User Experience/StartCenter

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Introduction is separated into single applications like Writer, Calc, Draw and Impress, which could be started directly from the operating system start panel. If the executable is started directly OOo shows the start module, always shown if no document is loaded. The start module has no value for the user on start-up, but keeps OOo loaded if the last document has been closed and a new one is generated. The plain start module makes it difficult start OOo from a link on the desktop to gain visibility on the Macintosh platform.

So a new StartCenter is needed to welcome the user. The “welcome” implies that is very important for the experience of the user, because:

  • ... it is the first element the user might see (besides the download and installation procedure).
  • ... it is an essential part of's visual identity.
  • ... it creates a first impression on the features and the usability of
  • ... it should encourage the new user to work with


The development of the new StartCenter has begun and is open for community discussion. A first version of it is part of 3.0. This start center will be further extended from version to version. New ideas can be added in section Collection of Ideas.

The StartCenter will not be modified in 3.1, according to the feature freeze.

Terms and Definitions

The following graphics contains terms and definitions which are helpful for the ongoing discussion.

UX StartCenter Definitions.png

A discussion to find a better name for the StartCenter has been started, but has not reached consensus.


  • Extended Issue List with all entries having the description "StartCenter" independent of their status, priority, ...
  • Issue 90815 [StartCenter] Provide configuration option to deactivate StartCenter

StartCenter in 3.0

This first step of the development defined the integration into the operating system and a first welcome dialog within the former backing window.


Please note: The discussion has been started with the first version of the StartCenter (2008-02-19). Therefore not all of the given points may be valid at the moment. Also, various ideas have been combined and presented in subsequent ideas; thus it is important to read comments.

What has been rated positively:

  • The design appears very clear to the user.
  • It welcomes the user

What has been criticized so far:

  • The spacing does not emphasize the functional representation of the elements.
  • The "new from template" symbol is separated from the "new empty document" by the "open". Seems weird.
  • The mouseover area is relatively small
  • The three items in the lower right might need some explanation. People who use that window will probably need some extra guidance.
  • There is no obvious way to get help (besides the main OOo start module).
  • From the user's point of view it is not really required to show the product name and version number in such a prominent way.

Known Design Issues

  • In Impress, the “New Document” does not directly lead to an empty document. Instead it presents the the “Presentation Wizard”, which also allows to open an already available document.
  • The “Template” button will open the window “Templates and Documents” which is not correct.
  • After creating or opening a document, the StartCenter disappears and the interaction with the user is done by the usual user interface elements.

StartCenter for future versions of

The Central Features


The following constraints apply for the StartCenter for 3.X (This needs to be validated):

  • The StartCenter must provide entries for the following modules (if installed):
    • Writer (Text Document)
    • Calc (Spreadsheet)
    • Impress (Presentation)
    • Draw (Drawing)
    • Base (Database)
  • The StartCenter must provide actions/links to:
    • Help
    • User Survey (Registration)
    • Extensions Website
  • The visual design is not part of the discussion, unless there are usability concerns.


Whenever the user starts, he may plan to either:

  • open an existing document
  • create a new document (empty or from template)

Therefore, opening the desired existing document and creating a new one should be as fast and as easy to achieve as possible. For most users the optimal case would be a single - straight forward - click to perform each task.

Historical Perspective

In a far away future, computers will be able to read the user's mind and automatically create a new document or locate the existing document that the user intends to open. Even if the user doesn't accurately remember the file name, this advanced computer will infer from existing incomplete data the correct document, therefore removing the need for this start center. But this is in a very far away future.

Traditionally, programs have focused on the documents use-history to predict which documents are likely to be re-used by the user. Recently-used ones are more likely to be accessed again, therefore programs have implemented features from full fledged document history to simple recent-document lists.

Although this algorithm works well on average, it sometimes fails. Especially with the raising creation of new content on the internet, the number of documents a user might access increases significantly, putting great strain on the limited recent-documents list.

New concepts are therefore needed:

  • easily track existing documents: if OOo cannot reliably guess which document the user intends to open, then ease manually finding this document; and
  • increase the chance of a positive hit.

Various strategies will be discussed below, including automatic meta-data and tagging-features, as well as customising the history list (e.g. pinning documents in the history list - an approach followed by MS Office 2007).

Collection of Ideas

The following list contains those ideas that could possibly useful for the user (alphabetical order). Please add your comments as they will be helpful for the evaluation of the ideas, separate comments with a new paragraph and an asterisk at the start of your comment.

Idea Details Comments
Bug Reporting It seems that many people hassle with the Issue Tracker (if they have finally managed to find it). It would be nice to implement basic bug description capabilities, similar to the ones implemented in the Document Recover feature (Specification).
Community Content Provide access to community content like extensions, document templates, graphics or video tutorials.
Community Information Give information on current community events or other news (e.g. RSS feeds for local activities).
Content Management System Integration In the industry, content management systems are the preferred method to manage documents. Besides the file system integration, the StartCenter should provide extension capabilities to integrate with Content Management Systems.
Desktop Search Integration Opening new documents or searching for previously used ones may be eased by desktop search integration. Here, users just enter search terms and start the query for the desired documents (search terms: file name, content, tags, ...). This may be even better than providing 10 ... 15 single entries of the last used documents.

Desktop search engines are for example: Apple Spotlight, Beagle, Gnome Tracker, Google Desktop Search.

Document Recovery If has crashed, it usually saves the currently opened documents and provides “Document Recovery” after restarting the software. Currently, the document recovery works very well but does not really fit into the UI design of Additionally, it may interrupt the intended work flow (Specification).

Example: After the crash of Calc, the user may not work on. The next day, he starts Writer and gets a request to decide on recovery. This blocks her/his intended work flow.

GUI Customization The user should be able to customize the StartCenter via the GUI. Customization means, that the user would be able to define the content (e.g. community information, recent documents, update information) and its position in the StartCenter window to fit her/his personal needs. In any case, there should be well defined defaults.

(Added for the user jobod because of translation issues.)

  • It would be interesting to see a "drag, drop, & add menu" system similar to Google Homepage. Though perhaps this is a bit overkill for a StartCenter?
Launcher Icon for StartCenter A single Icon that launches to the StartCenter could replace the need for all the other icons. As the user is using the StartCenter shared databases could be loading in the background, or perhaps most often used databases. By working durring the users reaction time, the perceived loading time of the program would be improved. (FYI:This icon may exist on other operating systems, but isn't default in Ubuntu Linux.)
  • This introduces a more roundabout approach to opening a new document, but would be quite valuable for opening a previous / recent document. -Knoxy (see mockup for details)
Lose the words 'Welcome to' They may be appropriate on first use after installation, but after that it is wrong to welcome someone to their to edit documents on their computer. The simple statement of the product name and version is all that is needed.
Merge with splash screen The splash screen is a separate window and is displayed until the application has been loaded. There could be two approaches;

If the loading time could be reduced significantly, show the StartCenter as soon as possible without showing the splash screen; if the loading time of could not be reduced, then merge the splash screen and the StartCenter (e.g. use the same window size, use some fading).

PIM Integration For 3.0 it is planned to provide PIM capabilities with Thunderbird an the extension Lightning. To improve the integration, the StartCenter could be provide basic information on mails, tasks and the schedule.
Recent documents The StartCenter serves to create new documents or to open existing ones with the file selection dialog. Normally, users do work with a certain set of documents which could be implemented as recent or frequently used documents in the StartCenter. Currently, access to recent documents is done in via the application “File” menu (Specification).
Replace start module Instead of showing the start module together with the StartCenter, the StartCenter could be extended to replace the start module completely. Currently, the start module is the window that is shown if no special module is loaded (Specification).
Tabbed Interface Keeping the perils of feature bloat in mind, a tabbed interface could encourage use of the Start Center as a productivity boost. Options in the OOo Preferences could customize which tab is shown on start up, saving user's from constantly clicking to get to their most often used options. The tabs could be:
  • New Document - similar to the current Start Center - offering one-click access to creating new documents & templates
  • Open Document - a custom open-like dialog with 3 ways to open files:
    • Recent Documents - a list of recent OOo documents, with information like file name, last modified, etc) with a 'pin' option to keep very frequently opened documents (as determined by the user) at the top of the list.
    • Standard Open - allows the user to browse their hard disk and locate the file manually.
    • Watched Directories - a possible new feature: users could specify directories to be 'watched' - OOo would then aggregate all OOo files from these directories and display them here - like a virtual directory.
  • OOo Online - a window showing useful OOo links/information - extensions, clip art, templates, free support, news, etc.
  • User Survey - a quick, convenient way of completing the user survey, presumably if the user doesn't want to do it all at once.
Template management The document templates are currently managed at several places. The most important access to templates is given by the “Templates and Documents” window. This feature driven but non-charming window could be well integrated into the StartCenter. Some time ago, there work has been started to improve the user experience. It seems that it has not been worked on for some time (Feature Templates).
Update information The StartCenter could provide information on online updates for the main product and extensions. Currently, the user is informed about updates by a small icon in the upper right corner (Specification).
User data The StartCenter could be used to acquire the personal data for the user. This data is generally used to fill out templates automatically or state the author in the change tracking feature. Currently, most users don't see the need to fill out this form, do not know that it exists or don't trust The users could be encouraged to give their user data by using a “personal salutations” in the StartCenter.
User survey (Registration) The StartCenter could natively implement the user servey instead of providing it as a separate web page (User Survey). In the current version of, the request for registration is prompted directly after installing the product (together with the license agreement this harms the experience for the user). From that point, the registration option lives quiet in the help menu.
What's new? If an updated version is installed, the user may get a short introduction to new features.

It has been proposed to embed a web page into the StartCenter to add content like "New Features" information; please have a look at this mail.


Name Mockup Details / Comments
Fancy Progressbar StartCenter Idea ProgressBar Flare.png If the StartCenter would be merged with the Splash Screen, then some people might fall in love with a more fancy progress bar. Flare effects and some slight animation might help to raise the enjoyment factor (animation: color changes of star, rotation, ...).

Please note:

  • It would be even better if would start up lightning fast and therefore would not require to show a progress bar.
  • The StartCenter window is just an example. Neither color, size, shape, ... nor background belong to that proposal.
  • The picture was drawn by myself, which means that the idea may be better than my artistic skills ;-)
FreeBird Startcenter mockup2.png A Start Center integrating a message panel (please see relevant entry in the collection of ideas above) and recent documents. Please note: the header design is not indicative of OOo 3's final artwork (3 gulls artwork by Nikash Singh).

As a result of presenting this to the mailing list, 2 main concerns were raised:

  • The number of recent documents may not be sufficient. Displaying them would better be handled by the open dialog.
  • The font sizes may be too small for visually impaired users.

This leads to the tabbed interface suggestion (please see relevant entry in the collection of ideas above)

Some polishing for better experience 2008-02-27 StartCenter Mockup Clement2.png No new feature in this mockup, just a different Look and Feel. I include it here, because there are still some user experience considerations behind the design:
  • Use button groups rather than a grid filled with buttons:
    • minimize the visual burden (less button borders)
    • maximize the “clickable” area (no “unclickable” space between adjacent buttons, labels inside the buttons)
    • The division of the StartCenter into sections does not need any additional graphical element: the button group border does it all.
  • Follows common UI guidelines more rigorously:
    • No icon without label
    • All buttons have an action inside OOo: start a module or open up a dialog (then followed by the usual “…”)
    • "Help" and "Extensions" are links opening in browser and are displayed as such (not as buttons)
  • The buttons opening OOo modules don't use the full icon of the corresponding module (with the seagull and the corner-flipped sheet of paper), but only the “module symbol”. The intended effect is both to reduce visual burden and to help the user in learning these symbols, for a better use of file icons. Note: the symbols used in the mockup have been badly extracted and resized from other bitmap images and would need a better realization.
  • Clear subdivision of the StartCenter into sections defined by the task the user may want to accomplish.
  • The version number, of small importance, has been moved from the welcome message to the last section title (“More about 3.0.”)

Note: there should be an icon on the “Recent Documents…” button (maybe a clock?), but I had no time to search for one.

Another idea not visible in this mockup was to open the dialogs by flipping the StartCenter window “à la MacOs Dashboard”: no need to open a new window, just use the back of the window. Since there are many dialogs, we could also use a “3D cube metaphor” where each dialog would have its own side of the cube.

Galaxy Start GalaxyStart1a.png
I had the idea that a StartCenter and one icon for the Open Office Suite could replace having 6 separate icons. Galaxy Start is the product of this idea. The image at the top would be the first tab that launches. Note that this shows the mouse hovering over Calc, shown with a glow and font change (Calc has not yet been selected). The general concept is that each program icon at the top would act as a tab and show a pane corresponding to it's program.

Ideas I tried to incorporate:

  • Recent Documents: I pictured this to be file type sensitive. If you are in the main tab, you see all file types; if you are in the Calc tab, you only see Calc files.
    • Intuitive sorting based on date or name
    • Intuitive incorporation of searching, with file type sensitivity.
  • Open File: Would have the same file type sensitivity.
  • An Extras tab
    • Community: Has an icon and a blue text link, to show that it will open in a web browser.
    • About: "
    • Extensions: "
    • RSS Feed / Message Section: Allows for communication from our community to them ie. new downloads, surveys, feedback
  • Enlarged Selection Area
  • Program tabs can be hidden by dragging them into the "Extras Tab"
    • Can be shown by dragging again
  • Program tabs can be rearranged by drag and drop

Note: The "Open File" icon is not part of the Galaxy Icon Set, but it was the idea I wanted. Shout outs: STS & Visual Design Project, for icons; IvanM, for his mockup
- Ak13 18:14, 27 February 2009 (UTC)

Dashboard Dashboard Concept 20090201.png The Dashboard concept's purpose is to bring OOo, visually and functionally, closer to the world of web applications, where most of the action and excitement occurs today. It is flexible and extensible, ideally through simple widgets that any web programmer can easily create.

Dashboard widgets shown in the mockup tie the desktop application to online repositories of extensions, templates, user forums and other live features. New users will find accessing these web services much more intuitive than our current methods, and thus will make more frequent use of them. It will also differentiate us from competitors who do not, and perhaps cannot, offer similar features.

Users are familiar and comfortable with web applications. The details of the layout of page elements are inspired by Apple's iTunes Music Store, which is one of the most popular software/service bundles in use in the world today.

Please overlook the crude design mockup and consider it simply a wireframe!

More on the Dashboard concept here.

Content related design idea Start-white-with-templ.png
First one is a raw draft for discussion about content of Startcenter. Therefore it has a very simple design, because rebranding is in progress. All text with icon is read directly from the OS, so changes are automatically reflected in design. This should help if there are Linux distros with own icons. Clickable text and buttons invert if mouse hover over them.

Second draft is an old idea, based on iconless design and my favorite black themed Startcenter.

Third draft is designed around the main recent files section with combined new/template buttons.

Last draft is an idea about a non intrusive first start window. The user feels install is complete and can start right away if he wishes. I did not work out text, but you get the idea...

Welcome Center 2010 (see link on the right side)


A new personal idea which can be found on the Welcome Center 2010 wiki page.

Ivan's Proposal
Ivan StartCenter Proposal wireframe.png


A proposal by Ivan announced on both the ux-discuss and branding mailing lists:

How to continue?

At the moment, the “idea collection season” is open. So just add your brainstorming ideas on use cases, requirements, features and mockups. Then, those ideas should be evaluated in terms of “customer benefit”, “user types” and “effort”. After that we can finally start to design this feature and start implementing.

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