The LibreOffice Mardi Gras Party for Help: What’s new and fun in online Help?

Starting with the recent release of the 6.0 family, LibreOffice has now a brand new online help system. Unlike the previous version – based on the transfer of help content to the Mediawiki framework hosted by The Document Foundation – the new help is a direct transformation of the help XML files into simple HTML files, with additions of some JavaScript magic and CSS wizardry.

But how do I get this new help online? Actually it is quite easy. Either you navigate in your browser to https://help.libreoffice.org/6.0/ from your desktop or smartphone or you just don’t install the local help packages in your computer. When the local help is not installed, LibreOffice calls the online help, passing parameters that includes the dialog box identification or UNO command, operating system language and version. Your default browser will open the correct page at the right line position.

What is new in this help online? By working on the XML transformation targeted at modern browsers, LibreOffice developers were able to insert many nice features in the pages. Here are a few, just for a start:

The top header contains two drop-down lists, one to select the module and the second to select the language of the pages. These two lists are there to let you navigate in all help domains. If you want to read the help content in another language, just select the language in the list. There are as many as 50 languages available (not every Help page is fully translated in some languages).

Language and module selection

The header also contain a Google custom search box that will return a list of pages from the main LibreOffice websites, that includes the help website, the old Wikihelp, the TDF Wiki and more. Note that some results may link to old pages, because the search engine needs time to index new pages.

The Contents box on the top-left emulates the Contents panel in the old local help and has all the links as before. When navigating help pages with the Contents links, the open tree is maintained if the page was opened from the Contents.

The Index box in the bottom-left allows fuzzy searches on a very large set of keywords, collected from the tags with which many LibreOffice translators are familiar. Unlike the old help, the search returns matches of all modules, clearly highlighted. For example when you type “dialog” in the search box, you get results related to dialogs in every module, including the COMMON module that, as you may guess, has contents common to all modules.

The Index search and its results

You will also notice that the search results are paginated, to avoid long lists of results. Just click on the arrows on the bottom and you move 20 lines back and forth.

So let’s say that you want to get help on a Calc function such as VLOOKUP. You can get the VLOOKUP help page from Calc function wizard or type VLOOKUP in the search box of the new help system. Once the page displayed, let’s imagine that you want to check the example for good. So easy! Hover the mouse on the example and a tooltip will show, telling you to click on the example to copy it to the clipboard. Paste the clipboard content to a Calc cell and here you go, your example is now in a cell to work on. This is handy if you deal with function that has many arguments to pass…

Copy to clipboard

These are just some of the nice features we just implemented for the new help. For the next release (6.1), we will make the offline help exactly the same as the online version, minus a few features like language selection or global search. But we have just scratched the surface of a better experience in navigating our help pages and we welcome new ideas and new collaborators for the evolution of our help system.

So far the new Help is the work of several individuals, and we want to thank them here: Ilmari Lauhakangas (buovjaga), Beatriz Fonseca (beatrizu), Jan Holesovsky (kendy), Andreas Kainz (andreas_k), Fabio Biocchetti (css16), David Tardon (dtardon), Gabriel Chiquini, Adolfo Jayme Barrientos (fitoshido) and Olivier Hallot (ohallot).

Come and join us in this Mardi Gras of a new experience in LibreOffice help!

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