Dealing with OOo’s braindead context sensitive toolbars

Dealing with OOo’s braindead context sensitive toolbars

[Update 1 March 2012: Verion 3.5 of LibreOffice is still, apparently, brain damaged in that it still has these stupid context sensitive toolbars but they pop up at the bottom in my new install, so it doesn’t cause the text to reflow.  Haven’t fully checked whether they can be turned off anywhere.]

[Update: Link to bug report at bottom of article]

Someone at OOo decided that context sensitivity of toolbars was a good idea.  I disagree (and have lodged bug reports), but the OOo people prefer to agree to disagree on this issue.  What happens with context senstivity is that when OOo senses you are doing something which might need a specific toolbar, it pops it up for you.  Equally, if it thinks you aren’t it will remove that toolbar for you (how kind).

So imagine this situation:  you have a document which includes some numbering.  You’d like to add numbering to a currently unnumbered paragraph.  So, you click on the paragraph and then go up to the numbering toolbar.  In the split second it’s taken you to click and move, OOo has realised you’ve just clicked on an unnumbered paragraph – so you mustn’t want the numbering any more.  Just as you’re about to click the button on the numbering toolbar to add numbering, ‘poof!’ it disappears.    Similarly if you’re scrolling through a document with both numbered and unnumbered paragraphs it constantly redraws the screen adding and removing the toolbar (and offsetting and un-offsetting the text as a result).

This behaviour cannot be overridden.  If you would like to have, say, the numbering toolbar persist, that’s your bad luck.  Just because you might have pinned the numbering toolbar somewhere doesn’t mean anything.  OOo will take control of it and turn it on and off (usually when you least expect it).

Whatever one might think of context sensitivity of the toolbars (and frankly I don’t see the point) the failure to support an override of this behaviour is particularly egregious. So far as I can tell, there is no way to vary this psychotic behaviour of the toolbar, one must simply grin and bear it.  However, one is not completely without redress.  The UI Nazis haven’t completely had their way with OOo.  The solution to this <cough> ”feature” lies in the buttons – all of them – and their removal.  I have done it and I am greatly relieved.  The toolbar still flashes on and off in its impotent stupidity constantly as I edit my documents.  No longer, however, do I have to put up with it moving my text about while it fulfills its destiny.  Now relegated to a few small pixels the numbering toolbar appears anonymously beside my other toolbars, and disappears equally so.  So much so that I hardly even notice it happening, although once in a while it catches my eye.  Like just a few moments before I started this.

[for Planet LA’s benefit, the title displayed in planet comes from the title on this screen shot I took.  The real title is replicated in the first line of the post.]

[OOo Bug reports:  “Context Sensitivity is one of OO’s key features, thus this behaviour will NOT be changed at all.

And Issue 59706]


20 Responses to “Dealing with OOo’s braindead context sensitive toolbars”

  1. 1 thenakedlistener 25 March 2010 at 4:08 am

    Yes, this is one of the many difficulties I have with it. My own pet peeve is its inability to do blacklining (or “tracking” in MS Word-speak). For those of us in the financial printing business, blacklining (underlining of text to show amendments) is highly important, often with legal consequences. But OOo’s tracking is just … how d’you say it? … braindead.

  2. 2 brendanscott 25 March 2010 at 7:24 am

    You don’t need to get me started on track changes:

    See also the other posts linked there.
    With track changes I keep expecting them to do a better job, but it’s been 10 years now…

  3. 3 taurnil 25 March 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Oh… don’t get me started on OO’s totally brain dead implementation of numbering, bullets, etc. I hate it almost to the point of not using their crap at all. The ONLY reason I keep OO around is its relatively decent abilities to deal with Microsoft’s Office crap… else OO would have been shit canned a long time ago.

  4. 4 brendanscott 25 March 2010 at 10:11 pm

    You won’t hear me fire a word in anger about OOo’s numbering.

    I did dislike it when I first started using it, but after I got used to how it did things it grew on me. Since then I have far less problems (I can’t recall any) with OOo numbering and it is far more efficient and far less disaster prone for me than Word’s numbering [shudder]. In Word I always end up having to resort to format painter to get numbering in order. That’s a kludge which falls over sooner or later.

    I’ve encountered more than my fair share of Word documents which have been poisoned by their numbering (on my estimate one every couple of months), in some cases, so much so that later generations of a document can mysteriously die. In those cases OOo rescues the document, since Word won’t touch it.

  5. 5 mathewst 25 March 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Re. toolbars:

    I completely agree. This ‘feature’ really disrupts the flow of work.

    The worst is the one for tables. Simply clicking in a cell the table option window pops up, but I DON’T need it anymore – I have finished creating my table and now I just want to correct the spelling of one word! But no the tool knows better than me, so it gets in the way.

    I sometimes end up laughing to think that someone at OO is actually proud of the popping toolbars ‘feature’.

    Another peeve is the inability to split a window. Over on the OO buglist they are still discussing whether or not to do anything about this – but the problem was originally posted over 5 years ago… Sometimes the wrong people are allowed to make important decisions!

  6. 6 Fundi 25 March 2010 at 10:18 pm

    One Way to deal with this and make the experience more pleasurable is to dock the toolbar above the status line. I always have one toolbar displayed and if in a table the second one pops up next to it or in a graphic the graphic one pops up next to it. So it does not make my text jump around.

    But you are right a override feature would be nice.

    Still I love OOo for what it can do. Sure I await each new version with great anticipation especially to have color management in OOo so we can create CMYK pdf files.

    Well let the coding continue.

  7. 7 ray 25 March 2010 at 10:42 pm

    I hate any automatic formatting. Can’t people do their own numbering and bullets anymore?

  8. 8 Lupine 25 March 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Thank you so much for this, I’ve always hated this “feature”, and found it very irritating. It really does nothing for me, but get in the way and disrupts workflow. Your tip is a nice simple fix.

    Appreciate it!

  9. 9 RevLarry 25 March 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I have to agree. I work with outlines AND text, and the jumping screen as Oo adds and deletes the toolbars is most annoying. But since my prior OS was Vista with Office 2007, OpenOffice is an improvement.

    I do wish I could have toolbars I could dock and undock, and truly customize for the way I work. I am presently moving my office from MS to Linux Mint and Ubuntu, but don’t want to cripple my staff with some of the shortcomings of OpenOffice — though I have begin to find workarounds for many of the more important differences.

    Thanks for posting this. It somehow helps to know I am not alone in this fight!

  10. 10 Csaba 26 March 2010 at 1:49 am

    I never considered the popping up numbering toolbar disturbing. Mine is set to pup up like a window, so it does not inserts itself in the toolbar and messes up the hole vertical/horizontal buttons or text alligning. I also frequently use it, and I think it’s a pretty intelligent tool if you combine it in the right way with formatting and stiles.

    … But each of us has it’s own way of working, so an “always on/off” option would be good.

  11. 11 2Ben 26 March 2010 at 2:37 am

    A better way to deal with this “issue” is, as Csaba mentions, to set the toolbar as undocked, and place it on the side of your document where it doesn’t disturb anything.
    See here for example:
    It can pop and go as it wish and doesn’t disturb in any way.

    Cheers !

  12. 12 Mannemerak 26 March 2010 at 3:53 am

    OK, valid point made, do you have a bug report link so we can go vote on changing this behavior.
    Thats, be design, the open source way.

  13. 13 littlenoodles 26 March 2010 at 4:13 am

    I fully agree. When IBM put out their Symphony wrapper around OOo, I took a look. The GUI was a little sluggish, but pretty and not horrible. And the sidebar looked like a nice idea – and they put it on the side instead of the top, preventing the vertical shifting problem.

    But as soon as I started navigating around the document it drove me crazy, constantly changing with my changing context. My ‘context’ was ‘browsing around the document’, and was not changing at all. But there’s no way for the program to know that, so they flipped the sidebar as though I intended to make changes at each new cursor position. A royal pain.

    If this were optional, it might be nice in certain situations. But most of the time, it’s better to have a few tools you use all the time on a constant toolbar, and the rest of it intelligently laid out in menus. Or maybe even better, a single ‘context tools’ button that, on demand, pops up a floating context toolbar to help you out when you ask for it.

  14. 14 Slaists 26 March 2010 at 4:25 am

    The problem is that some of “UI experts” (in MS camp also, look at ribbon, W7 start “menu”) “discovered”, that mouse clicks count for usability. It probably saves carpal tunnel nerve, but then users need use more keyboard and less mouse.

    Usability is improved, when user and program agree on short/fast but agreed protocol. Usability is drowned when user can’t assume what program will do and how it will behave.

  15. 15 Matthews 26 March 2010 at 4:42 am

    Numbering is my own personal hell! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve closed a word processor and opened a text editor to do numbering on a document.

  16. 16 ligo 26 March 2010 at 6:56 am

    I completely agree with the article, the context sensitive toolbars are STUPID. You can remove them permanently like this: when they are visible as per context, go to view > toolbars, uncheck the toolbar it will now stay away.

    At the very least they should not appear/disappear but merely be grayed out.

  17. 17 brendanscott 26 March 2010 at 7:18 am

    Re: docking to the side – I do this with the table toolbar. The numbering I use all the time so I have shifted the buttons I need onto the formatting toolbar. Docking to the side doesn’t help with the “disappearing toolbar just when you need it” problem.

  18. 18 brendanscott 26 March 2010 at 7:23 am

    re mouse clicks and UI – fewer mouse clicks with an always on toolbar….

    Also, anyone getting email updates I’ve added some bugzilla links

  19. 19 tom 26 March 2010 at 1:44 pm

    You are right. This is almost as bad as the MS personalized menus. This type of dynamic behavior is horrible from the users point of view and even worst from the point of view of support. Just imagine trying to talk someone through a problem when the menus/toolbars are unpreditable…

  20. 20 Chris Avey 29 March 2010 at 1:39 am

    Just a note if you don’t want these menus popping up at all:

    Next time one pops up, say for and image, right click on the toolbar and select dock toolbar. Then when the toolbar appears above the formatting toolbar go to view menu >toolbars where picture will now be ticked and un-tick it. It will no longer appear at all unless you ask for it.

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