Farewell to consistent UI on Windows

Dare Obesanjo says 2006 is the year Microsoft gave up on consistent UI. It’s a follow-up to a post by Mike Torres in which he identifies inconsistencies in various new apps from Microsoft this year. One thing they all have in common is that traditional menus are deprecated, either hidden by default (IE7, Windows Media Player 11) or not available at all (Office 2007).

The reason this is happening is the influence of the Web. The Web gives designers a lot of freedom over how applications are designed, especially in conjunction with Flash. The Web also forces app developers to find some alternative to the traditional menu bar, since it has a page model rather than a window model. Standard desktop apps with File and Edit menus now look dated.

Microsoft has embraced the new designer religion, with the innovative Office 2007 UI, the Expression range of designer-oriented tools, and the Windows Presentation Foundation which gives far more freedom to UI designers.

Nevertheless, Microsoft has slipped up here. The differences that Torres identifies are bewildering to users. I predict that the company will settle on some specific approach (probably the Office ribbon) and try to enforce it throughout. Visual Studio with a ribbon UI?

It means developers have a tricky choice to make with new applications. Broadly:

  1. Stick with tried and tested menus and toolbars until things settle down.
  2. Adopt the ribbon, facing the sign-or-don’t-sign dilemma.
  3. Do your own thing, after all everyone else does.

For an in-house app I’d suggest (1). Menus and toolbars work pretty well, everyone knows how to use them, and most important, it is a lot less work. Further, when non-designers try to take a design-centric approach, the results are invariably ugly.

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