Better user interfaces and the costs of change

By David Rand, VP of Marketing

We’ve had some recent complaints about dropping support for our older UI in recent releases. Operating systems and application software user interfaces have evolved over the years. It is always in the name of progress and productivity, but it often poses a problem for those of us who are used to the old way. Backwards compatibility helps bridge the gap and keep almost everyone happy. But backwards compatibility cannot go on forever: new features can sometime not be worked into old UIs, and engineering and support costs eventually outweigh customer benefit.

One of the more drastic overhauls of UI in the Windows world came nine years ago with the release of the ribbon interface in Microsoft Office 2007. I remember how frustrating it was to try to find things that had changed. Now, of course, it is second nature and when I see images of earlier Office UIs, I laugh.

Foxit started offering a ribbon UI five years ago in our 5.0 version release. In the 6.x release, we made ribbon the primary UI and we gradually stopped adding new features in the old UI. In 2014, we started shipping our OEM builds without the old UI option at all. And in 7.x, we started dropping the old UI in our standard products.

Our research shows that when we offered a choice, over 90% of users were using the newer ribbon UI. We knew that we couldn’t support both UIs forever, and we knew that when we dropped the old UI it would upset some long-time customers, and it was a tough decision. The problem is that it takes much engineering and support effort to keep both UIs.

If you want to know more, you might want to read the Wikipedia article on the ribbon interface: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribbon_(computing), and just for giggles, you might want to check out this scholarly research on User Acceptance of the Microsoft Ribbon User Interface: http://www.wseas.us/e-library/conferences/2010/Faro/DNCOCO/DNCOCO-25.pdf.


5 thoughts on “Better user interfaces and the costs of change

  1. Sandy Lemberg

    “In the 6.x release, we made ribbon the primary UI and we gradually stopped adding new features in the old UI. In 2014”

    That is why I still use Foxit 5. It was too difficult to find the classic toolbar mode in later versions.

    Reply
  2. Timm Smith

    You assumed that all of us are using Microsoft Office! I have used WordPerfect for over 20 years and consider it a better program than Office. I despise the ribbon with a passion as it is illogical to anyone who likes to access everything quickly. I don’t need the big silly graphics and prefer everything to be easily accessed without having to look through multiple tabs. I may have to find another pdf reader that doesn’t assume we all love Microsoft products.

    Reply
    1. FOXITBLOG Post author

      Hello your feedback is greatly appreciated. Please note you can change the open in Multiple Instances. To enable this go to File > Preferences > Documents > Open Setting > check Allow
      Multiple Instances.

      Reply
  3. Al Tracker

    The Ribbon toolbar that you claim is so ubiquitous to computing these days is in reality used by only a few major companies; Microsoft, Autodesk, and Foxit, to name a few.
    The majority of users don’t need to locate new features in their everyday usage. When a new feature is required, the HELP tab provides this.
    The ribbon toolbar just complicates the simple.

    Reply
  4. Andrea Contrucci

    Sorry, but I completely disagree with you.
    Not always progress means better… Ribbon tools are maybe good for finger-driven units, like tablets, but is really annoying when you have to use it in a professional environment.
    I switched off from Office exactly when they adopted exclusively the ribbon interface. To me is really a waste of time.
    In every professional program I use, either free or fee…,, I can disable the ribbon interface and work properly.
    I’m still using your version 7.2.5 in order to have the “classic” (better) mode on.
    Everyone here in my company and all the guys I know (I’m from Italy) agree with me, and in many PCs I had to downgrade your software to the classic mode.
    I think we are more than 10%…

    However, I have a suggestion.
    Why don’t you ask us (classic mode fans) eventually to pay something for having it back? It is not proper (from my point of view the ribbon users have to pay for…) but I really like your software and I don’t want to change. Up to now.
    Sorry for my english, and regards

    Reply

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