Thursday, February 07, 2008

OpenOffice And Understanding User Work Flow

One of the things that I am tasked with this year is improving relations between OpenOffice and our users. From a technical perspective it works well, is extremely stable, easy to support and upgrade and performs all of features required for 99% of work here at the City. My goal is to fill in the gaps between this technical view, and the technique/skills of users.

We are going to have some meetings in March to identify areas of improvement, and then explore using bounties to expedite some features. A bounty will be a onetime cost that hopefully can be merged into the main distribution for everyone to use.

The hardest part in obtaining information from users is separating "feature" from "specific product". My task today was to review the functionality of Publisher 2007, because it's an often mentioned missing feature in our current work flow. From how it was described, I was expecting a super powerful layout package with advanced features. It's not that at all. I had to take off my IT/Geek/Computer hat and focus myself like a regular user. When I personally approach a document, my mind is on the substance and text. The presentation and polish is the easy part, and last 5% of my process. But in reviewing Publisher you can see that many people work exactly opposite. They need to see pictures and thumbnails, and see an empty template first. They then want to use pre-defined text boxes, and load in the text from other documents into a finished product.

So experimentally I am using the thumbnailer in Nautilus to allow them to work in this manner. Instead of opening OpenOffice and constructing, I'll show them the finished product via .ott (template) files which are easily edited. I do know that OpenOffice has the ability to load templates inside the product, but I found them to be too many clicks and too hidden from view. The finished presentation needs to be the first thing they see.

Below is a shot of my first templates in this regard. I quickly built some awards and made them available from the main-menu. In this design, Openoffice isn't even seen until they have chosen their desired template. It will be interesting to see how this is received.

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