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Patent US 8255828 B2 (publication US 10/955,967, assigned to Microsoft), Command user interface for displaying selectable software functionality controls, is the main patent protecting the Ribbon UI.

This patent is heavily contested by the open-source software community, and I'm sure there's prior art out there. Have you seen anything published before August 16, 2004 that discusses

  • a tabbed toolbar, each tab containing a series of logical groups of buttons, check boxes, drop-down boxes, and other UI controls for a related set of functions (such as editing a table inserted into a Word document)

If so, please submit evidence of prior art as an answer to this question, one piece of prior art per answer. If you have several pieces of prior art, you may submit multiple answers, each describing a particular piece of prior art.

Diagram 1 shows Windows Explorer in Windows 8.1, which contains an example of the Ribbon UI, and demonstrates a function covered in claim 1 of the patent.

The first claim of the aforementioned patent is as follows:

  1. A method for providing functionality from a software application by displaying an improved user interface at a display device, the method comprising: organizing a plurality of software functionalities according to tasks to be performed by the software application, the tasks being identified textually by user interface tabs;

    upon receiving an indication of a selection of a first user interface tab, providing a plurality of selectable controls associated with a first task, each selectable control being presented by a graphic representation and a textual representation;

    grouping the plurality of selectable controls into logical groupings of the plurality of selectable controls, wherein each of the logical groupings combine a subset of functionalities associated with the selected first user interface tab;

    dynamically adjusting a layout of at least one of the logical groupings to accommodate the user interface, wherein dynamically adjusting the layout of the at least one logical grouping comprises reducing a size of the graphical representation of at least one selectable control within the logical grouping eliminating the textual representation of at least one selectable control associated with the at least one logical grouping, and preserving the graphical representation associated with the at least one selectable control associated with the at least one logical grouping;

    upon receiving an indication of a selection of a second user interface tab, providing in the user interface a plurality of additional selectable controls for selecting functionalities organized under a second task associated with the second user interface tab;

    after providing in the user interface the plurality of additional selectable controls for selecting functionalities organized under the second task, receiving an indication of a selection of one of the additional selectable controls organized under the second task;

    applying functionality associated with the selected additional selectable control to a selected object; and when the second user interface tab is not selected in the user interface, providing in the user interface the plurality of selectable controls organized under the first task associated with the selected first user interface tab.

More simply, this means:

A user interface for a software application which:

  • consists of a series of tabs each representing a set of functions to be performed by the application
  • provides a set of UI controls relevant to a particular task when the user selects a particular tab, with each control consisting of an icon and text
  • arranges the controls in each tab into a series of subgroups
  • if necessary, hides the text for at least one UI control in a tab, leaving only the icon for that control(s), while retaining the text and graphics for other controls (see Diagram 1)
  • provides a second set of UI controls relevant to a different task when the user clicks on a second tab
  • accepts user selection of one of the UI controls in the second set after displaying the controls in the second tab
  • performs the function associated with a UI control in the second tab when the user selects it
  • displays the UI controls in the first selected tab when a second tab is not selected

Good prior art would be evidence of a system that followed all of these steps before August 16, 2004.

Diagram 1

Diagram 1: Windows Explorer in Windows 8.1: Shrinking the controls in the Ribbon to adapt to a smaller window by removing text from UI controls Windows Explorer in Windows 8.1: Shrinking the controls in the Ribbon to adapt to a smaller window by removing text from UI controls


What is good prior art? Please see the help center.

Want to help? Please vote or comment on submissions below. We welcome you to post your own request for prior art on other questionable US pending and issued patents.

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When you say "heavily contested", does that include any specific prior art? –  George White Feb 16 at 2:22
    
Yes, and I'll answer my own question shortly. I'd like to see more examples from the community. –  DragonLord Feb 16 at 2:57

3 Answers 3

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) has a very similar UI where you have tabs full of controls that are in subgroups.

According to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GIMP_version_history Their 2.0 release introduced the "tabs and docks system":

"March 23, 2004: Many new tool options, GIMP now using GTK+ 2.x graphical toolkit. Tabs and docks system introduced. Script-fu scripting support improved greatly. Allows text to be re-edited. CMYK color support."

Did a Google search for "gimp 2.0 ui review"

PC Magazine article July 26, 2004 http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1627539,00.asp mentions "We especially like what GIMP has done in the way of palettes. First off, the new tabbed palettes are nestable and dockable, making GIMP more streamlined while also making more efficient use of screen real estate."

This article (March 24, 2004) has screenshots: http://www.mozillaquest.com/OpenSource04/Gimp-2-0-Release_Story01.html

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KDE 3.0 included UI tab elements that could be placed wherever you liked for whatever purpose (including tabbed toolbars). You could also select whether or not you wanted to display text, icons, or text+icons. 99% of the time applications put these tabs on the left or right of the page but I don't think that matters from the standpoint of the patent claims (it doesn't say "horizontal tabs"). I believe this encompasses every claim of the patent. Here's a screenshot from the KDE 3.1 New Feature Guide (published January 28th, 2003) demonstrating a mix of icon and text tabbed toolbars (in the Quanta application):

enter image description here

Obviously, if you navigate that tree on the left you'll end up adding or removing icons from the view leaving just text behind (which I believe satisfies the dynamic sizing/text/icons aspect of the patent but maybe not).

Here's another screenshot demonstrating tabbed toolbars on the left (in the Konqueror application):

enter image description here

To meet with the claim regarding hiding text but preserving icons, if you were to resize the window so that some of the icons would not fit an icon would appear which you could click to provide a drop-down menu where you could select those toolbar items.

As an alternative method of the dynamic resizing (preserving some icons while showing text+icons in other areas), here's a screenshot of Konqueror demonstrating a tab on the left (the active one) showing text while the others show only icons:

enter image description here

That "show the text on the active sidebar tab" feature was introduced in KDE 3.2 which was in development at the end of 2003 and released in 2004.

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Lotus eSuite (1991, source) had an early implementation of a tabbed toolbar highly similar to Microsoft's current Ribbon UI:

enter image description here

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Did this have the property of retaining a graphic symbol while eliminating a text portion when in some modes? –  George White Feb 16 at 4:18
    
I don't know, but probably not. –  DragonLord Feb 16 at 4:18
    
In order to have evidence that a claim should not have been allowed, the old things located for comparison need, at least collectively, to have all of the elements of the claim. –  George White Feb 16 at 6:25

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