Fascinating post from Developer Express CTO Julian Bucknall about Microsoft’s new ribbon license scheme. Developer Express is a well-regarded vendor of components for .NET and Delphi developers. It’s an ambivalent post. Bucknall states that his company has signed the license, though he expresses some frustration at its restrictions:
Lurkers and active members of our newsgroups will have noticed that we’ve been downright evasive about our plans for enhancing our ribbon implementations. We’ve been asked for some very reasonable enhancements, such as docking the ribbon vertically or along the bottom edge of the application window. Well, now you understand our ambiguous replies: according to the license agreement we are prohibited from doing most of them.
He adds that:
…you, our customers, are not covered by our license agreement with Microsoft. The terms of the license are not transferable in that way: despite the fact that you are using our components, you will have to sign the Microsoft license yourselves for your own applications.
Should you sign? Although it is royalty-free, the agreement is not without obligations. As Bucknall notes, it includes “the Office UI Design Guidelines that describe, in almost excruciating detail, how the ribbon and its associated controls must work and must look in an application in order to satisfy the license.” Signing the document means agreeing that you are making use of Microsoft’s intellectual property, and also limits what you can do with the UI.
On the whole I’m in favour of UI standards, but this seems rather extreme.
I am not a lawyer but let’s recall that the matter of copyright in the look and feel of a user interface has been the subject of considerable debate and controversy. Some may dispute the necessity of signing an agreement with Microsoft in order to create a ribbon-like UI for your application.
This feels like part of a new and more aggressive IP strategy from Microsoft, tying in with other recent moves like the Novell agreement. It’s playing with fire.