Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Windows Explorer

Above, a partial screenshot from the Microsoft blog Building Windows 8, showing purported improvements to Windows Explorer. Some computer users might find the above display appealing, in the manner of a well-stocked kitchen. I’m reminded though of my first reaction to Microsoft Office 2007: looking at screenshots made me decide that I wanted nothing to do with the new Word, and I soon switched to Macs at work and at home. Right now I can imagine a Windows user looking at the future of Windows Explorer and thinking about making the same switch.

The Office-style ribbon of the new Explorer seems a spectacularly counter-intuitive design choice: Microsoft’s data shows that users access 86.7% of commands in Explorer by means of context menus and keyboard shortcuts. In other words, users do almost everything with right-clicks and the keyboard. So why fill screen space with a ribbon? Here is the Building Windows 8 explanation:
With greater than 85% of command usage being invoked using a method other than the primary UI, there was clearly an opportunity to improve the Explorer user experience to make it more effective — more visible and uniformly accessible.
The reasoning here isn’t persuasive. If you can make dinner with most of your kitchen tools in cabinets and drawers, there’s no need to set those tools out on the table before you begin making dinner.

A related post
Word 2007 (Word-processing and its discontents)

comments: 4

Anonymous said...

Professor, I mean no offense, of course, but you just plain don't get it.

Here's a video on the origin, why and how, of the ribbon. It won't change your mind ("confirms what I'd already decided") but maybe it'll help you know what you're writing about next time. (total time about 100 minutes)

Of course "Microsoft’s data shows that users access 86.7% of commands in Explorer by means of context menus and keyboard shortcuts." Explorer does not yet have a ribbon!

By the way, the ribbon does NOT fill the screen!! My Word 2007 window is simpler, plainer, than the example you show in your 2007 post ever could be.

Using your metaphor, think of the ribbon as a closed kitchen drawer. A few often-used tools are on the quick launch table, you need a tool not on the table, you momentarily open the ribbon drawer, get that tool, and then shut the drawer. Actually, the drawer will shut automatically unless you want it to stay open.

You prefer Macs, fine, no problem, no issue. But, to repeat, you just don't get it about the ribbon and your thinking and reasoning, particularly without first-hand use of the ribbon, just don't seem up to college professor standard.

Please understand this is not personal and I mean no offense.

CP/M to Wordstar, to WordPerfect, to Word, to Word with Ribbon--Change ain't always comfortable.

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., we don’t need to see eye to eye on the quality of this interface. As I mentioned in my post, some users might find it appealing. To my eyes, it’s hideous. That is all I know on earth and all I need to know, to paraphrase Keats. If it looks hideous to me, no explanation will redeem it. OS X Daily has some Mac v. WIndows 8 screenshots for comparison. To my eyes, OS X is beautiful, and Windows is ugly.

My point about the 86.7% figure is that Explorer users seem to be getting along very well without a ribbon. The ribbon doesn’t fill the entire screen. But it fills a significant chunk of the screen. I’ve revised the sentence accordingly.

Yes, change isn’t always comfortable. My first keyboard experience was with an IBM Displaywriter in 1984. I’ve used an Apple //c, an IBM DOS machine, Windows 98, ME, XP, Ubuntu, and OS X. My current Windows use is limited to classroom computers (Vista and 7). When I have to use Word, the first thing I do is remove the ribbon. (It sounds like you turn the ribbon off too.) Outside of classrooms, I’m very happy using a Mac. That change I found very easy and rewarding.

plntxt said...

Your Ribbon UI kitchen drawer metaphor has been kicking around in my head for a few days and on the surface makes a lot of sense.

Then I read this (admittedly pro-windows) article comparing iPhoto to Live Photo in which I discovered that you can keep the Ribbon closed and access it only when you want. (examples)

To extend your metaphor, the closed Ribbon is a drawer that is very well organized when opened. The menu on a Mac is more like a junk drawer with all the tools crammed in where ever they seem to fit.

Perhaps MicroSoft would be wise to keep the Ribbon closed by default.

In regards to "all [you] know on earth and all [you] need to know", I couldn't agree more. I tried make the jump to Mac, but after the advancements in Windows 7, OSX feels kludgy, and even a bit outdated.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, NTH. I mentioned in my post that I close the ribbon when I have to use Word. I’d agree that keeping the Explorer ribbon closed by default is a good idea, but it seems to me odd that Microsoft is touting a new design element and users are already wanting to remove from the screen.

Those Excel screenshots look just great, ribbon or no ribbon. :)