Improving the Toolbars in LibreOffice

Disclaimer: This is work in progress, and it is not how it will look like in the end.

The current situation

With the Design team, we are working on improving toolbars in LibreOffice. This is part of our long-term goal, making LibreOffice “simple for beginners and powerful for experts“.

Toolbars in LibreOffice are currently quite limited: A toolbar can have icons, or custom widgets, in a row. You can switch between icon-only, icon+text or text-only display.

Allowing more flexible layout

So we want to improve Toolbars to allow a more flexible layout. The first step is to allow Toolbars to be loaded from Glade files. That technique is used all over in LibreOffice (in Dialogs and the Sidebar e.g.) to lay out widgets in a dynamic way. With that, we can have a toolbar layout like this (Mockups by Heiko):

Mockup 2
Mockup 1

Note that these images are just mockups  (subject to change)- nothing has been implemented yet.

Also this will be an optional thing – most probably we will keep a “Classic Mode” with the legacy Toolbars for the foreseeable future.

Open issues

There are some issues we need to think about, like customization and fitting these Toolbars for smaller screens.

We will focus on Writer first, on the two main toolbars (at the top). We are not yet sure what will happen with the 38 other toolbars we have in Writer (e.g. for image manipulation or table tools). Currently they keep popping up at different places, and we would like to get some uniformity in there. Basically we have three different options (Sidebar, NotebookBar or leave them as they are). This will need some more discussion at  a later point.

The current goal is to improve the layout of the toolbars itself. We expect the first results in LibreOffice 5.2 (Q4 2016).


Please note that we are not going to abandon the Sidebar. We expect the Toolbar and Sidebar to complement each other, not to compete with each other. One idea how that might look is that the Toolbar provides access to the most used commands and properties, while the Sidebar gives more advanced options.

Another concern many users have, is that the new Toolbar would take up too much vertical screen space. We are trying to address this concern and make the improved Toolbar not eat up much more space than currently the two default Toolbars at the top have.

Some users have suggested to drop the Toolbar completely and focus on the Sidebar only. The most common argument is that you have plenty of horizontal space on today’s screens, but little vertical space. However, this argument is only true with a single-page document in a full screen window. This doesn’t take into account multi-page documents (two pages displayed side-by-side) or two windows displayed next to each other. In both of these cases, the Sidebar might take away too much space to work efficiently. This is one of the reasons, why we continue to keep the Toolbar at the top.

Get in touch!

Ideas? Suggestions? Leave a comment below!

Finally: The design team is always looking for ways to improve LibreOffice. If you have anything that you think could make our GUI look cleaner, fresher, better, do not hesitate to let us know! Write to our Mailing List or join us in IRC (#libreoffice-design on freenode).


58 thoughts on “Improving the Toolbars in LibreOffice

  1. Great idea! I think a lot of progress can be made in terms of user friendliness and just in plain attractiveness if a team works on the UI and makes sure that there is actually a central plan/idea behind all the options instead of a lot of options just mashed together. I would support making a new UI the default option in the future, once tested and community backing is reached. Often exactly the power users who would already know how to switch to “classic mode” are the ones offering the most resistance to UI modernising, while new users get stuck with a first impression of a dated looking UI.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All those power users who have to provide support for the other users rightfully resist change. You can argue all you want that the new different system is better for beginners — and I understand all too well how infrequent users can stay permanently at beginner level — but churn in the user interface puts a huge burden on all of the surrounding ecosystem of a project. Users who have invested time in learning a system, especially those who have to provide support to others, understandably get annoyed, frustrated, and angry, when that investment is thrown away like trash.

      Having said that more and more people are familiar with the ribbon from Microsoft Office. There is a certain benefit in being able to present an office suite that more closely resembles what they are familiar with (although Microsoft have changed it several times themselves, I was horrified when the Help menu was replaced by “?” it was an unpleasant flashback to Windows 3.11 but it has since been sensibly changed back). For all the supposed innovation of the ribbon it always seemed like the next step on from the contextual toolbar in Adobe Photoshop.
      It may be hard to remember now (nearly ten years on) but those who had to try and support Microsoft Office weren’t too pleased about the ribbon either.

      Backlash will be rightly deserved if “classic mode” is broken in any way, and even if it isn’t curmudgeons like me will be suspicious that we’ll be deprecated yet again and told to go fork it. Proceed with caution, but good luck.


  2. Using the ribbon interface I think it is wrong because of the size of the monitor where we need more space vertically who horizontally. Using the ribbon, the vertical space would be reduced even further.
    I myself try to eliminate as far as possible all the toolbar to let more and more vertical space and be able to see most I wrote in page.
    We can not have a monitor for application but a monitor for more applications, and is necessary obtain the best compromise from applications.


      1. Maybe for you.. but the sidebar takes too much screen real-estate because we read left to right (generally) not top down. I’ve never understood this argument. People complain about the vertical real estate, but in reality you are not losing that much more space. As someone who spends in ordinate amounts of time in a word processor, my goal is to get more of my document on the screen, so I use that widescreen monitor to view multiple pages at once. I also often have two windows side by side so I can see / reference multiple pages of my document at the same time. The sidebar destroys this workflow. I’d much rather prefer to lose a few more vertical lines than horizontal! Microsoft got it right IMO with their design. Once you get used to it, going back to something else is more painful than making the switch to the ribbon.


        1. Only because you are not used to speed-reading, which benefits from limited lateral movement , with a steady vertical progress from top to bottom in a central band. A4 portrait is great for regular text, with landscape being more appropriate for studying categorised data such as the columns of a spreadsheet in a specific row.


    1. It is not a ribbon! This control would place toolbar control (buttons, dropdowns etc.) in tabs and switch between those depending on context. Microsoft run a lot of usability testing to get something working but many people dislike the ribbon for this reason. Our extended toolbar is just as before but with group information and the option to mix smaller and bigger icons. It’s more like the ExtJs toolbar. Nevertheless your argument is valid that adding more to the toolbar makes it larger. That’s why we want to have a couple of predefined configuration – for novices with labels, something special for users with small screens, a setup to just write a letter, or another for a thesis etc.
      BTW: Common widescreen displays are usually larger than ancient 4:3 monitors


      1. It is more like a ribbon 😦 The problem is the higher space occupied by this special “toolbar” (for me is a ribbon).
        Widescreen display are too less higher for a better experience of writing because ribbon (i.e. special toolbar) obscures an important vertical part of page that otherwise we can use to have a better visibility of the work we do.
        The toolbar must occupy few vertical space even in portrait display and especially in widescreen display.
        Ribbon (i.e. special toolbar) can aid and can revitalize the look of LiBo but is not for productivity.


          1. Can you provide a thinner toolbar as a seperate one that can be chosen for those that like it, but we switch the more “ribbon-like” toolbar as the default?

            But it’s funny – the MS ribbon is honestly just a glorified tabbed toolbar 🙂


              1. Pretty much. I have a 29″ iMac, and also I can customize the toolbars to have a very “thin” toolbar.

                One of the biggest issues, incidentally, is that if you increase the size of LibreOffice to be very wide, the document page does not centre but stays on the left side of the screen! That would be nice to be fixed 🙂


                1. > Pretty much. I have a 29″ iMac, and also I can customize the toolbars to have a very “thin” toolbar.

                  Why would you need a “very thin” toolbar when you have a 29″ screen?

                  > One of the biggest issues, incidentally, is that if you increase the size of LibreOffice to be very wide, the document page does not centre but stays on the left side of the screen! That would be nice to be fixed 🙂

                  Well, that depends on your page layout settings. If you choose multi-page layout, pages will be left-aligned. If you choose single-page layout, they will be centered.


                  1. Because the width of my screen is far greater than the height, and I still like to see the page quite large.

                    It’s funny though, at a certain Windows size the page remains in the middle of the screen, if you stretch out the window long enough the page “jumps” to the side.

                    It’s definitely a bug. If I had time I’d jump into the code myself to figure out what’s causing it and commit a fix to master.


  3. I suggest that this principle would be extended with a more user-friendly, visual toolbar editor and nicely save-able toolbar config files (now it is also possible, yes, but… read on 😀 ) that could be easily shared online, like in an extension repository, so users would design their own toolbar configurations and share them, for different purposes. Maybe these could be bundled with personas as well, a kind of profile extensions.
    This way the most popular shared toolbars could become default toolbars in the install sets and in some way be shaped by the people for the people so that UX guys would not have to presume too much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Trouble is that the vast majority of users in offices wont change their toolbars and design their own; most won’t know how and will see what LO gives them ‘out of the box’.

      We’re the minority, guys, and must make LO attractive for others from the get-go.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello, it is awesome. As a LibreOffice user, developers plan “…Also this will be an optional thing – most probably we will keep a “Classic Mode” with the legacy Toolbars for the foreseeable future…” I totally agree about it. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Let me hones, it is a _stupid_ idea. If you have free time please spend it to something useful and do not touch LibO classic menu. Ribbon menu is terrible idea, and if it LibO start use it there will be no reason remain to use it further, so I (and probably most of the users) will fallback to MS Office. Or I hope somebody will fork LibO and continue the development without Ribbon…


  6. We need an easy and clear interface: vertical “ribbon” on left side of the screen and vertical Properties Palette on the right size of the screen. And the workspace window should be independent from all the toolbars, ribbons and palettes, … something like Gimp has. This way we could open and arrange multiple document windows as we need: one main window and several minor windows … something like Autocad has.


  7. Microsoft’s ribbon isn’t suited for using shortcuts: when pressing Alt, the letters appear with a delay and there’s little relationship between the letter and the tab name. As the window width decreases, the choices are hidden deeper in the menu, making it harder to get used to it. I hope LibreOffice doesn’t follow this approach.


  8. I think you are going in right dirrection!
    You should definitly keep option to switch back to classic toolbars, but new modern design should be explored.

    One thing though, allow us to customize it!

    I’m not using sidebar and there is only one reason, I can’t customize it.
    Sidebar is missing some of most used buttons for me, and since I can’t add them my self, I stopped using it.


    1. Hi Mikeyy,
      we’ll definitely want to have the possibility to customize it. Probably not in the first version though.

      Can you name which buttons you are missing in the sidebar? That would be good to know for us which things folks are missing.


      1. For example in calc:
        Format as number (with thousand separator and 2 decimal places) which is present by default in toolbar, isn’t present in sidebar. I use this one 30 to 50 times a day, maybe even more.
        Sort, sort a-z, sort z-a, pivot table etc…

        I know you can’t cover all functions people use and need, but that’s why it’s good to leave us option to customize. 🙂


          1. Yes, from LO 5.1
            Before that it didn’t behave same as toolbar button (no thousand separator and 2 decimal numbers).


  9. The other approach (notebookbar) could be accessed setting an environmental variable. Is it possible to try these new toolbars likewise?


      1. Thanks for your answer. If I understand it correctly, we can expect to see the existing toolbars being “improved” in each version? Nice.


  10. Will you implement shortcuts as in Microsoft’s implementation of the ribbon?

    That is IMO the best aspect of the ribbon interface: Easy discoverability of keyboard shortcuts by pressing the alt key

    The Mac version of Office doesn’t have this, so this is a great opportunity to become the best office suite on OS X. I find Excel for Mac useless due to this reason.


      1. It’s better than nothing of course, but the key advantage of the alt-key behavior is that you can keep your hands on the keyboard.

        For power users of spreadsheets you try to keep your hands on the keyboard at all times


  11. Please, focus on the side bar or integrate it into the sidebar.
    And if you don’t, please design the new toolbar such that it might be moved to the side and be functional there too.

    I already abandoned any toolbar due to the mentioned space issues: a lot of horizontal space and far too less vertical space on modern 16:9 displays. If i could, I even would get rid of the menu bar and window title. Unluckily, the most important tool bar (formatting) loses its most relevant functions when moved to the side (indication of style sheet, font, font size).

    I would like to address your counter arguments concerning space issues:

    16:9 displays are such flat that even a two-page layout leaves more space at the side than at the top. Far more.

    Take a 23″ 16:9 display, having about 51×28 cm and 1920×1080 pixels. Remove 1.5cm task bar, 0,5cm status bar at the bottom and about 4cm of title, menu bar, two tool bars and ruler at the top, leaving 22 cm height for displaying a page. Two complete pages side by side at 22 cm height have a width of 33-35cm depending on letter format. 33cm out of 51cm leaves enormous 18cm for a side bar! Or a third complete page (however, the three pages having a nearly unreadable resolution of 840×610 pixels per page).

    Even if you eliminate everything at top and bottom (put task-, status-, tool-, menu bars at the sides or remove them), giving you the complete 28 cm display hight for displaying pages (giving you nearly the original page size and a better readable resolution of 1080×780 pixels per page), two complete side by side pages of 28 cm height amount to a width of about 37 cm, giving you still 14cm plenty of space for a side bar and all that stuff removed from top/bottom (and giving you no top row space at all for tool bars).

    Your argument concerning two windows side by side, both complete with menu/tool/side bars:
    Tool bars don’t do the job then either, since they are to long to be comfortably used in that situation exceeding the available window width, and…

    Whell, that gui usage/behaviour seems to be a bit outdated and a waste of space. Look at modern UIs like Eclipse, Atom or Blender with non-overlapping widow tiles, not doubling menu items. That seems to be a more suitable future way for displaying a multi document environment, even of different file types. And this better complies with a side bar.

    I even consider an arrangement having a browser window side by side to a odf-doc window better suitable with a side bar than with a top row bar, due to the better readability and size of the odf-doc.

    Don’t get me wrong, there may be cases in which a top-row-ribbon-like tool bar may be usefull.
    In by far the most cases, however, this top row space will be better used for displaying document content. Thus, please, integrate it into the side bar or provide an option and design that makes it usable at a side, too.


  12. Nice. Keep on the good work.
    I really like the Ribbon of M$ Office and I really miss them in LibreOffice.
    IMHO you could also make them tabbed like in M$ Office, but this is already a good start.

    Making them customizable is a really nice idea, because this is the only thing, which is missing in M$ Office.

    And making them deactivatable is of course neccessary, because as we saw with M$ Office, some people do not like the new design and want to keep the old one.
    So if it is finally implemented it will also be it easier to get used to LibreOffice for people switching from (new) M$ Office.


  13. I’m glad to hear a classic style toolbar / UI will remain available. I’m afraid the mockup above would be hard to live with. Setting up Calc, which is my main tool in LibreOfficew, I clear out almost all icons and drag toolbars to the top to get rid of wasted space. The ribbon looks to be a complete waste of screen workspace. I never “updated” Office after they imposed the ribbon. Now that I’m a Linux user, I really hope the LibreOffice project allows people like me to keep the interface as simple and plain as possible.

    Regardless of me sounding off about this issue, I really appreciate all the work the developers are putting in!!! Thanks!!!!!


  14. It is really easy: Part of the user base strongly prefers tool bars, part of the user base would strongly prefer something reminiscent of current Microsoft Office.

    And thus it makes a very lot of sense to have both.

    The topic is emotionally charged so much, because people recognize the pattern… they have been traumatized my Microsoft and now fear someone will again take away their tool bars, and be it only in a distant future.

    It needs to be communicated such that it is more than clear that this will not happen.


  15. A important goal is that the sidebar may be customize. Actually the user can customize the toolbars: create new, add a command and sort them, determine the position in the screen and so on, but not the sidebar.


  16. In fact, I don’t like the MS office style( the big panel on the top ), it will take too much vertical screen space, and not useful, because you just want to press one button, and it show all button by one time, in relative, I like the Classic Mode much more,so PLEASE keep it in the future, The reason of more use Libreoffice just because it’s Classic Mode, very hate the MS office style, and even lots software to become like that(big panel on top), all become same, and lost itself.

    the side panel is good enough for use, much more nice than the big top panel, and I see the single bar mode in the 5.20, it’s good, more simple and clear, the 5.1x have the good compatibility with MS office, it’s awesome, I have used libreoffice more than two years, it’s a good news for me.

    if possible, I hope can add much more hot key for quick setting, e.g. side panel, Ctrl+tab to unfold the side panel, not need the mouse to click for do this, it’s frequent, we need the quick way on doing, like some setting panel, you can press ctrl+T to open the character setting panel. more hotkeys meaning less click, It’s much more better than the big panel on the top. so very hope todo this,and the hotkey as much as possible to use the keys on the left of the keyboard, the arrow keys not good for use, like ctrl+up arrow, it must by two hands, like windows 10, to stupid on this.

    So, Please keep simple and plain, Keep the Classic Mode as default, and add much more hot key for the frequent operation, like some setting panel. Very thanks for the Libreoffice, It’s take me faraway from the MS office 🙂


  17. At work I’ve just been forced to upgrade to W10/Office 2016 and it’s so unutterably horrific that I’m considering the switch to Linux/LibreOffice at home when finally forced to abandon XP and Office 2000 (yes, really). So it’s with considerable horror that I read about plans to add a ribbon bar – or something similar – to LibreOffice, although I’m somewhat reassured that pressure from users will force the developers to leave “Classic mode” as an option. I object to the terminology though – “Classic Mode” implies that this is a “legacy” option that’s on the way out. I suggest using a different term without those connotations, because this is about user preferences. Developers need to stop trying to force all users to accept the latest One True UI Design, and live (permanently) with the fact that not all users are the same. As far as I’m concerned, the ribbon bar’s supposed benefits are only applicable to inexperienced users. Once you know where everything is, the menu/customisable toolbar approach is perfect. In fact, what I usually do is put my most frequently used commands as toolbar buttons on the title bar and ditch the toolbars altogether. What one commenter called “user interface churn” is hugely destructive of productivity; experienced users are, in effect, punished for knowing too much. Every version forces them to relearn to adapt to pointless cosmetic changes, just like supermarkets that keep moving the milk and bread to different aisles. Some people confuse this with progress; no, progress is genuine improvement, whereas moving options around and giving them different names is just rearranging the deck chairs.

    And, as this thread makes clear, people have different views about screen real estate. Some (like me) just want as much as possible in all directions; they take the understandable view that their high resolution screens are there to show as much *actual content* as possible, rather than the latest UI fripperies which (to them) add nothing. Others prioritise vertical space, others horizontal space. Some, apparently, don’t care.

    I personally also find ribbons very cluttered and difficult to use. It takes me far longer to move my eyes across a jumbled mass of icons and labels looking for what I want than to locate it in a menu.

    So, call it “Compact mode” or “Toolbar mode” instead of “Classic mode”, and please don’t ever force your users to change to something inferior.


  18. For those having a heart attack over losing vertical space (something the dev has already said won’t be an issue), just implement some form of “auto-hiding” of the new top level interface. This could be as easy as clicking an “expanding” icon or perhaps changed to show/hide the bar based on whether your cursor is currently on top of it (similar to the firefox extension Less Chrome HD).


  19. Nooooooo! I am an IT professional. Have deployed Libreoffice to hundreds of seats BECAUSE IT DOES NOT USE the blasted ribbon! 99% of users just use basic functions like font, bold, underline, sum. They don’t want or need the ribbon. I hear all the time how much simpler things are without the ribbon. This is a step backwards. Just scarfed 5.2.3 to keep in my toolkit before this insanity rolls out. Most business documents are simple docs in 12 point New Times Roman. Very few users actually “like” Microsoft’s ribbon.


  20. Most of the time I work with 4 LibreOffice windows simultaneously on my notebook’s 17 ” screen. Until version 4 I did it very well using a single custom toolbar.

    Next releases brought news that slowed my productivity. I returned to version 4. But now I decided to try out the version and my only taskbar fits only half the icons, because they have become huge and – excuse me – not very delicate.

    Would it possible for LibreOffice Team to provide an option to use earlier versions of icons (smaller) – as long as the space between them is also reduced?

    [Forgive my lousy English language proficiency.]


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