Nice for Mice: Menu Tabs

Last week, I wrote about some of the work we've done to make the minimized Ribbon work well with the new keyboard model. I even posted a movie showing the new feature in action if you want to see what it looks like.

A few months ago as we were doing the work to build this feature, the developers mentioned that it appeared we had all of the architectural pieces in place to make the minimized Ribbon work better for mouse users as well.

(Keep reading, there's a movie down there!)

But first, a flashback to early 2004: A couple dozen of us are sitting in a first floor conference room conducting the very first Ribbon spec review.

In this first draft spec for the Ribbon was included a feature we called "Menu Tabs." The idea was this: you could minimize the Ribbon as today, but once it was minimized, there were two ways you could use it.

Left-click un-minimized the Ribbon like usual (exactly like it works in Beta 2.) But if you right-clicked on a tab, you got a popup version of the tab. Once you used a control on the tab or clicked away, the popup tab disappeared and you were back in the minimized state.

Well, Menu Tabs ended up getting cut from the Ribbon design in order to make room for other components of the UI to get built; the cost of developing the feature was too high. And that's where the feature lay, discarded on the cutting room floor, until just a few months ago.

All of the architectural work done over the two years between mid-2004 and mid-2006 made it possible to re-evaluate doing the original Menu Tabs design as part of filling out the minimized Ribbon scenario. So, we decided to give it a try.

The developer dug in and in less than a day she had a great prototype running. Our test team agreed to take on the extra burden, and they spent a couple of weeks filing bugs and to make sure we could get the feature to ship quality. And now, Menu Tabs is in the builds and ready to use.

In reconsidering the feature, we decided to make a few changes to the interaction design from what we originally spec'd in 2003.

Specifically, we decided that once the Ribbon is minimized, left-click activates the tab as a popup. You can double-click a tab to un-minimize the Ribbon, or right-click anywhere on the Ribbon to un-minimize from the context menu. We felt that this gave better overall symmetry to the design: double-click, right-click, or CTRL+F1 to minimize or un-minimize the Ribbon. You exit the state the same way you enter it.

I can hear you thinking "what does it look like?" I'm glad you asked. I've prepared another movie to show Menu Tabs in action in a recent internal build of Word:

Watch the Menu Tabs Movie
(Windows Media, 38 seconds, 7.3 MB)

Watch the Menu Tabs Movie (Smaller, Lower Quality)
(Windows Media, 38 seconds, 3.3 MB)

Now you know the full scope of the work we've done to make the minimized Ribbon work great for keyboard and mouse users. (And I forgot to mention last week: yes, we do remember the state of the minimized Ribbon between sessions; if you exit a program with it minimized, it will be minimized when you launch it again.)

While we do still view the minimized Ribbon as a secondary mode of interacting with the product, I'm sure some people will use it frequently. Especially if you use Office on a limited screen-size device (such as an Ultra-Mobile PC), you'll appreciate this simple minimization which maximizes your screen real-estate.