How to Enable The Experimental “Ribbon” Interface in LibreOffice

If you love Microsoft’s “Ribbon” interface but prefer the free and open source LibreOffice, you can get the best of both worlds…if you’re willing to put up with an experimental feature. While not officially an alternative to the Ribbon, LibreOffice’s “Notebookbar” bears an uncanny resemblance, and it’s a big improvement on LibreOffice’s old-timey toolbars.

Ten years ago, Microsoft revamped their Office suite with the Ribbon, replacing a row of uniform icons with tabs full of labelled features of varying sizes. Some people loved it; some people hated it; most just got used to it. Microsoft went on to introduce the layout to other applications, including Windows Explorer, and at this point it just feels like a normal part of the Windows user interface. The idea even has leaked into Linux and Mac interface design since then.

You might argue all this this leaves LibreOffice feeling somewhat…dated. To address this, the LibreOffice team is working on a new feature called the Notebookbar; you can read their design notes if you’re interested. But if you’re running LibreOffice 5.3, you can enable the feature right now. Here’s how, and what it looks like.

Step One: Enable Experimental Features

If you have a document open right now, save it, because you’ll need to restart LibreOffice during this tutorial.

Once that’s done, click Tools > Options.

In the options window, head to the LibreOffice > Advanced section.

Check “Enable experimental features (may be unstable)” then click “OK.” You’ll be asked to restart LibreOffice.

The program will restart.

Step Two: Enable The Notebookbar

From the menu bar, click View > Toolbar Layout > Notebookbar

Just like that, you’ve enabled the Notebookbar. You’ll see it resembles Microsoft Office’s Ribbon quite closely.

…At least, the “Home” tab does. Some of the other tabs leave something to be desired.

Don’t judge too harshly: this is very much a work in progress. We’re sure weird spacing like this will be tidied up before this feature is available outside of Experimental Mode.

Enable the Menu Bar, and Other Tweaks

When you turn on the Notebookbar, the menu bar disappears. If you want the menu bar back, that’s easy: just click the page icon, to the left of the “File” tab, then click “Menubar.”

Just like that, your menu bar reappears above the Notebookbar

As seen above, you’ll need to do this if you want to switch from the Notebookbar back to the default toolbar.

But we can also use the menu bar to explore some alternative interfaces for the Notebookbar. Click View > Notebookbar and you’ll see a few options.

The “Tabbed” option is the default, and is what we saw in the section above. But there are two more options here. “Contextual groups” tries to show only the buttons you’re likely to need based on context. What you see depends on what you’re doing.

There’s also “Contextual single,” which looks like the default toolbar, but as with Contextual Group is based on context.

Again, all of this is experimental, so don’t expect it to read your mind quite yet. But it’s an interesting look at what the LibreOffice team plans to do in the future, and there’s a good chance you’ll find it at least a little useful right now.

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.