In 2007, the "fluent UI" or ribbon had IP rights asserted and required a license from Microsoft. That license is now no longer available, the page only stating 'retired'.

What is the status of using a ribbon UI on Windows or any other platform? Is Microsoft still asserting IP rights, and is a license required?

Note that there are many questions online about this, but no answer, much less a sourced one stating Microsoft's official position. This leaves many developers in a state of uncertainty.

As of 2017:

  • No documentation on MSDN anywhere mentions a license. Consider, for example, the MFC ribbon overview.
  • The VC++ 2017 MFC CMFCRibbonBar class, the only ribbon installed with VS2017, links to the retired license in its header. This header has not changed for many years. Its documentation does not mention a license.
  • The Visual Studio 2017 license does not mention the ribbon.
  • The Windows 10 SDK license does not mention the ribbon (checked against 10.0.15603.137, downloaded 2017-04-11.)
  • Some believe this means no-one who did not sign a license before it was retired are able to legally use a ribbon.
  • A 2009 comment in a forum (not a good basis) states there are "no unusual licensing requirements".
  • There has been no statement by Microsoft of a change in its attitude the the ribbon, arguably meaning that now a license is no longer available, no developers can use a ribbon.
  • Microsoft uses a ribbon in its macOS Office applications, but has not indicated if other developers may use a ribbon on non-Windows platforms
  • There is significant doubt if the ribbon is valid IP.

This leaves all developers who did not sign a license prior to it being retired in limbo and uncertainty, not knowing:

  • If they can use the inbuilt WinAPI ribbon control on Windows 10 without a license
  • If they can use a third party ribbon control on Windows without a license
  • If they can use a third party ribbon control on macOS or Linux
  • If they can use a ribbon for an application that competes with a Microsoft application (either Office, or other.)

Please cite sources, and prefer the kind of sources you could quote if it became legally important, above sources that are a comment on a forum. I'm seeking a definitive answer, and won't mark a "it's probably ok, you'll get away with it" answer as correct.


1 Answer 1


The available evidence (sparse!) suggests that it cannot be done (or can be in a restricted way, see technobabble below). A non-authoritative report (from a developer who had to drop it) is here. A snapshot of a MS support page from 2013 on Office UI licensing for developers (also preserved on the Wayback Machine) says:

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:

Microsoft Ribbon for Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) Windows Ribbon Framework Microsoft Windows SDK for Windows 7 and the .NET Framework 4 Ribbon Extensibility Overview Microsoft Foundation Class Ribbon Component (The MFC ribbon may now be used under the same license as the Microsoft Windows SDK).

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. If you have any questions about the retired licensing program, please email the [email protected] email alias.

So apparently you can do it using MS tools, but not totally on your own.

  • Unfortunately, that email address ([email protected]) bounces.
    – David
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 12:57
  • When they say retired, they apparently mean it.
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 13:38

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