17 December 2012

Wireframing with LibreOffice

Given the mass of excellent wireframing tools, does FOSS software offer a cheap and ethical alternative? In this article, LibreOffice's Draw component gets tested for real work.

I'll admit it: I'm not sure whether I should be using OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice or whatever. For this, I used LibreOffice.

My relationship with this monster package goes back some time. I recall using Star Office when it really was Star Office; and build 638 of the newly released OpenOffice as it was back then. I think this was late nineties / early 2000s or thereabouts. Either way, it saved me when a small file I'd saved with MS Word at work refused to open and caused Word to crash on many machines. I copied the file onto floppy and opened it successfully with OpenOffice.org, saved it under a new name and it then opened fine under Word. Since then, I've been a bit skeptical when people criticise it for it's lack of ability to open MS Office files when MS Office can have a hard time.

But how does it do for basic Wireframing? I'm thinking about the static stuff here, just plain documentation, waterfall / throw-it-over-the-wall style rather than something interactive.

So far, it's done well for me. I've done a reasonably complex project here at the Economist Intelligence Unit, and managed to create wireframes for some already new pages and some already existing pages (entry points into the new pages). All were done using the 'Draw' component.

The benefits are:

Easy export to PDF, HTML and SVG along with a range of other formats. The HTML and SVG is useful because it can be easily displayed in a browser for testing and research, particularly remotely.
Multiple pages handled easily - this alone is a step ahead of Illustrator particularly when trying to stitch several PDFs together: LO provided rather a booklet.
Custom page sizes - page sizes can be specified in pixels too which makes things easier.

Drawbacks:

It's still hard to design fluid layouts. Personally, I find HTML to be just the best thing for this rather than relying on a graphics program.
Exported PDFs don't look that good. I cannot put my finger on this just yet but something seems inferior quality.

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