The Building Windows 8 blog keeps on giving. In the last couple weeks Microsoft's developers have written about the complicated coding behind USB 3.0 implementation and overhauling copy/paste file management in Windows 8. On Monday the blog delved further into that latter subject, revealing one of the major changes coming to Windows Explorer in the company's next OS.
While the Metro UI will lessen the need for jumping around the classic Windows interface, those of us who regularly deal with files and folders will be using the Microsoft ribbon with Windows 8. First introduced in Microsoft Office 2007, the ribbon replaces traditional drop-down menus with a scrollable menu of categorized icons. It's a love-it-or-hate-it user interface that's carried on in Office 2010 and found its way into other Microsoft software. And now it's the core interface for the Windows 8 Explorer. (Now updated with Microsoft's video demo of the ribbon feature).
There's a reason Microsoft sticks with the ribbon: efficiency. The Windows team looked at all the commands being used in Explorer and found that the top 10 commands accounted for 81.8 percent of file management actions. The list contains everything you'd expect: copy, paste, properties, delete, cut, etc.
Next, they noticed an issue: out of all the commands people frequently use in Windows Explorer, only 10.9 percent of those actions were carried out using the Explorer UI command bar. The right-click menu and keyboard shortcuts were both used far more than the command bar. Those actions are second nature for some of us and potentially faster than using the command bar, but if the command bar isn't making those actions quick and easy, something's wrong. Only two of the most popular commands were available in the command bar.
Enter the ribbon. Microsoft looked at community feedback to see what people wanted and came away with plenty of suggestions. Users specified several features removed from Vista that were available in XP like the "Up one level" button, as well as a desire for more keyboard shortcuts and customization options. The ribbon best satisfied Microsoft's goals by integrating the most important commands into a customizable UI:
- Provides the ability to put the most important commands in very prominent, front and center locations.
- Makes it easy to find commands predictably and reliably. Every important file management command could be given a home in the ribbon, and customers would always know where to look for them.
- Exposes a large set of commands (~200) in one easy and consistent experience and organizes commands into scenario-focused groups without the use of nested menus, popups, dialogs, and right-click menus.
- Aids command identification with support for grouping, a variety of button sizes and icons, and aids deeper investigation with live previews and expanded tooltips.
- Takes a similar approach to Office, Microsoft Paint, and Windows Live Essentials, which means that many of our customers will be familiar with the model and not have a lot to learn.
- Provides a consistent, reliable UI that doesn’t degrade over time like traditional toolbar and menu-based user interfaces do. See Jensen’s earlier blog on this topic from the development of the ribbon.
Every command in the ribbon supports a keyboard shortcut for power users. Third-party add-ons unfortunately won't have access to the ribbon UI--Microsoft actually seems a bit regretful about that, but says it simply couldn't get the implementation right this time around. They'll still be able to integrate into the right-click context menu, of course.
The new Home view for the Explorer ribbon houses an array of really useful commands. Copy, paste and properties are the most prominent, but some other cool features include "Copy path" and "Copy to." Share, View and Search tabs include the features you'd expect--managing what users can view what files, choosing what commands are displayed, and tweaking search parameters for finding files.
The whole UI has been designed with widescreen monitors in mind, so the details pane uses real estate more efficiently to display image information. The ribbon itself collapses, so those of you eager for vertical screen space can cut out a big chunk of the UI by double clicking to contract/expand the ribbon. The Quick Access Toolbar exists specifically for power users who want to add their own commands to the Explorer UI. And the Up button's back.