Open-Source Users Revolt Over OpenOffice.Org Ribbon-Esque UI

The open-source faithful are lambasting a proposed overhaul of OpenOffice.org's user interface, with critics saying it would "ape" Microsoft Office's controversial Ribbon layout.

By Eric Lai
Mon, August 10, 2009

Computerworld — The open-source faithful are lambasting a proposed overhaul of OpenOffice.org's user interface, with critics saying it would "ape" Microsoft Office's controversial Ribbon layout.

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Design of the new UI has been going on for the past nine months, led by OpenOffice.org's main contributor, Sun Microsystems Inc.

According to an update by Sun in July (download presentation), the still-rough overhaul aims to "create a user interface so that OpenOffice.org becomes the users' choice not only out of need but also out of desire."

Judging by the vast majority of the 500-odd comments at Sun's blog last week, the new UI caused many to recoil at its strong association with Microsoft.

"This would be a killer feature for not using OpenOffice.org.... Don't implement this," wrote 'e7'.

"The Office ribbon sucks. Please don't copy it," wrote Robert Hicks.

"This is the definite evidence that either there's no God, or that he hates us," tweeted another user.

Not all commentators shared the negativity. Said "sRC," "I like where this is going.... 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 than a standard interface."

Similarities abound

OpenOffice.org has long consciously emulated Microsoft Office, from the features and apps it offers to the interface, with drop-down menus and even the same keyboard shortcuts. That's designed to shorten the learning curve for users moving from Office to the free open-source productivity suite.

With Office 2007, Microsoft switched to an XML-based document format and re-invented its user interface to better expose Office's deep well of features.

That has attracted much criticism from users complaining about having to relearn commands they've used for decades to those who say its chunkiness eats up too much horizontal real estate on today's predominantly wide-screen monitors. Others are looking for a chance "to rag on Microsoft," said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc.

The backlash is so strong that several companies have released tools enabling Office 2007 users to go back to their beloved drop-down menus.

Microsoft, on the other hand, says the Ribbon is so popular that it is using it for some of Windows 7's built-in apps such as WordPad and Paint, though not for Windows 7's interface itself.

OpenOffice.org eyed 145 mock-ups

OpenOffice.org faced the same dilemma as Microsoft Office in exposing its many features.

In the last six months, OpenOffice.org evaluated more than 17 proposals with 145 design mock-ups, according to John McCreesh, marketing head for OpenOffice.org. Besides the toolbar redesign, OpenOffice.org is thinking of adding live previews, more dragging-and-dropping and a 3D view.

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