It was with a bit of surprise that I read a flurry of stories on Friday with breathless headlines like "Microsoft backs off the Ribbon in Office 2007!" and "Microsoft Cuts Office 2007 Ribbon!"

Part of working at a company like Microsoft is that people are interested in what we do. This means that even the smallest glint of something that looks like an "announcement" can sometimes turn into a major source of news stories in the computer world. (Especially if it gets linked on Slashdot.)

Unfortunately, in this case, there was no actual announcement of substantive changes to the Office 2007 user interface—just someone from Microsoft's office in Australia ruminating in front of journalists about a few things I wrote on this blog a month or so ago.

The result: stories got published which kind of played up the scope of changes we've made to the Office 2007 user interface since Beta 2. Some of these stories, unfortunately, included inaccurate information.

What we had considered to be a relatively minor, if nice, improvement to the way Ribbon minimization works turned into rampant speculation on the 'net that we were somehow cutting the Ribbon entirely from Office 2007.

So today, I'm going try to clear up any misinformation that might still be out there.

A Game of Telephone

Here's what actually happened as near as I can tell:

Last month, you might remember that I wrote here on my blog about a few minor improvements we've made to the Ribbon since Beta 2—in particular, improving the capabilities and discoverability of the "minimize" feature that's always been a part of the Ribbon.

A member of Microsoft's sales organization in Australia read my blog posts and last week, he talked about them to journalists at Tech.Ed in Sydney. Unfortunately, the details of the changes weren't communicated clearly enough to the audience who was present.

The result was a few stories showing up in the Australian computer press which contained inaccurate information. These stories, in turn, were picked up and republished in many online publications throughout the world.

As the stories continued to appear (and then later were linked from Slashdot and elsewhere), it was like a game of telephone: each version changed a little bit in terms of the details, until eventually there was a lot of misleading information out there.

In a way, it's funny that the primary source of the information at the core of this misunderstanding is this blog. Yet, by the time the information works its way to Microsoft Australia, through the words of one of the blog's readers, through a series of articles in the press, and then onto discussion boards and blogs, the original source of the accurate information is long lost.

It shows, I guess, that Microsoft is a big company, and the more we can do to help directly educate people about what we're doing and why we're doing it, the better it is for everyone.

Reality Check

So, to help set the record straight, here are the facts at the center of the hubbub:

  • As long as the Ribbon has existed, it has included the ability to minimize it; in fact, this capability was present in the very first design review we ever had. If you have Beta 2, you can press CTRL+F1 or double-click the selected tab to see this for yourself.

  • In Beta 2 the minimize state isn't saved, and the Ribbon expands anytime you use a command with the mouse or keyboard.

  • We improved the minimize feature in the upcoming Beta 2 Technical Refresh by making the minimize state persistent; after you use a command, it returns to its minimized state.

That's it! That's really the sum total of the change that netted articles like "Microsoft cutting the Ribbon from Office 2007" and "Another New User Interface for Office 2007."

Iterative design is one of the keys to the work we've done on the Office 2007 UI. We've made hundreds of enhancements between each of our four beta releases: from DF4 through Beta 1, Beta 1 TR, Beta 2, and now Beta 2 TR. This is but one of them.

Was this particular improvement a response to customer feedback?

Yes it was. Heavy keyboard users asked for us to remember the minimize state of the Ribbon between keyboard commands and so we did. While we were working on minimization for keyboarding, we went a bit further than people explicitly asked for and made the same tweak for mouse users as well. Both of these affordances were in our original Ribbon design specification; we hoped that we'd have time to build them and happily, we did.

That's really all there is to it.

The two recent articles I wrote on Ribbon minimization are here:

Mysterious New Text Tips

A few of the articles talked about us adding "large new text tips" in Beta 2 Technical Refresh that would "eat up more screen real-estate." This is not true, and I'm not exactly sure where that rumor started.

Super Tooltips, which I introduced in this article on December 2, 2005, have been a part of Office 2007 from the beginning, and they are unchanged since Beta 2 (except for updated and more complete content.)

These tooltips have been among the most popular features in our long-term deployments of Office 2007, and they don't take up any screen real-estate at all. Like any tooltip, they appear only after you hover over a control for a while, and they disappear when you move your mouse away.

In addition, the Super Tooltips always position themselves outside of the Ribbon, so they don't obscure the control you're looking for.

To be clear: these "Enhanced ScreenTips" (as the marketing folks would like me to say) aren't getting bigger or more prominent than they are in Beta 2. And you can, of course, turn them off if you wish.

Epilogue

Honestly, I love that people are excited by Office 2007. It makes working on it fun and fulfilling, and I know the whole team agrees.

But one of the downsides of a high-profile, fast-moving project like this is that sometimes inaccurate information can make its way around, and it can be hard to correct.

This blog is one place you can always come to find out what's really going on with the Office user interface and the team behind it.