Microsoft tries cutting the Ribbon in Office UI upgrade

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Microsoft on Wednesday announced a design update to Office suite which includes popular applications such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote and Outlook. Given the launch timeline for Office 2019, Microsoft's version of its productivity suite with a perpetual license, the new design may not be ready in time. The changes are inspired by a "new culture of work" and will bring fluent design, a simplified ribbon, and search enhancements to the Office 365 experience.

Simplified ribbon. A new, updated version of the ribbon is created to help users focus on their work and collaborate naturally with others. The new "zero query search", bring up recommendations when you place your cursor in the search box which is powered by AI and the Microsoft Graph.

Excel with Office 2019 will enable users to perform better data analysis using funnel charts and 2D maps, and new functions like CONCAT, TEXTJOIN, IFS, and SWITCH. The company plans to extend the pilot to Outlook next month for select members of the Office Insiders beta testing program.

The ribbon bar icons have also been updated to use less color and more detail so that they are not distracting and offer a cleaner look. Office 365 users will also be able to more easily search for commands, content, and colleagues. Once Microsoft collects feedback from those users, it will roll out the changes to everyone else.

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Google recently redesigned Gmail, lending the popular email service a more modern look and new capabilities that help users manage their inboxes and avoid scams. In July, Microsoft will also make this new Ribbon design available in Outlook for Windows.

Office today has a whole bunch of versions-the traditional, fully featured Win32 desktop applications and their near counterparts on the Mac, along with various simpler versions for the Web, mobile, and Universal Windows Platform (UWP).

Cynics, however, suggested that the real aim was to get customers hooked on an alternative interface that couldn't easily be copied by open source and other rivals, with Microsoft patenting many elements of its Fluent UI. In addition, there are features in Office 365 ProPlus that aren't in Office 2019 for Mac.

Microsoft's not sure it has this right and has acknowledged that lots of users have "muscle memory" for the current Ribbon, so the three-line version will only ever be a click away. The interface-level changes will also debut on Outlook for Windows in July and will reach Outlook for Mac in August.

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