Windows 8 Explorer to get the ribbon treatment

The Windows 8 Explorer will be the latest Microsoft product to be given the ribbon interface, the company has confirmed.

The ribbon interface, which made its debut in Office 2007, has slowly been filtering into a range of Microsoft applications, including WordPad and Paint in Windows 7.

Now, Microsoft has announced that Windows Explorer will also use the ribbon interface for the forthcoming Windows 8 refresh.

Writing on the Building Windows 8 blog, Windows chief Steven Sinofsky claims the company considered several different approaches for the Windows 8 Explorer before settling on the ribbon.

Microsoft’s Windows 7 telemetry has revealed that most people use Explorer to perform basic commands, such as copying, pasting or deleting files. “It shows us that people overwhelmingly use Explorer for core file management tasks – the top 7 commands (72.2% of usage) are all for managing/manipulating files,” Sinofsky writes.

Consequently, the Windows 8 Explorer ribbon will make the most commonly used commands more prominent, with large buttons for commands such as Cut, Paste and Move To, rather than old-school drop-down menus.

Windows 8 ribbon

Sinofksy claims the ribbon also makes the new operating system’s menus more touch friendly. “While not primarily a touch interface, the ribbon also provides a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down menus and context menus,” he writes. However, with screenshots revealing numerous small buttons and drop-downs occupying slots on the ribbon, it’s questionable just how touch friendly the ribbon will prove on tablet devices, which are a core focus for Windows 8.

There’s also bad news for those who don’t like the ribbon: Microsoft won’t allow Windows 8 users to revert to the old-school Explorer. Sinofsky claims such backwards compatibility “significantly impacts the evolution of the product”, and thus the ribbon will be mandatory.

“Our hope is that those who maintain software understand that these are trade-offs we make in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, and are not meant to be forceful or painful in any way,” he says. “We are fully aware of the responsibility that comes from changing an interface used by so many people.”

Microsoft is set to announce full details of Windows 8 features at next month’s Build conference.

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