Microsoft Office UI licensing and our ribbons

21 November 2006

Today Microsoft announced their program for licensing the new 2007 Microsoft Office system UI, including the famous ribbon. Later on this month, there will a link on the MSDN site that will enable you to license the new Office UI design and functionality using a royalty-free agreement, but, for now, the licensing page just introduces the new agreement in a FAQ-like manner.

We, Developer Express, are one of the initial partners in the Office UI licensing program. We have been instrumental in discussing the draft program with Microsoft and have been at the forefront in ensuring that we and our customers get the most benefit from the program.

To summarize, if you want to use a ribbon in your applications (whether you decide to use either our .NET or our VCL components or, horror, someone else's :) ), you will have to sign the Office UI licensing agreement with Microsoft. This no-cost license is a royalty-free agreement between yourselves and Microsoft that enables you to take advantage of the intellectual property (IP) that they've embodied in the new Office 2007 UI (including copyrights, trademarks, and patents). Part of this license is a remarkable document: the Office UI Design Guidelines that describe, in almost excruciating detail, how the ribbon and its associated controls must work and must look in an application in order to satisfy the license.

We have already signed this license. For component vendors like ourselves, the license describes what we have to do in order to implement a ribbon component that application developers can then use in their end-products. Of course, since we have been involved in this program from the very earliest days, we have had time to make every effort to ensure that both our ribbon implementations follow the design guidelines and the license agreement to the letter. When you use either or both of our ribbon implementations, you can rest assured that you will be able to adhere to your agreement with Microsoft with ease.

Lurkers and active members of our newsgroups will have noticed that we've been downright evasive about our plans for enhancing our ribbon implementations. We've been asked for some very reasonable enhancements, such as docking the ribbon vertically or along the bottom edge of the application window. Well, now you understand our ambiguous replies: according to the license agreement we are prohibited from doing most of them. Now that the Office UI Licensing program is public knowledge, we can start to categorize the enhancements we've been asked for into those we can do and those we cannot, and also to talk about them in more detail.

Note also that you, our customers, are not covered by our license agreement with Microsoft. The terms of the license are not transferable in that way: despite the fact that you are using our components, you will have to sign the Microsoft license yourselves for your own applications.

(Updated: the god of the new Office UI, Jensen Harris, has just blogged about the Office UI License.)

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