In a previous article about Windows 8, we unwillingly started a big debate about the ribbon and its efficiency. Some people do not like the fact that Windows 8 uses it more widely than Windows 7 and complain that it is less efficient compared to the older interface from Windows XP. In order to continue the debate using facts instead of subjective opinions, we decided to make a benchmark and compare the efficiency of the ribbon, as it is used in Windows 8 versus the interface we are all familiar with from Windows XP. Let’s see the results.
The Testing Procedure
We took two computers: one with Windows XP Service Pack 3 and one with Windows 8 Developer Preview. Both computers had all the latest updates installed.
Then, we enabled all the toolbars and buttons that can be found in these applications. For example, we enabled all the buttons in the Quick Access Toolbar found in the Windows 8 applications. In Windows XP, we enabled all the toolbars in Windows Explorer. All these buttons and toolbars were enabled using the default menus and settings. We did NOT run any registry hacks or third party tools to enable additional functionality.
Then, we wrote down what we think are the most common tasks you can execute in these three applications, in both Windows XP and Windows 8. We measured the number of steps required to complete these tasks and compared the results. Any task that could not be executed both in Windows XP and Windows 8, was excluded from measurements. For example, in Windows XP, you cannot insert a URL as a link to a text selection in WordPad and Redo does not exist as a functionality in Windows Explorer.
We wanted to make an apples vs apples comparison so we did not use any keyboard shortcuts to speed up any of the tasks. Everything was done using the mouse, the menus and buttons available in each Windows application. The keyboard was not used unless it was required to make a mandatory text entry to complete a task (e.g. renaming a file or folder).
If you want to see the steps we went through, to complete each task, you can find a downloadable PDF with details, at the end of this article.
The Ribbon in WordPad - Up to 9% more efficient
The first application we analyzed was WordPad - the default document editor included in Windows.
We analyzed a series of 12 common tasks people execute when working with a document in WordPad. The results were surprisingly similar for most tasks. The ribbon only helped when creating a new document or when inserting a picture into a document.
All in all, I think it is fair to say that the ribbon brings a small efficiency improvement of up to 9%.
The Ribbon in Paint - Up to 19% more efficient
Let’s go to Paint - the tool which, most probably, is the world’s most basic and most used graphic painting program. We tested a set of 16 tasks in this application.
Here, the improvements were much more noticeable, with one exception - using the free form selection tool is done faster in Windows XP.
In Paint, the ribbon is up to 19% more efficient versus the interface used in Windows XP.
The Ribbon in Windows Explorer - Up to 23% more efficient
Last, but not least, we tested Windows Explorer - the most used application of all three and the one which started the debate over the efficiency of the ribbon.
We compared a number of 15 tasks which we believe are executed pretty often by people using the tool.
In Windows Explorer we noticed the biggest improvement of all tools - 23%. Not only does the ribbon give quicker access to the different options but it also includes new functionality like buttons for Redo, Copy path or Invert selection operations.
Personally, I did not expect to see such big improvements. Especially not after the controversial discussions we had in our article with 12 Reasons why Windows Explorer in Windows 8 Rocks, where folks complained that it occupies too much screen space and it is also less efficient. I think the results speak for themselves: the ribbon in Windows 8 does give faster access to the functionality existing in each program.
People complaining about its lack of efficiency are simply subjective and biased. But... a person is entitled to his or her opinion and choice. I guess it’s a great thing Windows 8 allows you to minimize the ribbon in all programs so that people who do not like it, can simply skip using it.