I’m confused

Back in the days of classic Excel (versions 97 through 2003), I displayed about 10 toolbars, working out to hundreds of commands represented by tiny icons. We recognized them, and were able to have all of our most used commands one click away.

Then came 2007 which gave us the Ribbon in its place. The Ribbon consumed as much real estate as three rows of toolbars, and gave us a lot less commands one click away. The story we heard was how Microsoft was trying to make the experience easier for new users… making commands more discoverable. The revised system was supposedly more logical than all the commands buried under menus in the old structure.

To some extent, I’d agree that Microsoft accomplished their goals here. The applications are much less intimidating than they were for new/less experienced users. The issue is that it smacked the power users pretty badly. I still feel that I’m less efficient with the Ribbon than I was with the toolbar hierarchy, and I’ve written the book on how to customize the user interface. The only reason I got into ribbon customization in the first place was to try and get some of that efficiency back that we lost under the new paradigm.

Interestingly, as we can see with the copy/paste icons in Office 2010, Microsoft is starting to move toward and icon basis again, without as much text:

I wonder if this is to make it easier to port the application to other languages? I also wonder how long it will be before we start seeing a Ribbon with no text on it at all? After all, it just wastes space when you know what the commands do.

Now, here’s where I get confused… I installed Internet Explorer 9. And here’s the basic install:

This is discoverability? I’m not saying I want a full blown Ribbon here, but you can’t tell me that these two philosophies are the same? The menus are gone, granted that’s consistent, but where are the favourites that I used to be able to have one click away? I actually had to download a toolbar for it. In fact, I’ve found the lack of discoverability of controls to be so frustrating that I went and installed Firefox. Unfortunately this seems to be the new thing.

I don’t get the completely opposite directions here. In one app we’re putting in big, bloated user interfaces to be in the users faces. In the other we’re trying to remove it all and make them hunt for it. What gives?