OpenOffice's style editing dialogs suck!

Working on some document today, it occurred to me, once again, that OpenOffice's method for designing and applying documents styling totally sucks!

Granted, this was not the first time that I cam to this conclusion but, today, I've come to realize that OpenOffice's paradigms constantly make me waste time trying to form a mental image of how every style element is suppose to relate to the other one, yet without having the full picture available within a single, easy-to-read document. Also, there is a complete lack of consistency in how style elements work. Some want to be defined in millimeters, while others want to be defined in points, while other still in number of lines. What a mess!

In short: to become remotely usable, OpenOffice needs to approach document styling via the "HTML document with a separate CSS style sheet" paradigm. In other words, I need to be able to edit styles globally, as a group and separately from the document content itself, rather than having to click my way through a multitude of dialogs, for each and every type of text elements.

To compare this with web design, there, I can focus on the actual content, formatted around semantic text elements (headers, paragraphs, block quotes, etc.) and then decide on the presentation styling as a separate global process by attaching a CSS style sheet, in which the relation between each type of text element and how it will be displayed is crystal clear, because it's handled as a unified style editing process.

I think that this is one area in which Free Software could innovate in a positive way, by distancing itself from the Redmondesque practices of Microsoft Word, from which OpenOffice borrows too much. How about having a proper Style Editor application (similar to a CSS editor), within the OpenOffice suite, while Open Writer itself would only be allowed to load the style sheets produced by it and to apply them to semantic text text elements?


augias said...

This makes a lot of sense. Gnome has begun using css for its styles, and it's going to be very intuitive.

How to push this idea? Online petition? mass emails? a cool island song?

Vulpes Foxnik said...

This is why you should likely be using Lyx instead. I do agree that Open Office is behind in this feature, as it is something Microsoft Word 2007 already does. But even it falls short of how well Lyx can do things.

Martin-Éric said...

Forget about Lyx. The file format is not inter-operable with non-geeks.

All I asked is for a different UI paradigm, not for re-inventing the wheel by scrapping OOo entirely.

Unknown said...

But that is exactly how OpenOffice has been working since at least 1.0. (And by the way most other word processors as well, including MS Word). It's even called "Styles".

You just have to "markup" your document with appropiate styles, like heading1, heading3, body,... by choosing them from the (in my instalation) leftmost dropdown menu.

Then you go to (translated from spanish so maybe not accurate wording) Format menu, select Style and Format (or press F11).

The styles sidebar/toolbox opens with all default styles, and by right clicking on them you personalise every aspect of it to suit your needs.

Martin-Éric said...

As I've already said, the current set of style editing dialogues that come via F11 sucks. Having to separately edit the styling rule for each text element, rather than together as a unified whole, is not usable and I've gotten sick of it.

Unknown said...

Agreed on your basic point. OO.o requires people to be trained in how to do some things which should be fairly simple: have introductory matter, set right/left page styles, set cascading styles, etc. Making the configuration clearer would be a great first step.