Better user interfaces and the costs of change

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:

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