Microsoft is licensing the new UI (user interface) in Office 2007 for free so developers can build applications that look similar to the programs in the suite.
Microsoft is licensing both design and functionality of Office 2007's RibbonX UI, as well as offering guidelines for implementing it, through a new programme, said Takeshi Numoto, Microsoft general manager for Office Client. Developers and ISVs (independent software vendors) can sign up with Microsoft on the web and register products that will use the UI.
Microsoft said it decided to launch the licensing programme after being approached by ISV partners that wanted to build applications using Office 2007 as a platform.
The RibbonX UI is a completely new interface for Office 2007 that’s designed to make common Office features easier to use.
According to Numoto, the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars revamping Office 2007's UI; indeed, it is the suite's most significant new feature. The company wants "qualified developers" to be able to use these investments, but it also wants to protect its proprietary investment from unauthorised use.
"The new licensing programme enables developers and ISVs to benefit legally from Microsoft’s innovation by using the UI for their own applications," he said.
Andrew Brust, chief of new technology for New York consulting firm twentysix New York, said a new formal programme for licensing RibbonX makes a lot of sense because the UI is "the result of a significant investment by Microsoft in usability research and UI development", and Microsoft naturally wants to protect that.