Consistency helps LibreOffice Writer power users more than Word’s ribbon helps its users

User interfaces for office applications have evolved over the past few decades. Microsoft has transitioned its popular office applications from drop-down menus to a ribbon user interface. The Document Foundation, on the other hand, has added to LibreOffice's toolbars and menus over the years.

This article will compare the two word processors: Word 2016 and Writer.The Mac and Windows versions of Word will be discussed separately because there are differences in their menus and ribbons. LibreOffice has the same menus and toolbars, regardless of the operating system it is installed on. Therefore, it can be presented in one section.

All three applications have similar user interfaces as the other applications in their suites. However, each word processor has unique menus and ribbons, so it is important to discuss each one individually.

They will be discussed in the next three sections: Word for Windows, Word for Mac, and LibreOffice. After these are explained, the interfaces will be compared and the pros and cons of each one will be explained.

This blog only lists the drop-down menus for the Mac version of Word. Click here to see the ribbons for the Mac and Windows version.

Word for Windows

Word 2016 for Windows right-click and highlight menus
Word 2016 has a right-click menu (top) and a highlight menu in addition to the ribbons, but they do not have nearly as many functions.

The ribbon interface has been part of the past four versions of the word processor: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. The 2003 version of Word had drop-down menu and toolbars. The new ribbon interface made Word look sharper and cleaner.

According to a 2006 article in Computerworld, Microsoft wanted to simplify the user interface without reducing productivity, and the 2003 and earlier versions appeared to be "mishmash." However, the article pointed out that it took more mouse clicks to perform certain functions.

In addition to ribbons, you can access features and tools through keystrokes, the right-click menu, and the menu that appears when you highlight text, but they are limited compared to the ribbons.

Some functions, such as inserting a table or a picture, bring up additional ribbons. These ribbons appear when you select the associated element, and disappear when you click off of it. For example, if you insert a table, two ribbons appear to the right of View: Design and Layout. These are under the heading Table Tools.

Many of the items in the menu will open a dialog box with numerous functions. For most of the dialog boxes, you need to exit the dialog, by clicking Cancel or OK, so you can perform other tasks in your document. This is the case for all three word processors.

The ribbon interface has made the versions of Word released in the past 10 years cleaner than their predecessors. 

However, many of the functions can only be accessed through the ribbons. This forces users to work in a linear method. They have to click on the desired ribbon, then click the desired function. Then repeat this process for the next function.

While you are performing a function, you may decide that you need need to perform another function first. To do this you may have to click on a different ribbon to access the function. In LibreOffice and the Mac version, you could simply click one of the drop-down menus to perform it.

For example, if you are inserting a table, but decide you need to add a table of contents first, you need to click on the References ribbon to switch from the Insert ribbon to select Table of Contents.

In the Mac version, you wouldn't need to click the References ribbon. You could just click Insert menu and choose Index and Tables ...

Word for Mac

Word for Mac menus

  • Word: This simple menu gives basic information about Word. It has an About Word item and a Preferences item.

  • File: The menu has items that File menus in most applications have: New, Open, Save, Save As. It has the same items as the Home ribbon.

  • Edit: The menu has function items such as Copy, Paste, and Cut. It also has a Dictation item as well as others. Most of these items are in the Home ribbon. It is the only menu that has Dictation.

  • View: This menu allows you to change from a Print view to a Web view, Outline, or a Draft. You can also view guidelines, rulers, and gridlines. These items are in the View ribbon.

  • Insert: This allows you to put a number of items into a document. These are Pictures, Audio files, videos, etc. You can also insert breaks, footnotes, and indexes. This matches the Insert ribbon.

  • Format: This has items that will open several different dialogs, such as Bullets and Numbering, Font, Text Effects, etc. Clicking one of these opens a dialog corresponding with that type of element. Tools to edit these elements are in different ribbons. You can only open the dialogs through this menu.

  • Tools: This has items to help you edit your document, like grammar and spell checks, word count, and the ability to track changes. It also has items to access to a dialog for Envelopes and Labels. These items are in the Review and Mailings Ribbons.

  • Table: This menu lets you insert a Table and edit a table. You can also insert a table through the Insert drop-down and the Insert ribbon. When insert a table, Word adds a Table Design ribbon to the list of ribbons.

  • Window: This allows you to control the open Word document windows.

  • Help: Word uses Mac OS X help menu system for articles about Word for Mac. This menu gives you access to those help articles.

As mentioned previously in this article, Word 2016 for Mac is different from its Windows counterpart. It has drop-down menus as well as a ribbon.

The document window is similar to the Windows version. It has eight of the ribbons, but the Windows version has more features than Word for Mac, and some similar functions are in different ribbons.

One key difference is that the Mac version is missing, the File menu - which is the settings for the Windows version - to the left of the eight ribbon choices. Instead, it sticks with the traditional Mac layout and puts the settings in Preferences in the Word drop-down menu in the menu bar.

It also does not have all the preferences that the Windows version has. The language settings for the user interface, for example, can only be changed through the OSX Settings dialog. Other language settings can be found in the Tools drop-down menu.

Besides language settings, there are other functions that are in the drop-down menus of the Mac version, but not in the ribbons. Another example of this is a list of open document windows. This is in the Windows menu, but the function is not in any of the ribbons.

The drop-down menu is in Mac OSX menu bar at the top of a display. The placement of functions in these menus follows the layout of older versions of Word for Mac.

Like its Windows counterpart, the Mac version has a right-click menu, but it does not have the highlight menu. Word for Mac's menus, along with the ribbon interface, allow Mac users to have multiple ways of accessing most of Word's functions. As stated in the Windows section, they could perform another functions without changing ribbons.

LibreOffice

LibreOffice menus

  • File: This menu contains items to save a document, print it, and give you access to Wizards.

  • Edit: This menu allows you to copy, paste, and cut text and other elements. It allows you to Find and Replace text along with other functions.

  • View: This gives you access to toolbars, rulers, scrollbars, and it allows you to zoom in on documents. It also allows you to switch between Normal view and Web view.

  • Insert: This menu allows you to put images, media, charts, page breaks and other elements.

  • Format: The menu's items open dialogs for formatting text, paragraphs, lists, images, shapes, and other elements.

  • Styles: This menu gives you access to standard styles for headings and other elements. It links to dialogs that let you edit the styles.

  • Table: This menu allows you to create a table, stylize it, and make changes to its structure.

  • Tools:  This menu gives you access to spell check, mail merge and other functions.

  • Window: This lists the open documents and allows you to switch among them.

  • Help: This gives you access to the Help articles for LibreOffice and has links to information about the office suite.

Writer basically has the same user interface on every operating system, so it can be discussed as one application, rather than dealing with it as more than one application as with Word. The open-source word processor has a similar user interface as Word 2003 or earlier.

There are two ways to access tools and features of the the word processor: toolbars and the previous mentioned menus. Unlike Windows version of Word, clicking the menus reveal drop-down lists, and they don't change a ribbon.

 There are 30 toolbars that can be used in Writer. The toolbars are listed on this Web page.

They can be attached to the top, bottom, left, and right sides of the document window. Typically a LibreOffice installation will reveal the Formatting and Standard toolbars by default. These contain the basic functions of an application, such as changing fonts, saving, and creating a new document.

Toolbars give you another way to access functions. Functions and icons can be added toeach toolbar, so users have the ability to set up their document workspace in ways that are best for them.

In addition to toolbars and menus, LibreOffice has a right-click menu, where you can access many of the functions but not all of them.

The toolbars and menus give Writer users more ways to access most of the functions than both versions of Word do. It doesn't force users into one or two ways of working.

Conclusion

The three word processors have many functions and are the most feature rich of their kind on the market. Each one has features that the other two do not. Both Microsoft and the Document Foundation have spent much time and effort redesigning their applications, so they are attractive yet still give easy access to its functions.

LibreOffice has an older style of interface, but it  allows users to work in a non-linear fashion. They can start  performing one task, realize something else needs to be done first, so  he can easily access another menu or toolbar to perform it with out  needing to close a dialog and the toolbar they were using will still be  there.

This is not true of Word for Windows. Other than some functions being available through keystrokes, the right-click menu, and the highlight menu, there is only one way of accessing some functions. This has been a criticism of the application's user interface since it was introduced in Office 2007. Word, however, has a much cleaner layout. Your document won't get buried in numerous toolbars that are open. This could easily happen in LibreOffice.

Word for Mac has menu bar menus that its Windows counterpart does not have. This gives it another way to access the functions, which allows Mac users more freedom in the ways they can work.

The ribbon interface is the same as the Windows version, though several functions and icons are in different places. Many Mac users probably use the Windows version at work, home, or school, and they probably appreciate that the ribbons in the two are the same.

User interfaces affect power users - those who perform an application's advanced functions - the most. They are more sensitive to changes in menus and other interfaces than basic users because they are highly familiar with a version of an application.

According to an article an Redmond Magazine, power users for Word 2007 thought the new user interface "took too much time and patience to learn." The change forced them to learn something they were not used to.

LibreOffice has updated its user interface but has kept drop-down menus and toolbars from its OpenOffice.org origins. This may have thrown its power users a curve, but it still retained what they were used to.

Even though it is considered to be less clean and attractive than Word, LibreOffice's user interface makes it more flexible to its power users and causes them less stress when new versions are released.

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