Excuse me, but where’s the menu?

It’s interesting, but our good old menu-bar, yes, the one having “File  Edit  View …” on it, is slowly disappearing from some of the most popular software apps. Today I happened to wander across to the Firefox proposed UI design page and the thing I immediately noticed was the absence of the menubar in the new designs. Good riddance! No seriously, how often do you use the browser menu-bar? For me the browser is the second most frequently used application and 99% of the time I never bother about the menu-bar. I, however, would love every millimetre of screen space while browsing and am more than happy to see the menu-bar go.

There have been some subtle changes in UIs over the past couple of years. No I am not talking about glass effects and pretty pictures and icons, I am talking about design. Though not the first, it was MS Office that got the world’s attention by replacing the menu-bar with the “Ribbon Control”. A bold step, but the idea was to combine the tool-bar and menu into a single tabbed interface. To be honest, yes the ribbon idea is cool, maybe not innovative, but definitely cool. The interface had mixed reactions initially, but as people got more and more familiar with it, things started to get comfortable and soon other applications followed suite. At a first glance having no menu-bar is disorientating for a long time computer user. I did find it a bit “unusual” to navigate my way around  Office 2007 (the one and only time I used it). On the other hand, I never missed the menu-bar (even once) while using the Chrome browser. I guess the whole idea needs a bit getting used to, but apart from that, I really did like the whole concept of replacing the menus and tools into one single compact unit. Makes sense. Tool-bars, after all, only do complement the menus. It is therefore logical that both be combined into one.

I personally feel this use of the tab interface is a step in the right direction when it comes to exposing complex UI. The resurgence of the tab control and it’s innovative use in hiding complexity whist combining two separate controls (the menu-bar and the tool-bar) into a single entity to service both options is intuitive and resourceful. A similar usage of the tab control has also found it’s way into the mobile device world where it is going to be the main stay of the Moblin Linux platform. That is interesting indeed. So will we see our “Desktop Application Panels” and “Start Menus”, which are basically menus too, being replaced by tabs soon?

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