Will the Office 12 Ribbon Bar be Microsoft’s “New Coke”?

Market research said it was going to be a big hit.  Focus groups showed that it was preferred over the old product.  Customers would be happier, and the new product would provide a competitive edge in the marketplace.

That’s what they thought about the new Coke formula back in 1985. The same (somewhat contrived) lines could apply to Office 12’s new UI.

The Coca-cola company miscalculated how much the identity of the brand was tied to the old formula’s specific taste.  Many Coke buyers just continued on their merry way, but a very vocal subset was upset, and they let the world know.  Soon, Coca-cola brought back the original formula Coke, and all settled out in the marketplace, with Coca-cola picking up a bit of market share along the way from all the publicity.

I wonder if the “newness” of the ribbon UI is going to be too big of a hurdle for the Office brand to overcome.  People have been using the same toolbar and buttons UI for more than a decade, and old habits die hard.  The ribbon may be better & more efficient, but will the public accept it with open arms? 

Microsoft needs to spend some energy convincing the consumer that this it still the Office they know and love.  Commercials showing typical users being more productive.  Maybe a Maytag Repairman-like “Lonely Office Guru” commercial will be in order.  Play against the fact that the UI may not be familiar, and then explain why the product is still the same, but better.

They need to convince everyone that this new product really is Office, that it fits into our collective brand image, it’s just better.  If Microsoft can’t pull this off, they can’t simply bring an “Office Classic” to market.  “Office Classic” means that people just won’t upgrade.