So you're a software developer and want your program to have a shiny "ribbon" interface
just like Office 2007? Well, guess what--Microsoft patented the hell out of it! This should not surprise anybody. However, there is good news for developers, or some of them, at least. Microsoft has announced that it has "created a royalty-free licensing program
that will enable developers to build applications that have the look and feel of the new 2007 Office system applications." The license is perpetual, meaning once Microsoft grants you the license it can't turn around and revoke or change it later on. However there are, as you might imagine, some "guidelines" Microsoft wants you to follow when building your own ribbony apps, and they take the form of a 120-page document. Though the deal sounds largely positive for software developers, there is one significant catch: Microsoft won't license their ribbon UI patents for products that compete directly with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, or Access. This is a sensible move for Microsoft, but a bummer for the makers of competing products who stand a lot to gain from making products that look and act just like the dominant office suite in the marketplace.
You can check out the press release and a canned interview about the new licensing program at the link above, but I heartily recommend you skip it and instead head over to Jensen Harris' blog
. Harris is Microsoft's Group Program Manager for the Office UI and lays everything out in plain English. He also links to a preview of the guidelines (you have to sign an NDA to get at the full 120-page document) and a Channel 9 video in which he talks to Microsoft laywer Judy Jennison about the program.