Microsoft Previews Office's New Streamlined Look and Feel

Microsoft is taking another stab at the Office UI and is reworking the ribbon-based toolset, but users who don't like the changes can go back to the old ribbon.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft is giving Office's user interface a makeover, including tweaks to the ribbon user interface (UI), new colors and updated icons.

Over the next few months, Outlook, Word and other cornerstone Office applications will feature some revamped interface elements intended to help users get the most out of the productivity software suite from Microsoft. They include a simplified ribbon—the once-controversial collection of menu items and tools that reside near the top of Word, Excel and PowerPoint will soon take on a more streamlined appearance meant to help users focus on their work and collaborate with others.

The new ribbon will first appear for some users of the browser-based version of Word on Office.com, followed by the Windows version of Outlook for select members of the Office Insider early access program.

Acknowledging that switching up a popular application's interface may not go over well with longtime users, Microsoft is taking a measured approach to releasing the updated ribbon for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Office and Windows marketing at Microsoft, in a June 13 announcement.

"Users have a lot of 'muscle memory' built around these versions, so we plan on being especially careful with changes that could disrupt their work," stated Spataro. "We aren't ready to bring the simplified ribbon to these versions yet because we feel like we need more feedback from a broader set of users first. But when we do, users will always be able to revert back to the classic ribbon with one click."

Search will also become more central to the Office experience, Spataro said.

Before users type a query into Outlook's search box, for example, the application will offer recommendations generated by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and Microsoft Graph, a collection of APIs that deliver contextual information to users based on employee information and content stored across Microsoft's business software and cloud offerings. This so-called "zero query search" functionality will enable users to access contacts, commands and information within Office files with less searching.

Capping off the interface enhancements are new color schemes along with icons that will render better across various screen sizes and resolutions. Taking minimalism to a new level, the icons use a scalable graphics technique to improve accessibility and appear crisp on-screen, Spataro said.

Word for Office.com will be the first app to feature the new colors and icons, followed by Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Windows sometime in June for some Office Insiders and Outlook for Windows users in July. Finally, the new colors and icons will hit the Outlook for Mac application in August.

Microsoft isn't the only technology giant that has been brushing up the interfaces of some of its most popular products.

Google recently redesigned Gmail, lending the popular email service a more modern look and new capabilities that help users manage their inboxes and avoid scams. The new AI-powered Nudging feature prods users to follow up on potentially urgent messages. When a suspicious email lands in a user's inbox, the web application now shows attention-grabbing warnings that are simpler to understand.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...