Calc/Cell Edition Modes

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Suggestions to improve the edition of formulas in Calc are regularly discussed in the User Experience mailing lists. A recent example is the “Show Formula Syntax in tip help” feature planed for the 3.1 release.

Such discussions have proved to be difficult, because of the nature of interaction in Calc. One of the difficulties is that cell edition relies heavily on modes which are not clearly identified, similar from each other, differing only by subtle behaviors.

This makes the “big picture” difficult to apprehend, with the risk to:

  • miss some improvement opportunities
  • break some interaction patterns
  • introduce coherence breaks

Another issue — only indirectly related to the User Experience Team objectives — is that user documentation suffers from incompleteness.

This page is thus an attempt to list and detail all the modes involved in cell edition, and finally to propose some improvement suggestions.

The Modes

Selection Mode

Default mode. Subtleties: "Formula Bar" may be hidden, and input line removed ; "Formula View" mode; Array formula.

Input Mode

Entered upon:

  • Entering any text in Selection Mode.

Leaving the mode on:

  • Enter or Tab keys (validating the entry, back to Selection Mode, see the Enhanced Data Input specification)
  • Escape key (canceling, back to Selection Mode)
  • Click in the formula in cell or in input line of the formula bar (entering Standard Edit Mode, see bellow)

The Input Mode has two variants affecting display and how the application reacts to navigation keys, click and drag-and-drop in other cells.

Reference Input Mode

Activated when the text begins with an "=", "+" or "-" (see Enhanced Formula Input specification.)

References can then be selected with the keyboard (arrow keys and navigation keys) and mouse, and referenced cells get a colored background matching the color of the reference in the formula (in cell but not in formula bar.)

There is a bug when leaving Reference Input Mode by clicking in the formula (in cell or in input line). This enters Standard Edit Mode (see bellow), but the referenced cells keep their colored border until the users gets back to Selection Mode.

Standard Input Mode

Any of the key or mouse operations aforementioned validate the input, return to Selection Mode and additionally have the same effect that in Selection Mode.

Edit Mode

References Edit Mode

From the Selection Mode, enter “References Edit Mode” by double clicking on a cell containing a formula, or first select it and then press F2 or click in the input line of the Formula Bar.

In this mode, every reference in the formula is associated with a color. In the cell (but not in the input line of the Formula Bar,) references are colored with their associated color. In the visible area, referenced cells and cell ranges get a border of the corresponding color. The user can drag and drop these cells and ranges to modify the references in the cell's formula accordingly. (S)he can also resize the ranges.

Moving the cursor in the formula by clicking in the edited cell or in input line of the Formula Bar is allowed. Selection by double or triple-click is allowed both in the cell and in the input line. But other mouse selection is only allowed in the input line.

Enter and Tab keys validate the entry and return to Selection Mode. Escape key cancels the modifications and return to Selection Mode.

Every other interaction (including moving the cursor with the arrow keys) leaves the References Edit Mode and enters the Standard Edit Mode (see below.)

Standard Edit Mode

Visualizing Referenced cells

See Also

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