Can the Microsoft Office Ribbon be used by other developers?

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The Corel patent dispute raises the interesting question, can other developers use the Ribbon interface in their own products?

The answer isn’t clear.  There was a clear path to follow but Microsoft has managed to confuse the issue.

The Ribbon with it’s tabs, buttons, galleries, collapsing view as the window narrows etc was developed by Microsoft for Office 2007.  Some people like it, others tolerate it, and some hate the Ribbon with a passion rarely seen in the post-war era.

Microsoft wanted the Ribbon concept to be used beyond Office, so it would be more familiar and accepted.  They introduced a free patent licence agreement so developers could legally use the ribbon in their products.  The main restriction in that agreement is that it can’t be used in Office-like products (i.e. rivals to MS Office).

Note: the ribbon is slated for a change later in 2018.  We previewed the Outlook ribbon changes late last year.

You’ll see other products with ribbon interfaces and developers can get add-ons which make adding a ribbon easy.

That’s all great except that the Ribbon Office UI licence agreement has disappeared.

 Microsoft’s page Office UI licencing for developers has been ‘retired’ with no guidance about what, if anything, replaces it.  Nothing on where existing licence users legally stand if they continue to use the ribbon interface.

Developers should keep this kind of conduct in mind the next time Microsoft mouths their standard platitudes about support for the development community.

The best the Internet massed mind can figure out, anyone who signed the Office UI licencing agreement is still covered.  But that’s relying on an old 2014 version of the Office UI licencing page that’s saved on the Internet ‘Way Back Machine’.

We’ve copied that version of the page below for future reference.

The current position isn’t 100% clear because Microsoft has marked the relevant page as ‘retired’?

Does that mean there’s been another change in the Office UI Licencing arrangements … if so, what now applies?

The current, presumed, legal arrangements seem to only apply to developers using Microsoft’s own SDK’s for making a Ribbon.  What’s Microsoft’s position on other developer tools for making ribbon-like interfaces for Windows, Mac or even web pages?

Or maybe the page was marked as ‘retired’ without realizing or caring about the confusion that would ensue?

It’s in Microsoft’s interests to have the ribbon used beyond just MS Office.  So it’s hard to understand why they’d make the legal position so unclear.

Thanks to for doing the hard yards on this topic.


This is the version of ‘Office UI licensing for developers’ page from as at 24 April 2014.  At some stage between then and June 2014, the text was changed to the useless ‘retired’ message.

“Office UI licensing for developers

The Office UI licensing program, originally launched in November 2006, has been retired. When the program was introduced in 2006, developer frameworks for the Office Ribbon did not exist. Microsoft tools and technologies now provide developers a variety of options, code, and developer frameworks for implementing the Office Ribbon UI in Windows applications.

If you are a developer that already signed up for the Office UI licensing program and accepted the licensing terms, then you will continue to have rights under that license to implement the Office UI per the terms of that license. There are no changes at all for existing Office UI program licensees.

If you are not already licensed to use the Office UI under the retired program, you can use any of the Microsoft tools and frameworks to implement the Ribbon UI in your current or future Windows applications. The license terms associated with the Microsoft developer framework will apply. For example, current developer frameworks that are licensed for creating a Ribbon UI include:

If you are not already licensed under the Office UI licensing program, and you do not want to use any of the Microsoft tools and technologies, Microsoft no longer has a separate Office Ribbon UI licensing program. “

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