LibreOffice needs a Facelift

For years I’ve been used to the fit and finish that other office suites like Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and even Apple’s version could offer you. Between attractive headers and the intuitive placing of icons in the interface (more on the icons later), LibreOffice can’t even hold a candle to the illusion of professionalism that other office suites can offer you. Queue LibreOffice, which has been a champion of the black and white for as long as I can remember.

I understand that icons have never been the strongest suit when it comes to free software, but c’mon. There are some fantastic icon sets out there, it seems like nobody wants to use them. I believe the choice against using them, however, comes from the lack of icons within the set. These sets aren’t able to encompass the entire system, and packages like LibreOffice suffer. But, you can add your own icons just for LibreOffice to use right? Well, for distro hoppers, you’re probably out of luck because every time you have a fresh install of GNU/Linux, you’ll be downloading and placing those icons all over again.

LibreOffice is like a female peacock, muted colours. The developers want it to look beautiful, I’m sure, but unfortunately as hard as they try to strut their plumage, they leave a lot to desire in the end. Look at Microsoft Office. Not only do you have colours to style your text, you have a selection of colours. You have multiple palettes to choose from even! Want something a little more cooky? You’ve got the choice. Want something that will appease your boss’ affinity for orange? Microsoft Office has your back. As much as Linux offers you a choice, LibreOffice is lacking in this area of decision-making.

What I suggest is having an online portal/database of writing themes and styles that one could import into their LibreOffice install with a single click. On this portal you’d be able to search themes and styles based on their colours, some contributor-set tags, or even by theme design (material design, Apple, “modern” (microsoft) design). It’d be a single file that would have its own extension attributed by default to LibreOffice when LO is installed. Simply double-click the file, and it’s imported and available to use in any of the LibreOffice suite apps. I plan to write up a proposal to the LibreOffice team and hopefully they’ll hear me out.

But beyond my biggest complaint is the tools available for customizing your LibreOffice experience. First of all, the default UI layout for quick icons on the top is a jumbled mess. I’ll give the team credit for the Notebook bar bu the default’s still just a sea of icons which are, useful I’ll admit, but arranged in a fashing that makes little sense to many people. It reminds me of Office 2003. Again, LibreOffice’s default layout reminds me of an office suite that was released fifteen years ago. Admittedly there are more customizations that can be done, especially since it’s free software, but we need to step up our game. Colour customization for the UI itself is abhorrent as well.

Take a look at this:

You’d think that “Application background” would change the colour of the application behind the top icons, right? You’d be thinking wrong. This changes the background of the editing area. You can’t even change the colour of the UI itself unless you go with a different system theme. And nevermind applying “Personalization.” The repo that the “theming” pulls from doesn’t even work and hasn’t for a long time.

I think it’s time that there’s an artistic movement within the free software community. We need more flair, we need more pizzazz. Up until now it’s been about the average GNU/Linux user. They don’t really care about how flashy their apps look. The problem is that the general public really cares. If they’re going to stare at the same program all day long, they want something that isn’t a massive eyesore. The want sharp icons, they want complementary and contrasting colours. They want a breath of fresh air.

Take a user I spoke with last week as an example: This client is a translator. All day long they’re working with multiple documents simultaneously, on multiple screens. The two screens she has are of different models. One’s got a different aspect ratio and the difference in colour between the two is quite noticeable. On top of this, she’s had to change the resolution on the monitors just to be able to see the documents better. When you’re there, observing from a distance, it doesn’t seem like this would make that big of a difference, but it does. Staring at the same screens all day long, moving documents back and forth between screens, your eyes having to adjust to the different colours and aspect ratios; it’s jarring.

If you know a graphical artist who’s looking to do some meaningful and impactful work, show them the way. Get them to join the LibreOffice community at the very least. Heck, join the team yourself! It’s not that much of a jump to go from designing logos for companies compared to designing icons for applications. Yes you’ve got a lot less space to work with, but [some] have even found it a fun challenge to work within such a confined area. It forces you to be creative. And if they rather be designing some UI elements, I’m sure there’s more than enough space for that as well. Using themes from Firefox personas just isn’t cutting it.

Header Image Credit: Higgs Bison (Stack Overflow)


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