January 9, 2007

Microsoft Brakes 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick)

A very interesting article on SD Times points out that Microsoft is turning his back to the UI specification that was key for its success and that of the Windows platform.

The Common Access Specification that IBM developed in the middle of the 80ies, and Microsoft championed for many years in DOS programs and in all versions of Windows, has become the natural way of interacting with most programs. You know that the Copy and Paste commands will be under an Edit menu, so there is one less thing you have to learn for a new program.

CUA was and still is very important. For example,I remember the discussions on whether or not the guidelines had to be followed (for example, the early Turbo C++ gray "chiseled style" dialog boxes were not standard, as dialogs had to have a white background, and this was subject of debate. Eventually, Microsoft changed the specs and moved to gray background for dialogs). As another example, Delphi has a menu template providing a CUA-complaint menu structure as a starting point for your program.

Now, the fact is that the forthcoming Microsoft Office 2007 breaks the CUA. You cannot find Paste under Edit, because menus are gone! I shortly tried using the Ribbon, and found it a little frustrating, as I had to spend time finding even trivial commands.

This is explained in much more detail by Alan Zeichick in this SD Times article, and also in his blog. Most of the operating systems (beside the Mac) and applications are CUA-complaint. The web is an exception as it uses a different metaphor (I personally hate pull-down menus in web sites). Other exceptions are mp3 players and video player programs, which tend to embrace the web model, and still most of them are more CUA-complaint than the new Office.

As Zeichick says, "Microsoft has broken the GUI model that has served it so successfully for two decades. This is a big mistake... It will also make the CUA-compliant alternatives, like OpenOffice, more attractive." I agree.



Microsoft Brakes 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick) 

See also: 

Although my first impression about the "ribbon" was 
not so bad. It needs time to get used, that's true, 
and the new Office is more "context sensitive". But 
I have used only a beta for some tests - have to 
work with it really before being convinced.

Better than any "web interface", anyway, I really 
hate anything one can almost use with a mouse only - 
especially when one does not understand where to 
Comment by Luigi D. Sandon on January 9, 10:48

Microsoft Brakes 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick) 


Sorry, I disagree.

I've created plenty of Windows Forms / GUI business 
applications where the users hardly, if ever, use the 
menu bar. "File"... well, that usually makes no 
sense. "Edit"... OK, agreed, there should always be a 
way to work with the clipboard if it's appropriate -- 
but why hide it under a menu option? 

We've got so used to the "File Edit Window Help" way 
of working that it's very hard to put ourselves into 
the position of genuinely new users. If you think 
about it, FEWH applications are a little like those 
annoying Flash Web sites where you have to move your 
mouse over tiny boxes to find what the options are -- 
incredibly frustrating unless you know what's there.

Now that we can assume reasonably large displays, I 
think the time of FEWH has come to an end.

-- J 
Comment by Jeremy McGee on January 9, 11:46

Microsoft Brakes 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick) 

I get the feeling that if the Mr. Zeichicks of the 
world had their way we would still be driving 
automobiles with clutch pedals and gear shift knobs 
on long rods sticking up from the transmission hump.

As for finfing the Paste command may I suggest you 
read this blog entry by Jensen Harris, the designer 
of the ribbon user interface titled, "No Distaste for 
Paste " where he said, "Once we recognized the 
importance of the Paste toolbar button, it was 
promoted to the first big button on the left side of 
Word's first tab."  

In another blog entry Harris said, "If we had the 
ability to put one sheet of paper on every person's 
desk right before they first used Office 2007, what 
would we want it to say?" and he has links to his one 
page "cheet sheet" which I found useful when first 
starting to use the ribbon.
Comment by I.P. Nichols [] on January 9, 13:53

Microsoft Breaks 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick) 

Hello, my old friend. Nice to see you still going strong!

Me...I feel like something washed up on the beach when
computer publishing's high tide receded. I've spent
five years undergoing treatment for severe depression.
But that doesn't mean there's no joy in life!

I've gone back to college with an eye toward acquiring
the certification necessary to teach school. I'd like
to spend my days around kids, touching a match to the
unsuspected enthusiasms that lie dormant in their
hearts. What could be better than that?

In the unlikely event someone commits my life story to
ink or pixels, the Marco chapter will be among the
sunniest. I think of you with great warmth, more often
than you know.

Comment by J.D. Hildebrand [http://jd.hildebrand.com] on January 9, 15:09

Microsoft Brakes 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick) 

"we would still be driving automobiles with clutch 
pedals and gear shift knobs on long rods sticking up 
from the transmission hump"
Well, actually most people in Europe drives cars 
with clutch pedals and gear shift knobs.... :)
Comment by on January 9, 15:38

Microsoft Brakes 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick) 

Everything moves on! I am delighted with ribbon! Why
not? Thats a great fresh idea. Ribbons are easy to use
and looks pretty good.
Comment by Igor Skomorokh [http://delphigeek.blogspot.com] on January 10, 00:21

Microsoft Brakes 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick) 

First thing: nice to hear from you, JD. Have a chat,
whenever you want...

Second, I do drive with a clutch. I don't mind an
automatic car (which is innovation). My problem is an
English car with the clutch on left side (which is
different, not better). Maybe the ribbon is better.
And I agree it is probably for new users. Current
Office users will have a lot to re-learn.

In any case, the problem is not if the ribbon is
better. The problems is that I don't want a computer
age in which every time I open a program (and there
are plenty I use everyday) I'm confronted with a
totally different UI style. Unless everyone clones the
Office Ribbon exactly (would it be legal?), this is
going to be the problem. If you spend all your day
with MS Office or MS programs, you'll be at easy. If
you move and forth different applications, you'll get
lost. Or maybe this is what Microsoft is far, a new
MS-only CUA, to avoid people move elsewhere...
including OpenOffice (which I use almost invariably...
and have now one more reason to keep using).
Comment by Marco Cantù [http://www.marcocantu.com] on January 10, 02:04

Microsoft Brakes 20-Years-Old CUA (by Alan Zeichick) 

Let's face it, Microsoft can still dictate the GUI 
of applications under Windows. The "Outlook bar" and 
some of its other features where not CUA standard 
too, but they were adopted quickly.
Let's see how the "ribbon" adapts to other 
applications - AFAIK MS itself said it was an 
interface designed for Office - not for every 

"The problems is that I don't want a computer
age in which every time I open a program (and there
are plenty I use everyday) I'm confronted with a
totally different UI style"

Well, we are ther already. Every time you open a web 
application you are faced with a totally different 
UI, colors, graphic elements and so on. And it will 
get worse as long as desktop application try to 
mimic web ones - just because of the shapes and 
Comment by Kent Morwath on January 10, 14:23

Post Your Comment

Click here for posting your feedback to this blog.

There are currently 0 pending (unapproved) messages.