something's wrong.

    Finally, you need to consider the user when deciding how many of the tweaks to leave intact when you're finished, and which to return to the default.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @02:28PM (#38336564) Homepage

    The author gets to the third sentence of the third paragraph before there's a sentence that doesn't contain "I" or "me". This is not an article from someone who is a user interface expert, or has analyzed help desk call data or videos of people trying user interfaces. It's just some loudmouth.

    Currently, there are two frontiers in user interface design - the small touchscreen, and 3D applications. Phones are tough - the screen is dinky, fingers are blunt pointers, and users don't even have a manual. Given those limitations, the phone people have done surprisingly well.

    Animation and engineering design applications face the problem of manipulating something with thousands to millions of manipulable properties. It took a long time to get that up to a tolerable level. The classic approach is seen in Blender - three or four views and a list of control keys that takes 19 pages to print. The modern approach is seen in Autodesk Inventor - one 3D view with very good mouse-driven manipulation tools. Neither UI is intuitive, although with Inventor the help system is good enough that you can muddle your way through.

  • by DragonHawk ( 21256 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @03:53PM (#38337162) Homepage Journal

    From a classic Usenet "Computing Dictionary":

    Easy to learn: Hard to use.

    Easy to use: Hard to learn.

    Easy to learn and use: Won't do what you want it to.

    I'd call it a joke, but it's really rather apt. In most cases, there are trade-offs involved in UI designs. Make something flexible and powerful -- letting people do more -- and you necessarily make it more complicated, and harder to use. The more obvious and straight-forward you make a UI, the less you can pack into it.

    Designing things that fit multiple user experience levels, and which transition cleanly, is hard.

    This is one of the things I think the classic pull-down menu + toolbar paradigm does well. Sort things into categories, so like items are grouped. The accelerator keys for each menu item are highlighted, so as an intermediate step, you can remember (V)iew, (Z)oom, Whole (P)age. And shortcut keys are also displayed, so very frequently used commands give one the opportunity to remember something like [CTRL]+[0]. With icons next to the menu commands, you have an alternative shortcut for the mouse visually or mouse inclined.

    Sadly, some people campaign actively against this kind of design, which facilities both novice and expert users. One complaint I read is that a Product Manager at Microsoft didn't like the underlined letters, saying novice users don't understand why letters are randomly underlined. While true, it also didn't really hurt them any. Meanwhile, removing the underlined letters prevents people who wish to do better from inquiring and improving themselves.

    An advantage to GUIs is it lets those so inclined explore functionality. Hiding things removes that advantage. That's a loss.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @04:07PM (#38337246)

    If Apple sold dogshit on a stick, you'd say: "Mac users overwhelmingly appreciate that this way is better."

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @05:43PM (#38337920)

    The other problem I see is this constant striving to make digital metaphors for physical objects. For instance, from the article summary: "The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book." For someone who's 80 years old, sure, metaphors to these things might make use of a computer easier since they can compare to things they're already used to. For someone 30 or under, however, it's dumb: how many people under the age of 40 have a paper address book? I haven't had one of those in ages, and I'm sure younger people have never had one and wouldn't know what to do with one, since they keep all that information on their phones now. A leather desk calendar? WTF is this, 1890? Do they even make those things any more? And even physical bookshelves are rapidly disappearing thanks to ebooks and simply looking everything up on the internet.

    What are they going to do next, replace the print queue manager icons, so instead of a picture of a laser printer, when you print a document it shows you a fancy (and slow) animation of a Gutenberg printing press?

  • by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:04PM (#38338056) Homepage

    Because a major reason why Windows-only products are still in use is a "long tail" of features that are of marginal use overall but every user believes that at least one of such features is absolutely critical for his purposes. Reproducing those features to placate everyone is a massive pain in the neck, and objectively most of them are worthless, but they are effective at keeping users on an inferior, obsolete platform because software developed for it has some continuity in implementing those things.

  • by ILongForDarkness ( 1134931 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:20PM (#38338142)
    True though relying on old things isn't exactly something that the *nix world can claim they don't do either. After all a large part of linux "innovation" has been the copying of the features of UNIX from back in the 1970's. Sure there are new schedulers etc but ultimately the structure of the OS has stayed pretty consistent over time. MS is going to blow away a lot of their old framework with Metro in Win 8 (and the WinRT vs MFC replacement). Anyways things like apps not being able to write ad hoc to the harddrive is going to make things "interesting" to say the least. I guess give it 5 years and if people are still choicing to port things over to the new run time rather than to Mac or Linux than there will likely be proof that it isn't "old incompatiblities" that is keeping users.
  • by Galestar ( 1473827 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:34PM (#38338228) Homepage

    Hopefully Linux will continue to be Team Discovery Channel.

    requiring 20 manual edits to conf files and 3 commands with 15 switches, all just to install something is not exactly what I'd call "good user interface design" either.

  • by oursland ( 1898514 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:40PM (#38338928)
    If we're busy discussing how horrible software used to be, let's not forget how much a pain in the ass it was to install and use DOS software with all those switches (seriously, I have to specify IO port and IRQ to the audio devices?!) or DLL hell brought on by Windows. Or, you know, you could talk about software as it currently exists. You don't have to manually edit conf files and install things on the command line with modern distributions these days.
  • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Monday December 12, 2011 @12:54AM (#38340288)

    I can honestly say that I personally despise the Ribbon menu. Everything is moved, and nothing is obvious. It feels like every other MS menu change: a reason to have a new training class and certification test for "learning" what you already new, just in a new layout that makes little sense in comparison to the "old" one. Regarding ribbon, there's crap on the main "menu" that I never use, and stuff I do is buried. Fortunately, for me, MS Office products are an ever lower frequency used item, to the point I pretty much can ignore the entire toolset of late. I only need it occasionally when an alternative doesn't work, but even then it's painful.

  • by Galestar ( 1473827 ) on Monday December 12, 2011 @01:39AM (#38340496) Homepage

    Users were never supposed to be allowed to 'install' anything, though.

    Great attitude. "we make things hard to do so that noone can do them."

    And if you're having a hard time editing a string in a text file

    This comment is just ignorant. Having to figure out what goes in that text file for my given distro/config is the pain in the ass.

    That said, you're grossly over-exagerating. You're not just stalling "something" you're either installing something incorrectly, or something esoteric not in repositories.

    Even the most *esoteric* of Windows/Mac programs contain installers and a GUI for configuration. A large number Linux programs do not having these things, and it is ignorant attitudes like yours that make this absence of configuration tools so common.

  • by drsmithy ( 35869 ) <> on Monday December 12, 2011 @04:00AM (#38340978)

    6 monitors? That is a totally non standard configuration of course things don't work well. OSX was never designed to support that kind of setup.

    The problem exists whenever the monitor count is greater than one. To suggest multi-monitor scenarios weren't considered when OS X's UI was being built would beggar belief.

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -- Thomas Edison