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Checking out the notebookbar and other improvements in LibreOffice 6.0

by Martin de Boer

With any new openSUSE release, I am interested in the improvements that the big applications have made. One of these big applications is LibreOffice. Ever since LibreOffice has forked from OpenOffice.org, there has been a constant delivery of new features and new fixes every 6 months. openSUSE Leap 15 brought us the upgrade from LibreOffice 5.3.3 to LibreOffice 6.0.4. In this post, I will highlight the improvements that I found most newsworthy.

Notebookbar

One of the experimental features of LibreOffice 5.3 was the Notebookbar. In LibreOffice 6.0 this feature has matured a lot and has gained a new form: the groupedbar. Lets take a look at the 3 variants. You can enable the Notebookbar by clicking on View –> Toolbar Layout and then Notebookbar.

Please be aware that switching back to the Default Toolbar Layout is a bit of a hassle. To list the tricks:

  • The contextual groups notebookbar shows the menubar by default. Make sure that you don’t hide it. Change the Layout via the View menu in the menubar.
  • The tabbed notebookbar has a hamburger menu on the upper right side. Select menubar. Then change the Layout via the View menu in the menubar.
  • The groupedbar notebookbar has a menu dropdown menu on the upper right side. Make sure to maximize the window. Otherwise it might be hidden.

The most talked about version of the notebookbar is the tabbed version. This looks similar to the Microsoft Office 2007 ribbon. That fact alone is enough to ruffle some feathers in the open source community. In comparison to the ribbon, the tabs (other than Home) can feel rather empty. The reason for that is that the icons are not designed to be big and bold. Another reason is that there are no sub-sections in the tabs. In the Microsoft version of the ribbon, you have names of the sub-sections underneath the icons. This helps to fill the empty space. However, in terms of ease of use, this design does the job. It provides you with a lot of functions in an easy to understand interface.

The most successful version of the notebookbar is in my opinion the groupedbar. It gives you all of the most needed functions in a single overview. And the dropdown menus (File / Edit / Styles / Format / Paragraph / Insert / Reference) all show useful functions that are not so often used.

By the way, it also works great for Calc (Spreadsheets) and Impress (Presentations).

Finally there is the contextual groups version. The “groups” version is not very helpful. It shows a very limited number of basic functions. And it takes up a lot of space. If you want to use more advanced functions, you need to use the traditional menubar. The traditional menubar works perfectly, but in that case I rather combine it with the Default toolbar layout.

The contextual single version is the better version. If you compare it to the “normal” single toolbar, it contains more functions and the order in which the functions are arranged is easier to use.

There is no real need to make the switch to the notebookbar. But it provides you with choice. One of these user interfaces might just suit your taste.

Microsoft Office compatibility

Microsoft Office compatibility (especially .docx, .xlsx and .pptx) is one of the things that I find very important. As a former Business Consultant I have created a lot of documents in the past. I have created 200+ page reports. They need to work flawless, including getting the page brakes right, which is incredibly difficult as the margins are never the same. Also the index, headers, footers, grouped drawings and SmartArt drawings need to display as originally composed. I have created large PowerPoint presentations with branded slides with +30 layouts, grouped drawings and SmartArt drawings. I need these to render perfectly in the slideshow. Furthermore, I have created large multi-tabbed Excel sheets with filters, pivot tables, graphs and conditional formatting. All of these need to be conserved when I open these files in LibreOffice.

And no, LibreOffice is still not perfect. But damn, it is close. This time I have seen no major problems when opening older documents. Which means that LibreOffice finally gets SmartArt drawings right. In Writer, the page breaks in different places compared to Microsoft Word. That has always been an issue. But I don’t see many other issues. In Calc, the rendering of the graphs is less beautiful. But it’s similar enough to Excel. In Impress, presentations can look strange, because sometimes you see bigger/smaller fonts in the same slide (and that is not on purpose). But I was very impressed to see branded slides with multiple sections render correctly. If I needed to score it, I would give LibreOffice a 7 out of 10 for Microsoft Office compatibility. A very solid score. Below some examples of compatibility done right.

Noteworthy features

Finally, there are the noteworthy features. I will only highlight the ones that I find cool. The first one is the ability to rotate images in any degree. Below is an example of me rotating a Gecko.

The second cool feature is that the old collection of autoformat table styles are now replaced with a new collection of table styles. You can access these styles via the menubar: Table –> AutoFormat Styles. In the screenshots below, I show how to change a table from the Box List Green to the Box List Red format.

The third feature is the ability to copy-past unformatted text in Calc. This is something I will use a lot, making it a cool feature.

The final feature is the new and improved LibreOffice Online help. This is not the same as the LibreOffice help (press F1 to see what I mean). That is still there (and as far as I know unchanged). But this is the online wiki that you will find on the LibreOffice.org website. Some contributors obviously put a lot of effort in this feature. It looks good, now also on a mobile device. Kudos!

If you want to learn about all of the other introduced features, read the release notes. They are really well written.

And that’s not all folks

I discussed LibreOffice on openSUSE Leap 15. However, LibreOffice is also available on Android and in the Cloud. You can get the Android version from the Google Play Store. And you can see the Cloud version in action if you go to the Collabora website. Check them out for yourselves.

Published on: 25 June 2018

Testing KDE Plasma Vault on openSUSE Leap 15

by Martin de Boer

I never considered using encrypted folders. But when the KDE project announced it with the release of the Plasma 5.11 desktop environment, it made total sense. Just like KDE Connect, this is one of these killer features that can convince people to give Linux a try. With the release of openSUSE Leap 15, it was the perfect time to test this application.

Installing Plasma Vault

The easiest way to install Plasma Vault, is to search in YaST Software Manager for plasma-vault, check the box next to it and click on Accept and then on Continue.

Creating a vault

Creating a vault can be done from the system tray by clicking the Lock button, which will open the Vaults pop-over window. Click on the big button “Create a new Vault…” and a new window will open.

Type in a suitable name, click Next.

Now you will get a warning that the encryption method EncFS is not 100% secure. If you want to read more about this, there is a comparison article on the website of CryFS that explains it in easy terms. By the way, you can also install the CryFS backend in YaST. However, I would recommend that you stick with EncFS for now, as CryFS has received a fix in the Plasma 5.13 release. Click Next.

Provide a secure password for your vault. In general, the best advice is use an application like KeePassX to help you generate a long and random password. Otherwise try making your password long (12-20 Characters) and use a combination of lower letters, capital letters, numbers and symbols. Click Next.

The last thing you need to do is tell Vault where the folder should be mounted. You can use any folder location in your /home directory. By default it will create the folder in /home/username/Vaults/Foldername/. Click Next.

You can also limit the visibility of the Vault to certain activities. I don’t use activities, so I personally don’t do this. Click Create. Your vault is now configured.

Using the vault

You can use the vault from the applet in the system tray. Open the Encrypted folder with your favorite file manager.

Place a file in the vault, that you want to keep from prying eyes.

Now you can lock the encrypted folder by pressing the eject button.

If you manually browse to the location that you have indicated as the Mount point, you see no files.

You can unlock the encrypted folder by pressing the mount button and typing in your password.

Your files now magically turn visible in the mounted folder.

Testing issues

The only issue that I found with KDE Plasma Vault is that I am not able to delete my test vault from inside the pop-up window. This bug has already been reported and has been fixed in the KDE Plasma 5.13 release. If you want to delete an Encrypted folder, I would recommend you to use the work-around that is mentioned in the bug report. Don’t try to install plasma-vault 5.13 on openSUSE Leap 15, as it has some dependencies that can break your operating system.

Conclusion

KDE Plasma Vault is a wonderful application. It works as advertised and is another killer feature for the KDE Plasma desktop environment. I highly encourage you to give it a try on openSUSE Leap 15.

Published on: 18 June 2018

The sad state of KDE Discover and GNOME Software on openSUSE Leap 15

by Martin de Boer

Software centers have become very important. Linux was the first place where you could install and update all software in one place, by using package managers. In openSUSE that central place is the YaST Software Manager. Other distributions, such as Ubuntu, used applications like the Synaptic package manager. The user experience of these package managers is not very user friendly, as they show many technical packages / details, which most users will not understand.

In 2008, Apple introduced the iOS App Store. This changed the public perception on how software centers should work. Everything was now in one place, neatly organized into categories. The screenshots, descriptions and ratings made it easy to learn about new software. And installation was a breeze. Google followed this trend by announcing Android Market later in 2008. Apple introduced the App Store for Mac OSX in 2010. Google re-branded the Android Market in 2012 to Google Play store. And in the same year, Microsoft introduced the Windows Store for Windows 8. This store was re-branded in 2017 to the Microsoft Store.

Within the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) world, Canonical was the first player to embrace this trend. They developed the Ubuntu Software Center and released it in 2009. The Ubuntu Software Center had the same features that made the iOS App Store great. After 2 years of steady development, the development pace slowed down. And more and more media outlets voiced their concerns on the lack of new features. They didn’t keep up with the big players anymore.

In 2013, the GNOME project released the GNOME 3.10 desktop environment. This included GNOME Software, an application for finding and installing applications. It was their version of the software center. And over the last 5 years it has been steadily developed. The pace hasn’t slowed down. You can now use it to install Flatpak applications. And in Fedora, it can now even be used to update the BIOS.

KDE was relatively late to the party. In 2015 KDE included the Muon package manager as part of the Plasma 5 desktop environment. Over the last few years, the user interface has gotten a big overhaul and Muon has been re-branded to KDE Discover. After having installed openSUSE Leap 15, I was very interested to see if KDE Discover worked as intended and could live up to bar set by the competition.

Testing KDE Discover

The first thing I noticed when opening KDE Discover, was that KTorrent was not installed on my machine. As this is a very nice program for downloading Linux ISO’s or video podcasts (shout-out to Jupiter Broadcasting), I decided to install that one first. After pressing the install button, the software downloaded. I clicked the Install button again and it gave me an error. Package not found (see below). I still liked to install KTorrent, so I opened the YaST Software Manager and installed KTorrent without any issues.

My next attempt was TuxGuitar. This is a fun application that makes playing music easy by showing the music score, playing the music as a midi file and scrolling along with the progress of the song. You hit the install button and it starts downloading. One of the strange behaviors of KDE Discover is that while displaying the search results, it continuously shows that it is still looking.

I hit install for the second time and this time it gave me a very strange warning. I needed to remove a variety of games and KDE applications before I could install TuxGuitar. I clicked cancel to see if this warning was also present in YaST.

I searched TuxGuitar in YaST and checked the box to install it. No errors. To be sure, I did an additional check on missing / problematic package dependencies. There were none. I installed the software without any issue using YaST.

The third attempt. I knew that KWrite was not installed by default in openSUSE Leap 15. The more powerful application Kate is the default text editor. So I tried installing Kwrite. I used YaST in advance to check if there were any package dependencies. YaST indicated that no additional software packages needed to be installed. I closed YaST without installing Kwrite and opened KDE Discover. This time, KDE Discover was able to successfully install Kwrite.

Another new functionality of KDE Discover is the integration with the KDE Store. The KDE Store is a place where new wallpapers, new icons and new themes can be found and installed. I decided to look for and install a new wallpaper. You can do this by clicking on Plasma Addons and then on Wallpapers. You can search within the wallpaper section, but there is no possibility to sort the search results. This is too bad, because other area’s of the Plasma desktop do have that functionality. When you right-click on the Desktop (context menu) and go to “Get New Wallpapers” you can order the search results on Newest, Ratings and Most downloads.

I decided to install Vivid Coast 4K. I hit install and this completed without any issues. I noticed that you can now view the Wallpaper by means of clicking through an image gallery. This looked very slick.

In the end, I am disappointed with KDE Discover. It works for simple installations, but it cannot handle complex scenarios. The integration with the KDE Store works well. At the same time I miss the option to sort the search results. These features are now taken for granted in other App Stores. KDE Discover still has some ways to go. Because of that experience, I wanted to compare it to GNOME Software. I used KDE Discover to install GNOME Software. This went fine, which surprised me, as YaST (which I checked in advance to see if there would be any package dependencies) indicated that many additional software packages were needed.

Testing GNOME Software

Is GNOME software better equipped to handle software installation on openSUSE Leap? I started GNOME Software and immediately encountered an error. I looked up the error online and found that this error is caused when Steam is installed without GNOME Software. The easy fix was to remove and reinstall Steam. The removal / installation process went fine. And the error was gone as well.

So let’s start with the real testing. I prepared a test by removing the Kdenlive video editor with the help of YaST. I started GNOME software and looked for Kdenlive. To my surprise, GNOME Software couldn’t find it at all.

The second test was installing TuxGuitar. To make it a fair comparison, I needed a (clean) situation where the previously installed software dependencies were still missing. I decided to test this on my Virtualbox installation of openSUSE Leap 15 with the GNOME desktop. I prepared the test by installing a bunch of the applications (Krita, KStars, Scribus) that caused problems during the KDE Discover tests with help of YaST. After that, I started GNOME Software and looked for TuxGuitar. No results.

The third test was installing Kwrite. This test was also conducted on my Virtualbox installation of openSUSE Leap 15. Luckily GNOME Software managed to find Kwrite and install it. Not totally without issues, as GNOME software did display an error. Whatever went wrong didn’t prevent the installation, so this error seemed a bit out of place.

In Conclusion

I am a longtime openSUSE user. For me, using YaST has become second nature. However, many new openSUSE users (for instance distro hoppers who started on Ubuntu) will look for a software center / app store to find and install applications. I have encountered many issues during my testing. New users who are trying out openSUSE for the first time might decide to move on to other Linux distributions when they encounter these kinds of issues. Which is too bad. Because if they would stick to YaST Software Management or to installing via the command line with Zypper, they would have a very different experience. I hope this blog helps to raise awareness within the openSUSE community. Because fixing these implementation details is important to the overall experience of a high quality distribution.

Update 18 June 2016

The latest KDE Plasma 5.13 release includes a huge (137) number of fixes for the Discover application. This fixes my complaints on the sorting of the results (see this picture). These features will land in a future openSUSE Leap release. So for Leap 15, I would recommend everyone to stick to YaST for installing software.

For both KDE Discover (1) and GNOME Software (2), I have filed bugs on the openSUSE bugtracker.

Published originally on: 10 June 2018

What’s new in openSUSE Leap 15 – KDE Plasma 5.12

One of the most exiting new things about openSUSE Leap 15 is the updated KDE Plasma desktop environment. We are moving from Plasma 5.8 LTE to Plasma 5.12 LTE. Which means that there are a lot of new features to look forward to. Lets start with emphasizing that the KDE Plasma 5.12 desktop environment looks stunning. Below is a screenshot of my personal desktop, fully configured to my personal preferences. My configuration hasn’t changed much since KDE Plasma 4.3. I use 3 widgets: a folder view, an analog clock and a network monitor.

General improvements

The Plasma desktop environment has a new default desktop that uses the Folder view. This means that just like Windows, you can place all your icons on your Desktop. This change recognizes that most people stick to old habits. It might not be the best choice from an aesthetic point of view, however it is the best default to implement.

The second improvement is the ability to control your media from the lock screen. This only works with the traditional media players. So you can’t control music playing in your browser.

Task manager improvements

The task manager has received a lot of attention in the last few releases of the Plasma desktop. Two features deserve your attention. The first improvement is the ability to mute applications from the taskbar. This is really nice for quickly muting a browser playing videos.

The second improvement is the addition of jump lists. This is a very welcome feature. For instance, it allows you to quickly open recent documents from LibreOffice.

Notification improvements

There are also some nice improvements to the notification widget. The first one is that notifications are now persistent. In the past, when applications didn’t indicate that their notifications should be persistent, they disappeared after a while. Now all notifications are persistent by default, so that you can look back. Of course, you can always clear your history whenever you want.

The second nice feature is that when you save a screenshot (using Spectacle), you can now perform various actions from the notification screen, like open the containing folder or open the image with Gwenview.

Application launcher improvements

The application launcher has 3 different appearances:

  • Application Dashboard
  • Application Launcher
  • Application Menu

The application dashboard is a full screen application launcher that has been polished in the last few releases. This is an alternative to the Windows 8/10 full screen start menu or to the Apple MacOS full screen dock. The last time I tested this feature, it was quite buggy. But (based on my recent testing) it is now behaving properly.

The second option is the application launcher that behaves a lot like the Windows Vista start menu. All menus open within the same area (click-through). However, this application launcher is way better than the one from Windows Vista. It’s much more powerful as it uses the Krunner search back-end to quickly provide you access to your applications, locations and files. Type something into the search window and it will find it on your computer.

One of the nice improvements is that you can now easily decide which tabs you like to use. So if you want to remove the Favorites section, you can just drag this away in the settings.

The third application launcher is my personal favorite. Its the one with pop-out menus. This is a very basic launcher, but it has the same powerful search capabilities. Favorites are listed as icons on the left side. And there are also lists with recent applications and recent documents.

A new feature is that when you remove all favorites, the menu is hiding the favorite section for a very minimal appearance.

Configuration settings redesign

The configuration settings have been redesigned. However, when I opened the configuration settings, it still appeared as it looked in openSUSE Leap 42.3.

You can adjust this by clicking on Configure and then selecting the Sidebar view.

You will now see the new responsive design. I am not sure if this is really an improvement. In this redesign, you lose the overview of all configuration items. When selecting a configuration item, the item list on the left changes to the specific options for that configuration item. You have the option to go back. But there is no gain in ease of navigation compared to the icon view. In my opinion, this design would work if a 3 panel layout would appear after selecting the configuration item. Then you would have an easier way to navigate between the various configuration items. This design might work better for mobile phones, but I don’t see the benefit for desktop users.

Discover and Vault

There are 2 applications that deserve an in-depth look. The first one is Discover, the software center of KDE. Discover wasn’t well integrated in the previous openSUSE Leap release. So I had high hopes for this release. The second one is KDE Vault. This is a method to create an encrypted folder on your computer to store files that you don’t want other people to access / see. I have tested both applications.

I am disappointed in Discover. Of the 3 applications that I tried to install, only the last one went without a problem. And these problems are not present when installing the same applications with the YaST Software Manager. You can read about these problems in a separate blog post.

KDE Vault works as advertised. I can imagine that users find a use case for this application. The only problem that I encountered was that once you create a vault, you cannot delete it anymore. This is unfortunate, as I didn’t have a use for my Test vault. One remaining note is that it isn’t installed by default on openSUSE Leap 15. To install it, use the YaST Software Manager and search for plasma-vault. YaST will automatically install all needed dependencies. I will create a separate blog post that describes how to create a vault.

Wayland improvements

The last improvements that I like to discuss, are the improvements to Wayland. Wayland is the new display protocol that will replace the 30 year old X.Org display server. Wayland is secure by design and X.Org is not. However, this is a big transition. Functions like print screen and remote desktop sessions need to be implemented in a different manner. There are still unsolved issues with the KDE Wayland implementation. One of them is that Wayland doesn’t play nice with the proprietary Nvidia driver. So its a work in progress. But KDE Plasma 5.12 makes big improvements in this area and I applaud the developers for their hard work. If you are not using proprietary GPU drivers, you can try it by changing the session to KDE Wayland at the login screen. Just don’t be surprised when something goes wrong. openSUSE Leap 15 makes the right choice by selecting KDE on X.Org as the default.

Published on: 4 June 2018