Microsoft is licensing the new user interface (UI) in Office 2007 for free so developers can build applications that look similar to the programs in the suite, the company said Tuesday.Microsoft is licensing both design and functionality of Office 2007\u2019s RibbonX UI, as well as offering guidelines for implementing it, through a new program, said Takeshi Numoto, Microsoft general manager for Office Client. Developers and independent software vendors (ISVs) can sign up with Microsoft on the Web and register products that will use the UI.More information about the new licensing program can be found here.Microsoft said it decided to launch the licensing program after being approached by ISV partners that wanted to build applications using Office 2007 as a platform.The RibbonX UI is a completely new interface for Office 2007 that is designed to make common Office features easier to use.According to Numoto, the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars revamping Office 2007\u2019s UI; indeed, it is the suite\u2019s most significant new feature. The company wants "qualified developers" to be able to use these investments, but it also wants to protect its proprietary investment from unauthorized use."The new licensing program enables developers and ISVs to benefit legally from Microsoft\u2019s innovation by using the UI for their own applications," he said. Andrew Brust, chief of new technology for New York consulting firm twentysix New York, said a new formal program for licensing RibbonX makes a lot of sense because the UI is "the result of a significant investment by Microsoft in usability research and UI development," and Microsoft naturally wants to protect that. By Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service (New York Bureau)Related Links:\n\nDitch Microsoft Office? An Intriguing New Alternative\n\nMicrosoft, Novell Team in Linux Deal\n\nFive Things You Should Know About the Microsoft\/Novell DealCheck out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.