The Ribbon—that collection of icons for frequently needed functions at the top of the program window—drew ire when it first appeared in Microsoft Office, but most users now find it indispensable. Today, Redmond announced that it will be simplifying the ribbon and using the slick new Fluent Design system that’s been making its way into Windows 10.
The new Ribbon will have just one row of icons, which were redesigned to be scalable not only for a sharper, more modern appearance, but also help with accessibility. The update also includes icons that scale better with screen size and a more prominent Search feature in the Office applications.
A full rollout to all billion-plus Office users will take time. A subset of users with the web version of Word will see the new Ribbon first. Office 365 Insiders—those who signed up for preview versions of the apps—will see it in Outlook starting in July. Once Microsoft collects feedback from those users, it will roll out the changes to everyone else.
A quick glance at the new Ribbon reveals them to indeed be easier on the eyes. My one question is whether you’ll be able to remove the Ribbon entirely, as I usually do with the up caret icon on its right side. But perhaps the new space-saving design will make this a moot point. The new ribbon will be far more customizable, letting you add or remove any icon you want.
On the Microsoft 365 blog, Chief Designer Jon Friedman notes that Fluent Design is coming to Office and Office.com. This is clearly the case on the Office.com landing page, where the app buttons use shadow and depth to highlight what’s under the mouse, but I didn’t see any Fluent influence in screenshots and videos of the actual program windows, aside from animations that happen when you hover the mouse over top menus.
According to Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Office and Windows Marketing, search “will become a much more important element of the user experience, providing access to commands, content, and people.” And simply tapping in the search box will pop up suggestions based on Microsoft’s AI. This functionality is already present in the Outlook mobile app, Office.com, and SharePoint Online.
A final and very welcome development, according to Friedman, is that the apps open faster, having been rebuilt on top of a new platform.
The company recently also announced a preview version of the Mac version of Office 2019, which will be coming to the Mac App Store. It features “roaming pencil case and ribbon customizations across Office apps; focus mode in Word; Morph transitions, in-click sequence, and 4K video export in PowerPoint; new charts and functions in Excel; and focused inbox in Outlook,” according to Spataro.
If our review of Microsoft Office, PCMag’s Ed Mendelson designated it our productivity Editors’ Choice, claiming that, “For cross-platform office applications, there’s simply no alternative to Office 365. Word, despite some minor inconveniences, is the best of all word processors, and Excel is the no-contest best spreadsheet. PowerPoint is at the top of the heap among presentation packages.”