7 Improvements needed in LibreOffice templates and styles

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Jun 12, 2013 GMT
Bruce Byfield

For the past couple of months, I've been drafting a book with the working title of "Styles and Templates in LibreOffice." It's going well, although not fast enough --a big project never moves fast enough for me -- but in many ways it's an exercise in exasparation when I see how little things have changed since I last wrote about such topics.

Writing the book is a return to expertise that I haven't needed for five or six years. I no longer write manuals, and I long ago devised the templates for my everyday purposes, and haven't needed to revive them recently. Yet despite the importance of styles and templates in LibreOffice, they remain as needlessly arcane and as lacking in certain obvious features as ever.

True, LibreOffice has condemned the hopelessly outdated Template Manager that OpenOffice.org labored under and that Apache OpenOffice still retains. In its place is a much cleaner interface that, if anything errs on the side of being too simple.

I realize, too, that much of the structure of styles and templates is designed to reduced the chances of corruption that plagued Microsoft Word in the past (and, for all I know, still does).

All the same, LibreOffice styles and templates in Writer would be both simpler to use and more powerful if the following changes were implemented:

7. Axe the virtual view in the Template Manager: The Template manager  is a combined view of system templates available to all users, and the personal templates for the current user. This virtual view is needlessly confusing, and makes finding a template next to impossible. Why not allow the option to save to system or personal directories that helps users to understand the difference and to know to which they are saving.

6. Let templates be registered from File -> Save or Save As: When you save a file, you can make it a template. However, to be listed in the Template Manager, a template must be registered -- that is, placed in one of the directories listed in Tools -> Options -> LibreOffice -> Paths.

The trouble is, from within LibreOffice, you can only register templates when you select File-> Save as Template or File -> Template Menu. Why not add a dialog that asks if you want to register a template when it is created from Save or Save As? It could also ask if you wanted to add a copy in some other place.

5. Move the full set of template toolsools from File -> New -> Templates: While I appreciate that the Template Manager doesn't need a full set of tools for every circumstance in which it is used, but placing the full set in this position is the least logical idea since putting Shutdown options in a menu labeled Start. Place options like Import or Delete in File ->Template Menu, where users will probably look for them first.

4. Call Load Styles "Import from Other Template" (which is what it is doing): Load Styles is an option available on the drop-down list of the Styles and Formatting window. However, is really a function that concerns  templates, not styles, and should be repositioned with other template features

Come to think, while Load Styles is over-hauled, why not add the option to import individual styles, or partial lists?

3. Update template listing when connection broken: If you alter a template, the next time you open each document based on it, you have the option of updating the document. If you decline, the document is no longer connected with the document -- yet File -> Properties -> General continues to list the document as being based on the template.

To avoid confusion, the Template field on the General tab should become blanked when the document is no longer linked to the template. Or perhaps the field should list the template as a former basis for the document, and include the option of restoring the connection.

2. Add persistent frames to Page styles: Page styles help to make LibreOffice Writer the desktop publisher that it is, instead of just another word processor, like MS Word. But the one thing they lack is the ability to include frames that appear each time a page style is used.

Yes, you can add a frame to a header or footer, but that seriously limits how a persistent frame can be positioned.  Add this feature, and there would be very little lacking in text styles.

1. Add Table Styles: LibreOffice Writer almost has table styles -- but that "almost" covers a range of awkward kludges. Perhaps that is why table styles are on scheduled to be implemented in this year's Summer of Code

The project has already identified key high-level goals, including adding table styles into the Styles and Formatting window. However, since details seem to be lacking, I can only hope that the implementation will include hierarchial table styles, a tab for shading options (for instance, header row, then every second row green), and options to build tables with either exact measurements or percentages. A good place to start would be the table styles in FrameMaker.

Probably these are not the only ways to improve styles. Many of the options included in Insert -> Fields -> Others -> Function might be more comprehensive if they were incorporated into paragraph and character styles -- particularly hidden text and hidden paragraphs. In addition, the relation of the outlining function for paragraph styles to tools -> Outline Number remains obscure.

Similarly, conditional paragraphs remain a mystery to most users. So far as I know, only two users have ever comprehended them -- and one of them is mad, and the other has repressed the memory with the help of weekly therapy.

However, the seven listed here would do the most to improve Writer. Most would be straightforward to implement, and add a clarifying simplicity that would make styles less formidable.

Yet they have been needed so long that it's frustrating that most of them don't appear to be on the agenda. They are long overdue.

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