Rowan's World, et Cetera

My Top 3 LibreOffice Wishes

by Rowan on 28 September, 2010

So, is to be forked from Oracle’s control to the new “developer-friendly” Document Foundation. Let’s hope this will give “LibreOffice” the boost it needs to really gain some polish. So here are my top 3 personal bug-bears that shouldn’t be too hard to fix. Pretty please?

The Installer

The first screen of the Windows installer for asks a question which most users won’t know how to answer, and gives them the wrong default.

It asks the user where to unpack the temporary files needed by the installer – files which the user should never need to see – and defaults to unpacking them on the user’s desktop.

There are several things wrong with this dialog:

  1. It doesn’t tell you why you’d ever change it. The way the dialog is worded, it sounds like the product itself will live in the selected location. But in actual fact, the only situations I can think of where you would need to change it are if you have limitted space on a particular disk partition, or an unusual permission setup. The default wording should reflect this:

    “The LibreOffice installer needs to unpack some temporary files to proceed. This will require roughly XMB of space. If the location shown below is not appropriate, please specify an alternative location.”

  2. The desktop is not a temp folder. The “desktop cleanup wizard” is one of those bits of Windows that should never have been necessary, and it is abuses like this that mean it is. Quite simply, the default location for temporary installation files should be the temp directory provided by Windows.
  3. More subtly, these files aren’t actually cleaned up. This is possibly the reason (or, excuse) for unpacking to the desktop rather than a temp folder: a successful installation of currently leaves a folder of unpacked installation files lying around, and it’s up to the user to notice and delete these. I can only imagine that there are some problems with the installation executable deleting itself, but surely a stub could be placed in the permanent install directory to clean up the files once everything else has finished?

The Help Assistant

The Help Assistant cunningly implements the least popular part of Microsoft’s infamous “Office Assistant” feature – the cutesy cartoon graphic that pops up while you’re working1 – without implementing its actual purpose – showing context-sensitive tips with a minimum of user interaction, and without using up too much screen space.

If the light-bulb graphic pops up while you’re typing in a Writer document, you know that the help system is trying to tell you something. But you know absolutely nothing else – there is no polite speech bubble, no hint if you mouse over the icon, nothing at all until you click the icon at which point a full-size help window appears (and, in my experience, appears slowly). This is, frankly, worse than useless.

The simplest solution to this, frankly, is just to remove the feature. But if they2 really want this feature, then there is a small change that would change it from completely pointless to actually quite helpful: show a one-line summary of what the tip is actually about, before you click the graphic!

Conditional Formatting in Spreadsheets

This one isn’t such a big deal, really, but it’s one of those little details that puts people off switching from, ahem, rival applications. It’s also one of those cases where a bit of pragmatism is required.

Basically, if you want to have the formatting of cells in a spreadsheet in, you have to specify a named style for each rule.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the style manager is one of the things I really like about when I’m working in Writer – to me, it makes all the difference between a “rich text editor” and a “word processor”, and is much better than the versions of MS Word I’ve used. I can also see the reasoning behind allowing any styling to be applied by the conditional formatting, and the interface makes it easy to add a new style if you need to.

But 99% of the time, people will want to change two aspects of the matched cells: the text colour and the background colour. This is all most spreadsheet applications allow you to change, but they allow you to change them really easily. So, I’m happy for a new style to be created behind the scenes, but can I please have two little boxes labelled “Text colour” and “Background colour”?

Yeah, I know…

It’s open source, I should

  1. Check the issue tracker for previous discussion of these issues.
  2. Download the source code and fix them myself.

But, y’know, I have to go and make some dinner now. Nobody’s perfect, eh?


  1. OK, so they didn’t bother animating it and giving it a face, but it’s still nothing but a pretty picture []
  2. the ominous “they”; or now, apparently, the meritocratic “they”… []

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