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02 December 2008, 16:49

OpenOffice's UI will be getting a refurb

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In a long-term project, the OpenOffice team wants to thoroughly rework the free office software's user interface. This was already widely expected to happen with version 3.0, which no longer looks contemporary in many users' eyes. In addition, the office suite's menus have become so cluttered and badly structured that users find it impossible to locate certain functions – a problem Microsoft addressed with the ribbon feature in Office 2007. Ribbons have replaced the classic menus of Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint in the latest Office, and will come to Paint and Wordpad in Windows 7.

Project Renaissance is now acting on the criticism and hopes to attract widespread user participation. In a first phase, the project wants to collect users' opinions and experiences – an online questionnaire is already available, and will be followed by an extension to OpenOffice that collects application usage data and forwards it to the project team in anonymous form.

The User Feedback Extension will be released as a separate download at the same time as OpenOffice 3.0.1; it will become an integral part of the standard install from OpenOffice 3.1. The project team say that when the extension is activated, it logs user interactions like dialogue and menus calls, as well as the use of shortcuts, but doesn't save any document contents. Users can view the collected data in the OpenOffice options at any time. In a second phase, the data from phase one will be used for redesigning the user interface in a way that allows a more efficient use of the office applications.

According to project leader Frank Loehmann, Renaissance is a long-term project. Its results won't be reflected in OpenOffice 3.1, but only in a much later version.

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