In computing, a ribbon is a portion of a graphical user interface consisting of a horizontal row of icons, typically user-configurable . In more recent usage, it particularly describes a set of toolbars are placed on tabs in a tab bar. For example, Microsoft and Autodesk software released since 2007 have popularized a form of modular ribbon as their main interface, where large toolbars filled with graphical button and other controls are grouped by functionality. Ribbons use tabs to expose different sets of controls, eliminating the need for many parallel tool bars. Contextual tabs are tabs that appear only when user needs them. For instance, in a word processor, an image-related tab may appear when the user selects an image in a document, allowing the user to interact with that image.
The name ribbon was most recently popularized by Microsoft in Microsoft Office 2007, although similar layouts of controls had existed in previous software from other vendors. The considerable redesign of the Office user interface caused a backlash and a rejection from some users of previous versions of Microsoft products, as well as from developers because of concerns about copyright and patents.
Microsoft software 
Microsoft touted the ribbon as "the modern way to help users find, understand, and use commands efficiently and directly—with a minimum number of clicks, with less need to resort to trial-and-error, and without having to refer to Help.” Microsoft originally implemented ribbons as part of its "Fluent User Interface" in Office 2007. The ribbon is formed as a fixed-size panel that houses certain command buttons and icons; it organizes commands as a set of tabs, each grouping relevant commands. The name ribbon originated from an early design idea by which commands were placed on a long pane, that could be rolled like a medieval scroll; the name was retained after the scrolling mechanism was replaced by tabs.
Each application has a different set of tabs which house the options for that specific application. Within each tab, various related options may be grouped together. The Ribbon can be minimized by double clicking the active tab. The ribbon consolidates the functionality previously found in menus, toolbars and many task panes into one area.
In Microsoft Office 2007 ribbon interfaces were limited to the main Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint applications, expanding to all Office applications in their 2010 versions.
Ribbon GUIs have also begun to be implemented in other Microsoft software such as Windows, SQL Server Report Builder and Dynamics CRM 2011. The Windows 7 applications Paint and WordPad now feature ribbon-based UI, as with some Windows Live Essentials applications such as Windows Live Mail, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Live Movie Maker and Windows Live Writer, as well as in the Windows 8 Explorer. Ribbons are also used in Microsoft Mathematics 4.0 and Microsoft WebMatrix.
Other software developers 
Since the introduction of ribbons in Microsoft Office 2007, there has been an uptake of this type of interface in applications created by other developers, especially those creating tools for Microsoft related products. The Nielsen Norman Group published some examples in a 2008 GUI showcase report. With the release of Windows 7 (and the Windows Vista platform update), built-in ribbon framework APIs were introduced to allow developers to integrate a ribbon toolbar into their applications.
In June 2008 Red Flag Software released RedOffice 4.0 beta, a Chinese fork of OpenOffice.org including a new user interface sharing many design ideas of Microsoft Office 2007's Ribbon. In November 2008 Sun Microsystems started the project Renaissance to improve the user interface of OpenOffice.org. So far the prototypes of the project are frequently seen as similar to ribbons, but this has resulted in some criticism from users.
Prior to the introduction of ribbons in Office 2007, the user interface for its Office suites had barely changed since the introduction of Office 97 on November 19, 1996. (Office 2000 and Office 2003 released relatively minor upgrades compared to Office 97, which itself was considered to be something of a milestone compared to the Office 95).
Because of this, users became accustomed to this style of interface, as was common on many productivity products at the time. When Microsoft implemented ribbons, it was met with mixed reactions. Redmondmag.com reported that power users feel the ribbons take "too much time and patience to learn." Richard Ericson from Computerworld noted that experienced users might find difficulties adapting to the new interface, and that some tasks take more key-presses or clicks to activate. Though the ribbon can be hidden by double-clicking on the open tab, PC World wrote that the ribbons crowds the Office work area, especially for notebook users; the customization options available in the original version didn't allow users to rearrange or remove the predefined commands, although it can be minimized. Others have called its large icons distracting. An online survey conducted by ExcelUser reports that a majority of respondents had a negative opinion of the change, with advanced users being "somewhat more negative" than intermediate users; the self-estimated reduction in productivity was an average of about 20%, and "about 35%" for people with a negative opinion.
A reason behind the negative reaction is Microsoft's decision to abandon backward-compatibility with previous versions and remove the traditional menu system, rather than leaving it as an option that could be activated if needed. Users of previous versions had to relearn the user interface in order to accomplish what they already knew how to do, and some configuration options were eliminated. The decision to abolish menus has been likened to the Coca-Cola company's infamous New Coke campaign in its abandonment of the existing user base. Microsoft Office 2011 for the Macintosh, while employing the ribbon, also retains the menu system in the Mac menu bar.
Other users claim that once the new interface is learned, the average user can create "professional-looking documents faster". One study reported fairly good acceptance by users except highly experienced users and users of word processing applications with a classical WIMP interface, but was less convinced in terms of efficiency and organisation. Microsoft has released a series of small programs, help sheets, videos and add-ins to help users learn the new interface more quickly, and the Office 2010 version allows users to configure the Ribbon tabs and commands.
Mike Gunderloy, a former Microsoft contractor, left the company and ceased using its software partially over his disagreement with the company's "sweeping land grab" including its attempt to patent the ribbon. He refused to "contribut[e] to the eventual death of programming." He states: "Microsoft itself represents a grave threat to the future of software development through its increasing inclination to stifle competition through legal shenanigans." Proponents of free software, such as KDE developer Jarosław Staniek have expressed beliefs that the patent cannot be acquired due to the ambiguity of prior art. As no patent has been acquired yet[update], they assert that anyone who has not signed the license can legally implement the concept in their applications without having to conform to Microsoft's requirements. Staniek notes that the ribbon concept has historically appeared extensively as "tabbed toolbars" in applications such as Sausage Software's HotDog, Macromedia HomeSite, Dreamweaver and Borland Delphi. Lotus developed early ribbon UIs for its product eSuite. Screen shots are still available in an IBM redbook about eSuite (page 109ff).
See also 
- Illingworth, V. (ed.) (1996). Oxford dictionary of computing. 4ed.
- Richard Ericson (November 6, 2006). "Final Review: The Lowdown on Office 2007". Computerworld.
- Office Fluent User Interface
- Jensen Harris. "Why is it called the Ribbon?". MSDN.
- "Microsoft: Use the Ribbon". Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- The Microsoft Office Fluent user interface overview. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
- Paul Thurrot (2009-07-13). "Office 2010 sports improved ribbon across all apps, servers, services". Winsupersite.com.
- Ray Barley (2009-02-18). "Introduction to SQL Server 2008 Report Builder 2.0".
- "Ahead of PDC, Microsoft Begins Internal Test of Windows 7". Paul Thurrott. 2008-09-14. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- Windows Live Wave 4: Mail, Photo Gallery, Writer go ribbon
- "Application Design Showcase: 10 Best App UIs". Nielsen Norman Group.
- "Microsoft to Backport Windows 7 'ribbon' Interface to Vista". PC World. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- "RedOffice 4.0 Beta Updates OpenOffice UI". Slashdot.
- Eva, Johannes (June 2008). "RedOffice 4.0 Beta – A great new UI?". Retrieved November 22, 2012.
- Eric Lai (April 11, 2009). Open-source users revolt over OpenOffice.org ribbon-esque UI. Computerworld.
- “For one thing, Word 2007 uses the entirely new ribbon interface. … ‘People will get used to the new interface, but at major efforts in time, training and cost,' says [a] director of systems … When it came time to move [a user] from 2003 to 2007… ‘I might as well of hit her over the head with a bat,’ he says. ‘I could see anger and frustration.’” Power users said it "takes too much time and patience to learn" the new interface. Word 2007: Not Exactly a Must-Have
- Lasky, Michael. "Office Beta: Good Looks, Tricky Formats" PC World (August 2006), p. 24
- "Can I customize the Ribbon?".
- Mendelson, Edward. "MS Office Edges Closer", PC Magazine, Vol. 25, Issue 12 (July 2006) p. 48
- "Ribbon survey results". Among experienced users, nearly 80% "dislike" or "hate' the new interface, only 20% "like" or "love" it.
- Office 2007: First Look. Dale Franks. .
- Dave Schuler. Is Office the New Coke?
- See e.g. Microsoft's screenshots for Word for Mac 2011
- "'Other readers feel it's worth taking the time to learn the new interface. Once you do, they say, it actually makes creating professional-looking documents much easier for the average user.'" Word 2007: Not Exactly a Must-Have
- "Dostál, M. User Acceptance of the Microsoft Ribbon User Interface"., In: ADVANCES in DATA NETWORKS, COMMUNICATIONS, COMPUTERS, pp 143-149, WSEAS Press, 2010. ISBN 978-960-474-245-5
- "Office Labs: Search Commands". Officelabs.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- "Guides to the Ribbon: Use Office 2003 menus to learn the Office 2007 user interface - Training - Office.com". Office.microsoft.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- "The Microsoft Office Fluent user interface video - Support - Office.com". Office.microsoft.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Word2007GetStartedTabSetup.msi (2007-02-21). "Download Word 2007 Add-in: Get Started Tab for Word 2007 from Official Microsoft Download Center". Microsoft.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Susan Harkins. "Five tips for customizing the Office 2010 Ribbon". TechRepublic.
- For example, US application US20060036965, Harris; Butcher & Morton et al., "Command user interface for displaying selectable software functionality controls", published February 16, 2006
- Veteran developer ditches Microsoft for open source, Mike Gunderloy
- Mike - What's Going On Here? at the Wayback Machine (archived September 11, 2007)
- Papadimoulis, Alex (2006-09-12). "Mike Gunderloy on Access Perfection". The Daily WTF. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Jarosław Staniek (November 13, 2005). "KDE to sue MS over Ribbon GUI?". kdedevelopers.org. Retrieved September 11, 2007.
- Mike Weller (November 22, 2006). "Office 2007 UI License". Slashdot. Retrieved February 1, 2007.
- "Genii Software | BlogNew". Geniisoft.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Jensen Harris (2005–2008). "An Office User Interface Blog". Microsoft Developer Network. Retrieved March 25, 2010. – Extensive discussion of the UI design by Microsoft's Group Program Manager of the Office 2007 User Experience team.
- "MIX08 Microsoft Office 2007: The Story of the Ribbon". Microsoft MIX 08. 2008. Retrieved June 17, 2010. - Prototype sketches and design process.