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InfoQ Homepage News Chris Bryant on the Ribbon Interface

Chris Bryant on the Ribbon Interface

Back in November we reported on the usage restrictions for the Ribbon, new UI design used in Office 2007. Since then we have been able to catch up with Chris Bryant, a Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, to answer some of the lingering questions.

Some people are asking why Microsoft is trying to enforce UI standards. Other are asking why hasn't Microsoft done so in the past.

The Office UI Licensing Program wasn’t created because we wanted to enforce UI standards. It was created because of our massive investment in the new Office Fluent UI and the desire expressed by customers and partners to share in that investment and build similar UI. The real difference between the past and today is that we are explicitly protecting the IP that is embodied in the UI and making certain our ownership of it. Customers and partners had approached us in the past about obtaining licenses or rights to share previous UI developments and we didn’t have a good answer for them. For the first time they can obtain an affirmative right to use our IP, and it’s royalty-free.

The only caveat is that we need to be sure that developers do a good job implementing the UI that they license from us. This is why we have the standards (the design guidelines document). Without standards for licensed implementations, we would risk diluting the strength of our IP.

This is different from trying to enforce UI standards across the industry. We recognize that there are many applications that benefit from having a UI that is similar to that of Microsoft Office, and the fact that many ISVs are licensing the UI and building software that looks like Office is a testament to that fact. However, there are also many applications for which the Office Fluent UI would be overkill or a burden or just plain inappropriate. The choice is up to the developer of the application, but if looking like Office is important then it has to be done with a high degree of consistency.

If Microsoft isn't making money off of it, why have a licensing agreement?

The license agreement is for our protection and the protection of those who wish to share in the Office Fluent UI designs. It demonstrates our ownership over the IP and grants affirmative rights to the licensee to be able to use it. It’s also important for the average customer to have a good experience with the Fluent UI wherever it appears. Having a licensing agreement and a standardized set of guidelines helps to ensure that when a customer uses the UI in any application, he/she can have certain expectations and a certain quality of experience without being disappointed, frustrated, or confused.

And finally, if Microsoft is concerned about consistency, why isn't Microsoft releasing a toolkit directly?

Unfortunately, we were unable to complete development of a toolkit while development of the UI itself was underway. The licensing program needed to be put in place as customers and partners were being exposed to the UI and expressing their desire to build similar UI into their own products, with or without a toolkit. Microsoft may at some time ship tools to build Office Fluent UIs. However, there are already a number of component vendors out there who are offering excellent implementations of the Office Fluent UI for use in 3rd party applications. They have taken a great deal of the work upon themselves to build compliant, consistent implementations, and we are extremely happy to have them as partners in this program.

Among the vendors currently offering Ribbon interfaces are Actipro, Developer Express, Infragistics, and Telerik

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