Office UI designer Jensen Harris reports on his blog that Microsoft has decided to license the Microsoft Office 2007 user interface to other developers under a royalty free license. This includes the Ribbon, galleries and mini toolbars.
Developers will have to get a license from Microsoft and it’ll come with several restrictions – for example it must change it’s layout when the window is resized, must include a quick access toolbar and the ribbon should disappear if the window gets below 300×250.
At first glance it seems like Microsoft is simply licensing this out of the goodness of their heart. But it does make a lot of sense – people have already tried to imitate the Ribbon in their own products, without a license from Microsoft. Microsoft probably knew people were going to do it anyway so this way gives Microsoft a bit more control over how the UI is used in other programs.
There is a 120 page booklet of guidelines which developers must adhere to. Says Jensen Harris, "There’s tremendous value in making sure that we all use these models in a consistent way, because it helps to ensure that people have predictable user experiences moving between Office-style user interfaces."
To get a feel for what the guidelines look like, see this preview which shows the guidelines for ribbon resizing.
You can use the Office 2007 UI on other operating systems but you can’t obtain a license if your product directly competes with Office 2007.
So is Microsoft’s license going to hinder or encourage the implementation of ribbon-like interfaces in other programs? Could we soon be seeing Firefox with a ribbon-like interface? Ribbon "Widgets" for your website? A whole GUI based on Ribbon?
Via Inside Microsoft.