As first reported by Long Zheng, the blogger who writes the popular istartedsomething.com, Microsoft will provide Vista users an optional update that installs the code necessary to display Windows 7's Ribbon framework on its predecessor.
The framework, called 'Scenic Ribbon', is a derivation of the ribbon-esque 'Fluent' user interface that debuted in Office 2007 two years ago. Both feature a wide ribbon-like display at the top of a window that replaces the traditional drop-down menus, small icons and toolbars that have standardized Windows applications' look-and-feel for decades. Office 2007 faced serious resistance from some users over the ribbon when it launched, although that has subsided over time.
More recently, complaints mounted over plans by OpenOffice.org to overhaul the interface of that open-source productivity suite. Some have blasted the organization for parroting Office 2007's ribbon.
"The Office ribbon sucks. Please don't copy it," wrote one user in a comment to a Sun Microsystems blog. Sun contributes engineering and developer time to OpenOffice.org.
Earlier this year, Microsoft said the ribbon interface would be used by both Microsoft and third-party developers to distinguish new applications for Windows 7 from older versions that ran, say, on Windows XP or Windows Vista.
"This is one of the things we think will differentiate apps written for Windows 7, as opposed to those for earlier versions of Windows," said Mike Nash, the head of Microsoft's Windows product management, in an interview with Computerworld last January.
That plan seems to be in tatters now. Starting in October, application developers will be assured that new software they've crafted to include the Scenic Ribbon interface will also run on Vista.
"A Windows 7 interoperability pack, known as the Windows 7 Client Platform Update, is to be released alongside Windows 7 in October of this year," said Karl Bridge, a Microsoft programming writer, in a message posted last week to a forum on the MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) site. "This update provides down-level support for the Windows Ribbon framework and will be made available from the Microsoft Download Center and as a 'Recommended update' on Windows Update."
Bridge added that the update will support all versions of Vista, including the entry-level Home Basic and Starter, which for Vista has been sold only in a limited number of markets overseas.
Application developers who build software with Windows 7's ribbon interface will have to point users to Windows Update or Microsoft's download site to grab the Client Platform Update, or silently call Windows Update as part of setup, Bridge said.
Microsoft's most visible "ribbonized" Windows 7 applications are the revamped Paint and retooled Wordpad, the basic image editor and word processor, respectively, bundled with the OS.
Windows XP users will be out of ribbon luck, however, as the October update will not apply to the eight-year-old operating system.