Writer/page styles

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A page is a strange thing in Writer – technically speaking. A document consists of paragraphs containing text, objects, tables etc. But there is nothing like a page. Pages are created when the document is layouted for a page oriented device, e.g. a printer. The exact page where a particular part of the document appears is not fixed and depends on other parts of the document. If there is nothing like a page object in the document itself and in its representation in the file format as well it is not surprising that OOo Writer doesn't have “page properties”. You can't have properties for something that doesn't exist.

Nevertheless users have the idea of page properties, e.g. size and width, margins etc. From Writer's point of view these properties make up an “instruction set” for the creation of pages that happens in the document layout and this instruction set is what we call page styles.

Users that understand and like the power of styles in Writer are able to understand what page styles are. And once they see and understand that there are no "hard attributes" for pages (as pages exist only virtually) they get used to work with page styles when they want to change "page properties". Even users that usually don't use styles can become trained to change the "page properties" at the right place in Writer: “Format – Page”. Though they edit a style here it looks the same as "Format - Paragraph" or "Format - Character". The problems start if they want to have some pages to look different than others, e.g. they want to add header or footer only on page 3. Here the analogy to "Format - Paragraph" ends. You can go to a paragraph and immediately change its properties. If you try to do the "analog" thing for a page you will usually change the properties for more than one page.

A Web browser like the one you are using to read this blog doesn't offer this feature. If you print out a web page you can setup a common page layout for all pages, that's it. The location "File - Page Setup" looks natural for this task. It looks strange to have the same menu entry in a word processor – it fosters the impression that there is something like "the" page layout of the document (common to all pages) and you can switch on a header or footer separately – in a way like a "page property". So people look for "Insert footer" in Writer but when they select the menu item they see names of page styles listed there. That's where the confusion starts. If the user wanted to switch on the footer for all pages she could achieve her goal by just clicking on the only entry available – but usually she is lost if she wanted the footer only on a few pages.

The Writer concept of page styles is great but to work with it you must do many things explicitly – as here: if you want to have your footer only on page 3 you must create an additional page style, insert two page breaks and specify the page style you want to use for the page between the breaks and then call "Insert footer" for the new page style. That's a lot of work to do and to understand. Why couldn't Writer do it automatically? The only things Writer needed to know would be for which pages the footer should be inserted – everything else could be done behind the scenes.

So the logical idea is to have some other options for "Insert Footer". Here are some suggestions:

- all pages: change all used page styles and switch on the footer

- only pages with style "xyz": change page style "xyz" (more or less what currently is available)

- starting with current page: Create a new page style from the one of this page and switch on the footer on it. If not there, insert a page break before the top of this page (make sure that this makes sense!) and select the new page style for this page. Open question: how to deal with pages that follow the current page but have a different page style?

- this page only: same as above, but add another page break at the end of this page (if not existing already).

The same applies for other cases where a page style property shall be changed.

Some other aspects, that should be considered:

- text flow from one page of page style "xyz" to the next page of page style "abc" only works, if the page style concept is understood and page style "abc" is chosen as the next page style of page style "xyz".

- each page style specifies its own page header and page footer content - no sharing exists. E.g., if all pages should have the same page header/footer, but one page should have a red background, an additional page style for the red page is needed and thus, the page header/footer content has to be inserted twice.

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