It can be difficult…coming before a large number of people, in person as well as on the Web. It can be even more difficult to bring forward a problem, when the problem may be perceived as just so much crybaby noise. But as long as the problem is important enough to merit premium black pixels on a white background, all the crybaby labels in the ‘verse are worth it.
The problem is just One Little Thing…something so infinitesimal that it would be easy to gloss over and wave one’s hand in dismissal. The problem may be unimportant to you, you being the all-powerful Kylo Ren and all. But what if I told you that this sub-microscopic issue affects many and could be easily fixed if only someone, like your brothers in arms in the First Order, would pay attention.
This isn’t recent news. I spoke about this at length when I gave the opening keynote at the 2011 Texas Linux Fest — an absolute honor, sans the breathlessness as the minutes of the keynote slid by. I spoke about the huge benefit this One Little Thing would bring, a thing that could save hundreds or even thousands of hours a year if only a few words were placed in plain sight.
I feel the need to qualify myself before I go further.
It’s obvious from some comments to past articles that some of you are not aware of the men and women who have done the work of Reglue every year for the past decade. I personally install dozens of Linux powered computers into financially disadvantaged homes a year. In year’s past, before I became ill, we placed hundreds of computers a year into homes with school children in need of computers. This makes me uniquely qualified to report issues like this One Little Thing, as I have seen them day by day, week by week, month after month and year after year.
So what is this One Little Thing which I brought to the attention of the global Linux community in 2011?
We install Linux on every one of our Reglue computers. Included in that installation is the entire suite of LibreOffice. Unfortunately, a number of Reglue Kids began complaining about homework assignments being rejected. Most times they were scolded and told to re-submit the assignment in the proper format…you know, that well known proprietary one. Sometimes students were given a lower grade for not following the submission instructions.
Most assignments being electronically submitted by Reglue Kids were in .ODT or other open document formats. This was clearly our failure. Taking the time to show the student how to find and indicate the proper format should have been done on our end and onsite while we were sitting beside them during the initial installation.
Later that year, when we instructed the students on how to change the format without any assistance, we felt the bridge begin to buckle. Most of them didn’t have a clue…
If you look at the sample graphic, you can understand what we mean. Our blunt instrument insert aside, you can see that there is little to prompt the user in the right direction. Those little up and down arrows? Sure, we take those as prompts to do something, but an eleven or twelve year old kid’s eyes blaze right by such little smudges. They are looking for instructions on to how make those format changes. Their eyes scan the space up and down, over and over. We were looking at close to 70 percent of kids in that age range not knowing how to make those changes.
And it’s such a little thing.
I am sure that there will be a fair share of you who want to defend the format, regardless of how unintuitive it might be. You will want to make accusations and say I’m making mountains of molehills. And I encourage you to do so, as loudly and as persistently as you want, because in doing so, you make at least part of my point for me. Apathy is as apathy does.
How much effort does it take to look up the person or persons responsible for making changes such as this and bringing the problem to their attention? All that’s needed is two simple lines of text beside the drop down menu, instructing the user as to what next to click on? It would be so easy and should be included in the next LibreOffice update.
In 2011, the number of people answering those rhetorical questions were dismal in number, that number being zero. So now, I am inviting you to be a voyeur in this effort. And ssshhhh, don’t give it away unless you want to assist. I will document every step I take and the responses given to those steps. I will do so here each week so you can follow the links created by those efforts and the people involved in them.
This should be fun. More importantly, this could be more helpful than most of us know.
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Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue