OpenOffice.org: It’s a little too late for April Fool’s jokes, don’t you think?

Okay, so I ran across this (via Slashdot) yesterday and I was, well, shocked to say the least.

That’s right. The developers of the beloved OpenOffice.org office suite are giving serious development time to the despised and reviled ribbon interface of Microsoft Office 2007.

I swear, with the idiots over at Mozilla contemplating copying IE7 for the next version of Firefox and now the idiots at OpenOffice.org actually copying Microsoft’s failed attempt at a UI redesign in Office 2007, I’m positively baffled here. WHY on earth would anyone WANT to copy failure? Why would they want to ELIMINATE one of the biggest advantages they have over the steaming pile called Microsoft Office 2007? Why?

Let me make one thing clear here. I am not posting this to foster a debate on the merits or disadvantages of the ribbon interface, nor am I doing this to bash Microsoft, or anyone who likes them, or inexplicably likes their retarded ribbon interface that was designed for use by those with severe brain damage.

I am posting this for one primary purpose. To tell the developers of OpenOffice.org TO STOP DOING THAT.

That’s right, guys. You heard me. STOP. Take whatever you have developed of a ribbon interface for ANY AND ALL OpenOffice.org applications, and DELETE IT.

Remember, back when Microsoft Office 2007 came out, there was a sudden surge of downloads of OpenOffice.org? That was because of the godawful interface Microsoft thrust upon its users, and it was a direct response to me (and IT people like me) directing lamenting users to OpenOffice.org to download a GOOD office productivity software suite, with a GOOD interface.

People started using OO.o more because it was a sane alternative to Microsoft going off the deep end.

Please, please, PLEASE do not remove that incentive by copying what could possibly be one of Microsoft’s biggest design faults ever. If you’re looking at this as a “missing feature” or some such nonsense, let me remind you again. The fact that OpenOffice.org has been “missing” this “feature” IS A GOOD THING.

I’m saying this not only as an advocate of Free and Open Source Software — because I think this is a massive mistake that will negatively affect that movement — but as a USER of said software.

At the point OpenOffice.org has the ribbon UI as the default, I will cease directing people to download your product. Period. I will instead be directing people to MY OWN SITE, where I will host, in perpetuity, installers for the last version that has the correct interface for OpenOffice.org, and having them install that. Because at that point, OpenOffice.org’s newer product will have become dead to me.

I know I’m not alone in this. So please. We’re begging you. Stop development on this stupid ribbon UI. If you really feel like doing lots of sweeping code writing, maybe you should instead focus on fixing some of the bugs. Okay?

Okay.

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23 thoughts on “OpenOffice.org: It’s a little too late for April Fool’s jokes, don’t you think?

  1. Just a word here. No blatant trolls in my comments, please. If you’re going to troll my blog, at least be subtle enough that I don’t notice that you’re trolling right off the bat.

    Thanks!

  2. I totally agree, they need a proper GTK or Qt interface or to fix blatant issues with GUI they are currently using at the moment.

  3. Pingback: Jon Robbins (jamba) 's status on Friday, 07-Aug-09 02:18:01 UTC - Identi.ca
    • Honestly, I really don’t care that much as long as it is not the inflexible, hard-to-use, ugly space-waster that it looks like in that prototype screenshot.

      I’d actually be okay with ribbons if a few things could be guaranteed. Namely, they need to be flexible in many ways. The user should have the ability to make the big buttons smaller, like icons, and be able to remove superfluous tabs, and be able to add and remove buttons to the ribbon in multiple rows if necessary.

      I guess, in short, be able to do with the interface exactly what can be done with the current interface. The “look” is getting old? That’s a matter for widget sets and theming more than anything.

      But throwing a wrench into the biggest selling feature for folks dissatisfied with Microsoft Office’s last trainwreck? It’s not worth it.

  4. I don’t really use office, but everybody I know that’s gotten used to the ribbon interface has admitted that it’s generally quicker to navigate, so I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it. That said, if the devs do go forth with this, I really hope they keep the current interface as an option – no need to repeat all of Microsoft’s mistakes when we rip off their designs XD

    If I had to guess, I’d say they’re trying to avoid seeming “old-fashioned” to people that are trying OO.o out for the first time. If somebody switches to OO.o and their first thought is, “this just feels like an old version of Office”, then they’ve probably lost a user. :(

    • I guess it all matters what the tone is when they think that. Most people to whom I’ve introduced OpenOffice.org — particularly after getting stuck with MS Office 2007 where they work — emote that a bit differently than you’re implying. They smile and say “OH! This just feels like an old version of Office!” and thank me.

      Nothing “old fashioned” about an interface that people don’t struggle with to do basic day-to-day things. Just because an interface needs a facelift doesn’t mean that it needs to be different just for the sake of being different.

      My rule number one when reviewing a new version of any application: THOU SHALT NOT FIX WHAT IS NOT BROKEN.

      Break that rule and you lose me as a user for certain.

  5. eventually those users will die off as new versions with the interface come through. that protyotype was just that a prototype done in Java (thats why the ugly AWT).

    But the proof of concept is that indeed there would be a lot of space wasted with big buttons. The vertical bar is what most people are coming around now. Koffice use this design as well and applications like Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Inkscape and Gimp use it as well.

    Most of the proposals really go around Impress which the toolbar is pretty useless for the most part of the presentation.

    But if you really look at the prototype it looks more like blender than MSO. I havent use the ribbons enough to judge how different is, but most people said that they cant find what they want and thats the big issue.

    Tabbed toolbar is again another idea and would be interesting to see this played out in OOo, but key is that there need to be tabs with text labels. Similar to BlueFish.

    http://bluefish.openoffice.nl/movies/working_with_projects.html

    • In re: how bluefish is arranged, I’d be fine with that, again, as long as it was flexible. Namely, I’d want to be able to put multiple rows of buttons on one tab, and get rid of the tabs I don’t need, and be able to put whatever buttons I want wherever.

      My point is, I really only need about a row-and-a-half of buttons, but I don’t want to have to dig through 5 different tabs to find each one of them. There’s really nothing wrong with being able to get to everything one needs all in the same place… I’ve never understood the appeal of wanting users to search through several different places for the button they need (when in the current interface you can put whatever you want wherever you want it).

      That just complicates the user experience, it never simplifies it.

  6. I think you allow to much to yourself. Listening to you all other people are “idiots” and you are the smartest man. You really believe this?

    First, there are differences between prototype developed for OOo and ribbon? And second. Who has told you that ribbon has failed??? Maybe you know that ribbon is used all over Windows 7 and not just for office. Or maybe again, the problem is that all other people except of you are “idiots”.

    • Listening to you all other people are “idiots” and you are the smartest man. You really believe this?

      I never said “all other people”. Just the Mozilla developers who think that copying IE7′s interface for Firefox is a good idea, and just the OpenOffice.org developers who think that a ribbon interface for OO.o is a good idea. And yes, I do really believe this. :)

      First, there are differences between prototype developed for OOo and ribbon?

      You lost me there. The prototype at the GullFOSS site had a ribbon interface. If you mean that there are differences between that and Microsoft’s ribbon, you’re right. Cosmetic ones. Functionally, however, they’re the same in one respect: they’re both a pain in the ass to use.

      And second. Who has told you that ribbon has failed???

      Nobody told me. I have used it. As an interface for Microsoft Office 2007, it is significantly less useful, less flexible, and harder to use than previous interfaces. So it fails where other interfaces have succeeded. Pretty simple logic, really.

      Maybe you know that ribbon is used all over Windows 7 and not just for office.

      Then Windows 7′s interface will fail too. That’s their choice, I suppose. I don’t have to use it. But just because MS has decided to use it doesn’t mean it doesn’t fail. It just means they’re not paying attention to the users who don’t find it useful. Sometimes that’s a really, really bad idea. In their case, like in OO.o’s case, I think it’s a case of developer arrogance and willful ignorance.

      Or maybe again, the problem is that all other people except of you are “idiots”.

      Exactly! :P

  7. I’m all for making the openoffice suite easier and more importantly quicker to use. Microsoft did it with 2007, and I’m sad that OpenOffice has been hanging back.

    There are people who are obsessed with keeping things as they are (I’ve had a share of those…. (not wanting to move to Linux from Windows and from MS Office to OOo e.g.)); but they shouldn’t dictate what we do. Then we’re forever stagnant and can’t improve on what’s there.

    So I’m all very much for OOo doing this. It’s a breath of fresh air, we need it. We need to look and see: what can be done better? Can we make people use less time making their documents? Can we make a more effective office suite?

    Those are good things. It breaks my heart seeing how so many of my coworkers use tremendous amout of time on bullshit/struggling with the making the page. I don’t use office suite, of course, but better suited tools like plain text and LaTeX. :-)

    • Oh I agree completely! That’s why I’m against the ribbon interface. After wasting so many hours fighting with it for about 6 months when I had to use Office 2007 where I used to work, I finally gave up on it entirely and did all my Office work on a different terminal server where we still had MS Office 2003 installed.

      Using less time making documents is an important factor to me, which is why I am so vehemently opposed to an interface that is so counterintuitive, awkward, and time consuming to use for even basic tasks. Microsoft’s ribbon in Word and Excel, for example, omitted basic things that I like to have as buttons on my toolbar, and scattered things I like to have easily accessible across several different tabs, and not always consistently from app to app.

      Enough is enough. If that’s how ribbons get implemented in office suites, I want nothing to do with them. Because the thing is, if they’re implemented in a way that lets me have all of my buttons on one tab, in multiple rows, and lets me pick and choose what goes where, what I end up with is what we already have that works absolutely fine… so what would be the point of a radically new interface?

  8. “Using less time making documents is an important factor to me, which is why I am so vehemently opposed to an interface that is so counterintuitive, awkward, and time consuming to use for even basic tasks.”

    So I want to be sure if you are saying that you are opposed to ANY interface different to what you had in the past or to MS ribbons.

    Again, we are not copying MS ribbons and we already have a laundry list of issues we want to avoid that ribbons did.

    • “So I want to be sure if you are saying that you are opposed to ANY interface different to what you had in the past or to MS ribbons.”

      To be clear, despite how wonderfully flexible the current OO.o interface is now, I only make three minor changes to Writer, just as one example. I add a “save as” button, a “close” button, and an “insert page break” button to it. That’s it. I don’t move anything around, I don’t add anything else.

      I don’t need to. Everything I need is immediately available already, only one click away.

      I am opposed to any interface that adds clicks (and therefore complexity) to that process, particularly if it doesn’t keep the level of flexibility required for me to force it BACK to the way it currently is — which works wonderfully!

      So yes, that means I’m opposed to any kind of emulation of MS’s ribbon interface, but I’m ALSO opposed to even BlueFish’s methodology, because it ALSO scatters basic tools among separate tabs and therefore adds complexity to (what should be) simple operations.

      This isn’t a “resistance to change”; this is an outcry about “fixing what is not broken”.

      The current interface for most OO.o applications is wonderful, near perfect. Completely deconstructing that with the idea in mind of just “innovation” makes me angry, mostly because I simply don’t see how that can be done without making it worse in many ways.

      AT BEST, I can see this doing basically what it can already do (i.e., if a sweeping interface change is done that is flexible enough for me to put it back the way it should be).

      However, I suspect that it won’t be flexible enough for that. So since I don’t have an expectation of something that at least meets my current expectations, I’m opposed to monkeying with it AT ALL… because the end result can only be worse.

      Changing something to “innovate” doesn’t really matter if the end result isn’t something I want/need/use. What you end up then with is a great, innovative, “new” product that I simply won’t use, and I know I’m not alone in that.

      “Again, we are not copying MS ribbons and we already have a laundry list of issues we want to avoid that ribbons did.”

      Great, glad to hear it!

      Again though, if implementing this involves scattering tools to separate tabs (and therefore adding complexity to tasks I can currently do in only one click) and not making it flexible enough to bring that functionality back to where I expect it to be, then I’m opposed to it.

      And I simply don’t understand how that could be done with a “ribbon” interface of any kind.

      EDIT: Unless something could be done like what this person who commented on the Gullfoss site mocked up: AllInOne tab

    • Yes! I’d would be begrudgingly okay with that, somewhat along these lines: AllInOne tab

      Basically giving the user the ability to cobble together a sane interface, piece by piece, if they don’t like wasting a lot of time sifting through different tabs for tools they’re used to having all in one place.

  9. What made MS products big was that they kept trying the same product again and again polishing it time after time, and not making any radical changes nor fooling people’s expectations.

    At the time competitors kept doing stupid things like making drastic changes on the interface, and not fixing blatant problems.

    Now Microsoft is the one making those changes out of necessity, forcing a radical change of interfaces.

    This way they have Office a polished product (OO.org is not there yet) a nice albeit wrong interface, and the legitimate to call OO.org a clumsy copycat.

    One of the reasons MS is making the ribbon a standard is because they try to capitalize on the fact that people is lazy and it is easy for many to remember where things are mechanically than to make some logic sense as to where options are.

    At the same time they have a genuine different looking product easily differentiable from the competitors.

    OO.org is falling on the bear trap with both feet, they should concentrate of adding those remaining bits of missing functionality from Office 2003 which is what most MS Office users use at work.

    If they want to beautify OO.org they should add skinning to the interface or go widget native once and for all.

    A ribbon like interface is a very bad thing, it forces you not to think, and we know how bad not thinking goes with computers.

    • “OO.org is falling on the bear trap with both feet, they should concentrate of adding those remaining bits of missing functionality from Office 2003 which is what most MS Office users use at work.”

      Exactly!

      For a while, after using MS Office 2007 for several excruciating months, I really gave some serious consideration to the paranoid thought that Microsoft had really only gone to this horrible interface as a trap for copycats, so that down the road they could bring back the old, user-friendly (Office 2003-style) interface and say “See, we here at Microsoft are sensitive to users’ needs! You spoke, we answered, and brought our original, innovative interface back by popular demand! Unlike those horrid open source copycats, who are never innovating, only copying our brilliant products, even down to our unfortunate, admittedly innocent interface design mistakes!”

      Because I still have a hard time believing that Microsoft actually thought that the ribbon interface was a good idea.

  10. My monitor, like most peoples’, is wider than tall. That makes vertical screen real estate a premium. Any interface that decreases my document work space automatically fails.

    The solutions to this problem:
    1. Be able to close/turn off/remove the toolbar entirely.
    2. Change it to become a vertical sidebar (as mentioned above).
    3. Make the toolbars resizeable, like font sizes.

    Ultimately, a fully widgeted, completely customizeable interface would be ideal. Emelfm2 http://emelfm2.net/wiki/ScreenShots has the right idea.

    This OO ribbon removes a lot of work space. So it fails me. I see the points for making the change. It makes it easier for MSO07 users to switch over. The OO team seems “with it” and “hip” as compared to “stagnant” and “working on more important shit.” It’s an attempt at making the UI more intuitive.

    Personally, I don’t use the toolbars much, so a better interface might actually get me using them more. But honestly, I don’t really care and I don’t need that. What I do use are keyboard shortcut commands, so I’d really like to see more of those assigned to functions as well as the ability to customize all of them. Every damn video game has this; it’s not complicated; why don’t the OO guys finish the job they started and give complete control to the user?

    Before a makeover to something I can’t change, I’d really like to see widgets implemented. Emelfm2 is unbelievable in that regard. OO should take a page out of their book. Full customization = every user gets what they want.

    And here’s a suggestion. Practically every app has a large amount of wasted space on the menubar. How about letting me put the toolbar up on the right side after the Help menu?

  11. Why do free software devs copy microsoft all the time? Doesn’t the community have any original ideas of their own? C’mon guys and gals, i know you do, put some original thought into it.

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