OK, I promised to write this post a long time ago, lets get it over with. I still hate the ribbon interface Microsoft puts on things now a days. For similar reasons I dislike the start screen too.

A lot has happened over at Microsoft since I said I would write this post. The guy in charge of Windows 8 is gone. The CEO of Microsoft has been removed and replaced. They even make an XBox One without the evil always on microphone/spy camera. It seemed they would even put out an update to put some sort of start menu back. Unfortunately the last one appears to be stalled until Windows 9.

You don’t get that sort of reaction from a company unless they have been making such awful choices where despite a near monopoly customers decided to just stop buying your stuff. Windows 7 and the now unsupported Windows XP still dwarf Windows 8 in market share. So Microsoft here is a list of things I dislike about both the ribbon and start screen.

The Ribbon:


I won’t pretend that the old menu and toolbar setup in Office applications before the ribbon didn’t have problems, but it was still better than this. Most people will say you will get used to it in time, but I have used it for years now and it still feels like a boat anchor I have to lug around. Yeah I guess I got used to it, but it is still terrible. In fact if Office was free I would still use libreoffice at home just to get away from the ribbon.

Ok lets list some problems.

Keyboard control:
It doesn’t feel like you can do much of anything without the mouse. Curiously some of the old keystrokes from the menu and tool bar days still work, but they sure aren’t obvious. You can press the Alt key to show some keystroke navigation helpers, but not everything in the ribbon has a keyboard equivalent. I suppose you can use the arrow keys to navigate around until you get caught in a drop down and have to start all over. Menus had obvious keyboard short cuts, just look for the underlined character. The ribbon hides the keystroke keys until you press alt. Without good keyboard control you spend a lot more time manipulating the interface than you should have to.

Seriously, where is everything? It has been years and there are still several obscure functions like say altering word case I just can’t find. Back to menus, what did they have that the ribbon is missing? They had text. Text so you could just read what things were. Even toolbars had tooltips. I suppose the ribbon has them to, but you have to hover over things for a second or two before they show up. If you are trying to figure out what all those tiny icons are supposed to mean, that adds up fast. All the little icons and controls aren’t even arranged for visually scanning. I hear in newer versions they capitalize the tab names now, probably to make things just a bit more difficult to read. If they had kept menus and made the ribbon take less space I probably wouldn’t hate it so much. Of course that would change it back into a toolbar which is pretty much all it is anyway.

There isn’t an overall grid every sub-section nests in its own way so your eyes have to scan all over jumping in and out of groupings. Everything in a menu was lined up vertically. If your eyes can’t follow a predictable search pattern to find things it takes longer and is more fatiguing.

Do you see that muti-colored blob in the top corner. I thought it was just decoration the first time I saw it. It is actually a menu. Why are common functions like open or print hidden away while obscure things like font color get to be onscreen all the time. Why couldn’t the blob have been expanded into a full menu tree. I think I only found it by accident.

The ribbon is humongeous, why is it taking so much space? You can’t fit in labels for things but still take a bunch of space. It doesn’t even orient well, it should be vertical. All of the widescreen monitors out now make vertical space far more precious. Keeping it horizontal eats it all up. Again menus and tool bars were a lot more compact. You could have at least made it so I could dock the thing to whichever side I wanted.

GUI Standardization:
The ribbon isn’t a system component (maybe it is in Windows 8 I’m not sure). So the only applications using it are Microsoft ones. Sure they are slowly spreading the thing to all their applications, but it is still the odd duck. Nobody elses stuff has the same user interface so now you have to learn things special just for the ribbon that don’t work with other windows applications.

Thats enough hate for the ribbon for now, lets move on to the start screen.

The Start Screen:


What a collosal failure, just look at it. In original flavor Windows 8 they didn’t even tell you how to get to it from the desktop like it was some sort of hidden easter egg in a video game.

I can’t get too much into the hate since I refuse to buy a system with it until I have no other choice. Of course if that happens before they put the start menu back, I may just abandon Windows entirely. However there is still a lot I can point out wrong with it.

Should I start with the obvious that the screen was hidden in the original version of windows 8. They eventually added a button to the desktop in 8.1. How could they overlook something so basic? Getting back to the desktop from the start screen isn’t much better as the link is based on your desktop wallpaper which blends in far to easily to the rainbow colored noise. Even when I know roughly where to look it always takes way too much time to find.

Along the same line, hot corners. Not a good idea when people have multiple monitors or who use remote desktop. They are of course also hidden with no GUI control to click.

I don’t know what charms are but I can say it is a poor name. Not as bad as the Nintendo Wii, but still bad. From what little I have heard about them it comes from Windows phone where you don’t have a keyboard, mouse, or a large screen. All things that don’t describe desktops or laptops. Is it really so hard to design a GUI optimized for the device you are actually running (instead of the new more limited one you are late to the party for)?

Much like the ribbon we are missing obvious keyboard controls. Sure in earlier versions of windows using Ctl+Escape to open the start menu was obscure. Then they added start menu buttons directly to later keyboards. A bit extreme but it worked. After that you could move around with the arrow keys to explore. I’m not even sure if the Start screen has keyboard control or not. I assume it does and probably works like the ribbon with the same problems. Instead they advertise touch screen functions that are useless if you don’t have a touch screen and Gorilla Arm inducing if you do.

Again much like the ribbon we also have things spiral out into smaller icons in sub groups for reasons that elude me. It makes sure to stop you from quickly scanning for things like you could in a consistent regular grid.

We also have everything in a square box so if you do have text for a tile it is harder to find. Of course we give each square a randomly assigned primary color to make text harder to read. If the icons get too small the text dissapears.

If I have several versions of the same program with the same or similar icon, how am I supposed to tell them apart without text? One or two words doesn’t cut it, give me room for a full sentence.

Of course hierarchical folders would help too. That might help you keep related things together hiding infrequently used items. I often wonder just how many uninstall links a Windows 8 user with older software might have or how they tell them apart. Yes the hierarchy got unwieldy in the old start menu, but you still need it and shouldn’t remove it unless you can offer something better.

There is more but lets finish with the full screen aspect. It shouldn’t be full screen. Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you did? That is the doorway effect. Making the start screen full screen does the same thing, you lose context and forget what you were doing. No, putting in the desktop wallpaper in the background doesn’t really help. The context is in the applications that were running not the wallpaper.

The promo pictures for Windows 9 have a pseudo Start Menu added back in. It still has some tiles but it looks better. Unfortunately I don’t see the all programs menu option. I can’t feel too hopeful until they put that back in too. Hopefully they will figure that out before it launches. Maybe they can hire some actually good UI designers and let them fix things too. I won’t hold my breath, but can Windows 9 at least be better than Windows 3.1? Please.