OpenOffice.org is a huge lumbering beast.
Don't get us wrong, we like it in principle and the practice is steadily getting better, but there's still room for improvement.
Here are 20 things we'd change about it to make it better.
01. Improve the loading speed
This is almost a standing joke, but OpenOffice.org does take a while to load. It isn't a big issue when you're spending a fair amount of time on one document, but the delay is annoying when you just want to open an email attachment or make a quick change.
02. Learn to celebrate its differences
An alternative program doesn't have to look like its competitors. For instance, Firefox is used as an alternative to Internet Explorer even though, or perhaps because, it doesn't look and feel like Microsoft's browser. OpenOffice.org could follow this example and promote itself as a genuine competitor to Word – one that's better because it's proud to be different, instead of following Microsoft's lead so closely.
03. Implement grammar checking
It's inconceivable for a word processor to be released without a spellchecker these days, so why is it that OpenOffice.org is still unable to check for even the most basic of grammatical errors in our text? It's not about getting the software to write for you – a check is really helpful when your brain outruns your fingers.
04. More modular loading
Part of the problem with OpenOffice.org's loading speed is that it tries to load too much. If you load a document for word processing, you probably won't need all of the features provided and you certainly don't want them all immediately. What's more, it's highly unlikely you'll need other office components at the same time, so why waste time and resources loading so much up front?
05. The name
It may be a little unfair to criticise this now, but the name is rather geeky. Yes, we know the developers would rather have called it Open Office, but that name was already trademarked in a few countries. We also accept that we're stuck with it for now, but a little more effort early on could have resulted in a better moniker (and we don't mean LibreOffice).
06. Give OOo better competition
This may sound odd, but OpenOffice.org really needs some strong competition. Nothing focuses developers on improving their product like another one doing the job better. For instance, KOffice answers so many of the criticisms levelled at OpenOffice.org, but it's just not as good at the core tasks. If it were, it would be a real wake-up call for OpenOffice.org.
07. PDF importing
OpenOffice.org boasts a PDF-importing extension, but all it does is import a PDF page as a single image into Draw. Note to developers: if you're going to claim your program has PDF importing capabilities, please do try to make them more useful. Even simple editing and re-exporting as a PDF would be a big step forward, especially when you need to complete PDF forms.
08. The overall image
What is OpenOffice.org? Is it an office suite for people who are too cheap to buy a 'proper' one from Microsoft? Or is it a powerful set of programs in its own right? It should be seen as the latter, but too many people view it only as a second-rate alternative that's justified by the price alone. This needs to be improved, even though changing people's perceptions isn't easy.
09. Faster loading speeds
Did we mention this already? It seems that one or two users are bothered by OpenOffice.org's lengthy startup times, so maybe someone could have a look? Incidentally, a built-from-source installation on Gentoo gets going noticeably faster than the pre-built binaries from OpenOffice.org, so eking out more speed is possible.
Desktop integration is improving, but an OpenOffice.org window can still look like an interloper on your beautifully homogeneous desktop. We reckon OpenOffice.org is still generally better than the native alternatives on either of the main desktops – it just needs to look more like it belongs.
11. Building from source
Yes, binaries are available, but this is an open source project, so we should be able to compile the source. Yet building OpenOffice.org from source can be a tricky process, one that can progress for a couple of hours and then fail because the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. Sure, it's much faster than it used to be, but the fragility of the build process makes us a little nervous about the end result.
12. Cross-application cut and paste
Why can't we select some cells on Calc and then paste the contents into Writer as text? It's another curious omission from OOo's feature list. Crazy as it may sound, though, we don't always want an OLE object embedded in a letter; sometimes we just want a table of numbers that can be edited after pasting.
13. Keep it simple
It seems that if there are two ways of doing something, OpenOffice.org always goes for the most complex. OK, so the most complex is often also the most flexible, but this is supposed to be productivity software. The fastest, easiest option is often the most productive. At least give the user a choice in these cases, eh?
14. More extensions
One of the strengths of Firefox, another beacon of the open source community, is that there are thousands of extensions available for it. OpenOffice.org comes with just three and less than 150 are available for downloading from the project's website. That's a shame, because a greater set of useful extensions would give OpenOffice.org a real edge over the competition.
15. Improve macro recording
Computers are supposed to make life easier by automating repetitive tasks, which is what macros help you do. So why is recording and using macros such a fiddly and error-prone process? A Record and a Playback button on the toolbar should be all that's needed for simple macro use, complementing the more complex usage that's currently supported.
16. Fix some bugs
OpenOffice.org's issue tracker (does calling them issues instead of bugs make them seem like less of a problem?) currently has around 14,500 open defect reports. Many of these are small problems, but that's still a lot of bugs – sorry, issues. What's more, there are also 9,500 feature and enhancement requests.
17. Pop-up help
What OpenOffice.org really needs to succeed in the modern office environment is an irritating animated character that pops up from time to time with tangentially helpful advice or annoying questions. If there's one thing we have learned in the 21st century, it's that true productivity isn't possible without such a character. Why else would companies prefer to spend thousands on Microsoft Office instead of OpenOffice.org?
18. Better extension management
Simply making extensions possible, or even available to the user, is not enough. OpenOffice.org needs a decent extension manager where we can browse, search and install extensions from the range available, not just a dialog that asks for an extension file.
19. Not everything
Before you get the idea that this is a heartless tirade against OpenOffice.org, there's a lot we wouldn't change about the suite. Frustrations in bad software are easy to cope with – simply switch to a better program – but when the software is basically good, the annoyances are amplified. Recent versions have been much improved, but there's still a long way to go.
20. Faster loading
We've probably mentioned this before, but it's so easy to lose your train of thought while waiting for the program to load. This change really is a must.
First published in Linux Format Issue 142
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