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May 29, 2008


R.Paul Waddington

Now we are showing our age.
At the institution I teach, the 'old' screen menu is always to be found turned on. Obviously liked and used by one of the other lecturers. For lessons I prefer the 'pop-downs' and have no great preferences one way or the other. But I will say this about the ribbon; your correct Ralph consistency is missing and the 'ribbon' will 'cost' many companies much time&$s for absolutely no productivity gain.
As for the 'screen menu' I have shown young new users how it works and in almost every case they show great enthusiasm; there is a reason why those who draw images like and using words. Given 50+ 'word' commands can grouped together in a compact, context sensitive, menu system maybe the 'old' screen menu just might be the way to go now ;-)

Robin Capper

I'm ribboned at home, both office & CAD, but not yet at work. In spite of having to relearn I prefer it for Office but, in spite of customisation ability, not so keen on the AutoCAD implementation.


The company I work for is currently implementing the ribbon, and we have spent some time studying the material Microsoft have put out about the philosophy behind the ribbon. One conclusion I've come to after this process here is that the ribbon really is a great idea - and that it really does work when implemented correctly.

One of the major problems with the old menu systems the ribbon is really good at addressing is making functionality more discoverable. The gallery concept is also a major improvement, seeing the effects of changes you could make previewed, in your document as you consider making them is fantastic.

That said, I've looked at the Autocad implementation of the ribbon, and I've come to the conclusion that it is fatally flawed. Having everything on the application button menu is insane. Allowing people to customise the layout of items on the ribbon is insane - it is effectively like allowing everyone to configure where all the commands are on their menu bars. Some people might have paste under Edit, others under Insert. If people do that, it means you would be stuck when using someone else's computer, not able to find anything at all.

R.Paul Waddington

I think the best test of an interfaces effectiveness can be assessed when teaching software at an introductory level. Using AutoCAD as a base, the 'pop-downs' and the 'old' screen menu are simply great for being able to show new users what commands are grouped together. It also means that there is gentle reminder going on the whole time. As new user is going to the 'draw' menu to select 'line' he/she is reminded of the other commands available. Not necessary but very useful for training and also for solving problems 'over the phone' when a user's system cannot be viewed.

For something different; we have left and right hand drive cars, has anyone considered that this is not actually necessary but it persists and so will the fiddling of computer interfaces. There is no need for users of Word and Excel to have the same interface as AutoCAD and visa versa.
I drive manual, and automatic cars, one in which the driving position is central and the gear changing is linear only, a Messerschmitt, and a FORD A model that has the accelerator between the brake and clutch.
What interface suits one ani't gunna suit another; the trick is to make sure everybody can use a piece of software in a manner ensures they can use it productively and that is why the 'old' systems still have something going for them.

Mark Burhop

The ribbon seemed like yet another UI to me at first. However, after using Office 2007 for a while, I really like that new applications are taking on the same way of working.

For me the productivity gain is the consistency. You might be able to optimize a single products UI but for those of us jumping between Word and CAD and Outlook and whatever else, I'm much faster with the Ribbon based apps.

Customization... well, I would like more of that, just in the context of the ribbon UI.

Normand C

Solid Edge V21 is joining the others and will have the ribbon too. You can have a peek at it in the videos showcasing Synchronous Technology.

Steve Johnson

I would just like to point out that although I've praised Autodesk for keeping the screen menu going after all this time and can see its benefits under some circumstances, I'm not the "famous AutoCAD columnist" mentioned here by Ralph.

As for the Ribbon, in AutoCAD at least it looks like many users are dealing with it by not dealing with it. I started a poll on this a couple of days ago, so feel free to have your say:


Chris Bell

First impression was "Did anyone show up for work the day that they did this?" It just plain looks wrong minded, did anyone consider that the mainstream of CD users either already have or are wishing for wide screen monitors. So "logic?" would dictate taking a wide strip off of the top of the screen?

Even if you do move them to the side of the screen, it's just one more layer preventing the user getting to his commands efficiently.

I guess that you should get something for your upgrade dollar, if not useable features, then at least some "Eye Candy"

Mark Burhop

I do think there is a difference between generic ribbons and "Microsoft style guide" ribbons.

There is also some work in making sure you organize the ribbon correctly. Nothing prevents a developer from making a rarely used command a big icon or hiding something useful.

On the other hand, I remember keystrokes from ANVIL 5000. Man, those guys could fly though the UI.

Paul H

I have been an AutoCAD usere since version 2.18 (25 years), and have enthusiastically upgraded the software. Version 2009 is the first time, that after installing the default interface, I had no idea how to use AutoCAD! I could not find the usual commands or workflow. I was truly dumbfounded!
I stuck with the ribbon for a while, and was relieved to find the "old" interface was hidden away. Now I can work productively.
I am finding the same for the Microsoft suite. My productivity has dropped dramatically as I cannot find commands that I want to perform. Commands that are shown large and colourfully on the ribbon are not always that important, and other important commands are hidden away.
Who thought it would be a good idea to click on a colourful round icon in the top left of the application to discover all the "file" style commands such as "save as" "open" etc?
For the first time in my computing career, I would be very happy if AutoCAD was ported to a Mac environment. I am very unhappy with the "vista" style interface.

Bill Fane

I use Microsoft Word and Excel quite a bit. The institute standard where I teach pushed an "upgrade" of Office 2007 onto all school machines.

I hated the ribbon so much that two weeks later I uninstalled Office 2007 and went back to Office 2003. How do I remain file-compatible with other users? Easy: I installed the free compatibility pack available from www.microsoft.com.

There are several things that can be said in favour of the AutoCAD ribbon versus the Microsoft one:

1. It can be customized.
2. It can be moved to another location. It is really just a big super toolbar that can be floated on screen or docked vertically along one side. This latter configuration particularly suits wide-screen monitors.
3. It can be turned off.


"For a user interface to be effective, it has to be consistent."

This is exactly the same reason I find that people don't use AutoCAD's Dynamic Input. Every time they look at the screen, the "command line" is in a different location and it takes time to find it, especially the larger the monitors get. Now, if you could "park" it somewhere so that it always appeared in the same location, that might work. IF you could work without ever glancing away from focusing on the cursor location, it would work beautifully, I'm sure. But I'm not sure that that's actually possible. There is additional functionality to the Dynamic Input, I realize, and I try hard to help folks become familiar with those functions. But it seems they give up on finding it before the advantages can be internalized.



The ribbon is "different" not "better." And not all that different from what preceded the drop-down menus.

The DOS version of Lotus 1-2-3 had a similar context-sensitive, one-line, dynamic menu. It used one line of text - 4% of the vertical space. The ribbon uses multiple lines of icons which consume more than 4% of the vertical space.

The user base overwhelmingly accepted drop-down menus. Multiple levels were possible with drop-down menus. I see only two levels of ribbons. All commands have to fit into a small number of categories for the ribbon. The resulting arbitrary lumping of commands to fit the format is confusing.

What happened to "form follows function?"

Icons are good for a company which wants to sell its products in multiple countries. The solution: Invent their own pictorial language of icons and force the entire user base to learn their icon-ese.

Yet more hubris from M$: Learn our language and abandon your habits to use our product.

Bottom line: Ribbons suck.

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