In a world where corporate entities predominantly use Microsoft Office, the name LibreOffice may not be in the dictionary of many of these entities. 'Libre what?' might one ask. For others, LibreOffice might be linked with unprofessional, underdeveloped, and lower quality end-product compared to Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is, after all, the gold standard of Office Suites, so why on earth would anyone want to use something entirely differently?
This article will answer the following questions. Firstly, what is LibreOffice? How is it like to use (it’s pros and cons)? How is compatibility like with other office suites? And Lastly, who, if anyone, is LibreOffice good for?
- LibreOffice Writer is a word processor and publishing tool similar to Microsoft Office Word and Corel WordPerfect. Writer easily reads Microsoft Word documents (.docx,.doc), and you can also save your work in Microsoft Word format.
- Install Libreoffice using Snap Package. The Libreoffice snap package is maintained by the canonical team. The Ubuntu 20.04 system comes with pre installed snap package manager. Open a terminal on your system and execute: sudo snap install libreoffice; Install LibreOffice via PPA. LibreOffice 7.0 specific PPA is available with the latest debian.
- The latest tweets from @LibreOfficeJa.
Before we dive into this, a little background story is needed on why I personally, use LibreOffice with Google Suites online. Sometime back in 2017, I was absolutely frustrated with Microsoft Office and Windows 10 is “bugginess”, slow, and just simply frustrating end performance. This lead to the demise of Windows on my brand new HP Envy during my final year of university, where I installed Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (while backing up all my documents and files). Ubuntu 16.04 LTS is an open and free operating system supported, developed, and distributed by Canonical. Below is a snapshot of the latest Ubuntu 20.04 (For those who know what Linux OS’s and Desktop environments are, I no longer use GNOME given that it can be unstable from time to time and have migrated towards Kubuntu with KDE Plasma installed, although Ubuntu does have some elements of “bugginess and instability”, by far, it is more stable than Windows 10 in many ways)
The practical result is LibreOffice can take OpenOffice’s code and incorporate it into LibreOffice — the licenses are compatible. On the other hand, LibreOffice has some features — like font embedding — that don’t appear in OpenOffice. This is because the two different licenses only allow a one-way transfer of code.
With this, using Ubuntu as my daily driver for three years has been fruitful, and apps such as spotify, Firefox, Google Chrome and others that you find on Windows 10 are also readily available on Ubuntu. Of course, Ubuntu is not an “error-free” piece of OS, but, relative towards Windows 10, the OS is by far quicker, more stable, and in some ways, more intuitive to use. Throughout the three years, I primarily used Google Suites (Docs, Slides, and Spreadsheet) as my main Office Suite to get things done (with the occasional use of Microsoft Office on University computers, and thus, have not lost touch towards what it is actually like to use office).
Until recently, approximately four weeks ago, I’ve been trying to find an offline supplementary Office Suite to work on in collaboration with Google Suites when online cloud-based collaboration is needed,This was especially important to me since, at Bahrain Research Group, we use a whole list of Google apps (such as meets, calendar, Gmail and others), and would sometimes use the Office suites to collaborate with each other. Reasons for looking for an offline and non-web app based office suite follows as:
- Using online Office suites, while useful especially for backing up data, uses a lot of system resources, especially the CPU and to some extent RAM. As a result, opening many documents is not feasible.
- In general, longer and larger documents become more unstable when using online office suites like G Suites, given that there’s only so much web-based software can do compared to offline support, some files which I do work on are rather large compared to the average consumer or office worker’s files.
Although hesitant given the stigma which LibreOffice has, I decided to give it a go as my co-daily Office Suite driver for the past four weeks, given that LibreOffice by default is installed on Ubuntu and other Linux derivatives.
What is LibreOffice?
Now that I’ve cleared up how I’ve ended up here on LibreOffice, I will give a background of what is LibreOffice is needed. LibreOffice is an office suite founded by The Document Foundation as a charity foundation based in Germany, where it acts as a successor to the once popular OpenOffice software, a predecessor once supported by the OpenOffice community.
LibreOffice offers the following suites: Writer (a word processing suite which is used to write this document), Calc (a spreadsheet application), Impress (Presentation application), Draw (Vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (Databases), and Math (Formula creation and editing).
LibreOffice has its own file structure standard called Open Document Format (ODF). However, LibreOffice has worked on supporting a wide range of document formats over the years , including the most obvious being Microsoft Office formats.
LibreOffice attempts to replicate, or rather more accurately, support and provide features which are found in Microsoft Office suite, and to some extent, provide even more. Over the years, it appears that LibreOffice has grown in popularity and in usage. It is also important to note that LibreOffice is free and open-source software, which is maintained by developers who are either employed full-time, or contribute on a part-time basis.
What is LibreOffice like to use?
In all honesty, initially, LibreOffice is quite intimidating, and appears to be of lower quality in comparison to Microsoft Office and Google suites. In fact, opening the LibreOffice Writer for the first time will present you with a layout like this below
However, LibreOffice provides the option to change this view format to something more intuitive and familiar to the millions of users of office, where you can choose between “tabbed” or “compact tabbed” format. This in turn, will be saved as a setting for every time you open any new instances of LibreOffice. First, we’ll look at LibreOffice Writer.
Libreoffice Twitter Account
When using LibreOffice writer, once switching to the tabbed or compact tabbed position, things instantly become a lot easier to use and more recognizable, like how you see things in Microsoft Word and Google Docs. With this, writer, at least on Ubuntu/Linux, is unbelievably fast at loading documents with an SSD. My 66 page dissertation for my masters degree took just 4 seconds to fully load, which compared to Google Docs, and past, but not recent experience of Microsoft Word, is miles faster, this served as a surprise.
Despite being faster, there are a few issues which do pop-up in terms of initial usage. First, formatting text, images, and other items is not as intuitive as other competitors, and therefore require that you take a little bit of time to learn how to use such features. However, once you get the hang of simply right clicking and looking for the feature, this becomes a trivial issue, and things can be easily found in an instance to modify text and other items which are not displayed as a default setting (which in itself can be modified to have such settings in the bar above).
Large documents load relatively well and fast. Scrolling is mostly smooth, and editing is also mostly smooth. However, as I will discuss in the compatibility issue section, there are small instances where you do notice a drop in performance with LibreOffice. Overall, LibreOffice Writer is quite stable, and probably has the most shallow learning curve when first being used out of the three main applications under LibreOffice suite.
LibreOffice Impress is the PowerPoint/Google Slides equivalent. Impress, in my opinion, is the application which has the steepest learning curve when using compared to the other two. First, with Impress, using guidelines is not straightforward, and the alignment of objects, text, images, graphs and other items are not straightforward with respect to Google Slides and PowerPoint. This initially prompted me to give up on LibreOffice Impress, but I decided to give it another go.
After giving it a second chance, I’ve noticed that using Impress is actually rather easy, although somewhat different compared to the competition. It’s maybe another word like procedure/strategy of using a snap movement basis for objects makes sense, especially if you turn on the view of the grid, and that in some ways makes more sense than actually having measurement guides between objects, as what feels like almost free movement of objects and other items feels quite natural, and in some ways, artistic to create a presentation.
LibreOffice Impress is, in fact, the smoothest out of all of the LibreOffice office suites. I’ve yet to have a major hiccup from LibreOffice Impress.
As a massive excel and spreadsheet user and creator, this was a particularly important piece of software. In some ways, it was a make-or-break decision regarding LibreOffice. Initially, like how all the other suites in LibreOffice suffers from the same issue, the non-tabbed bar above with the settings to change formats, text size, and other items was intimidating. Additional to this, when writing formulas, the formula text itself does not look well polished and seems rather low quality in terms of graphics design.
However, once getting past these issues, using LibreOffice Calc was really good, and better than Excel and Google Spreadsheets! Calc actually came handy for one particular issue that I had during my dissertation: a rather large excel sheet. The total amount of participants (from the BRFSS dataset) in my dissertation was approximately, 430,000 individuals. Initially, I used R studio to filter and select the variables that were most need for my dissertation.
Excel had struggled to open the large file and remain running consistently, with multiple crashes along the way. However, with LibreOffice, although occasionally freezing, the program did not crash.
One thing which was a struggle (that is actually common across the LibreOffice suites) is the ability to make and change graphs. Making graphs was initially clunky and the default graphs looked horrendous. However, after a little bit of time learning how to create, modify, and polish up graphs in LibreOffice, graphs look nearly identical to ones that I make on Google Suites and previously, office. The example below is when I amateurishly measured G forces when driving a vehicle on the streets (which, once normalizing the data for potential measurement errors, actually falls in line with research and insurance company measurements)
This downside, of course, is the only one I can think of in terms of using LibreOffice across all the applications offered.
Overall, LibreOffice suites are actually quite stable, usable, and with some patience in the initial usage, are actually quite nice to use, it is potentially even more preferable than alternatives like Microsoft Office. Documents, PowerPoints, and Excel sheets can be made just like in other Office Suites with the same quality after maybe two or three weeks of usage to get used to some of the differences of the office suites.
How’s it compatibility with other office suites?
The question which some potential users may have is, how compatible is it with other office suites? In general, quite compatible. First we start with Google Suites. Google Suites has the ability to export into Open Document Format, which as a result, increases the likelihood of formatting being more or less the same. Microsoft Office can also save in Open Document Format. However, regardless of this, LibreOffice can comfortably open Microsoft office document formats quite well. Formatting issues do arise, but these formatting issues are usually minor, such as extra spacing between different paragraphs in word/writer, or a slight misalignment of text.
Impress, however, holds the largest issue in terms of compatibility, where on some occasions, graphs and tables are misaligned, and in some rare instances editing is not possible or alignment becomes difficult. This happens more with PowerPoints exported from office and Apple keynotes than from Google Slides, where at worst, tables stick as tables, but graphs only show as images from Google Slides. Given this, Impress has small compatibility issues with pptx files around 15% of the time, and 5% of the time being large and severe.
Calc has the best compatibility as per my experience with other office suites, and to some extent, even better than Google Spreadsheets in terms of opening sheets with formulas. Very rarely do I run into issues where formulas and tabs do not load or not work. Graphs from Google Spreadsheet appear to work quite well on LibreOffice Calc, and should work well from Microsoft Office Excel as well.
In order of preference, we can say that Calc has the best compatibility with it’s related Office suite competitors, followed by Writer, and impress last, where occasional compatibility issues appear, and in rare instances, major compatibility issues spring up.
A response to this is for everyone to use PDF as a standard way to send a final report or document towards end users. The reason for this is because, even on the rare occasion, documents and files made on Microsoft Office products may not even work on Microsoft Office products. PDFs essentially nearly guarantee that this issue does not happen. In nearly every instance, both professionally in the workforce, in university, and for private ventures such as Bahrain Research Group,I and others have always sent and exported files in PDF format, as this ensures that anyone can open, add comments, and send feedback with minimal issue.
Who is LibreOffice for? What can we take away from this?
In the end, who is LibreOffice for? I would go as far as saying that Medium end enterprises and organizations who do not use or require high-powered Microsoft Office features can possibly use LibreOffice. Students and individuals should highly consider using LibreOffice for personal use, as the need for expensive licensed office suites is not needed (where individuals would pay nearly 70 to 90 USD a year for Microsoft Office licenses). Alternatively, if users are not ready to embrace LibreOffice, then Google Suites is another alternative which is reliable and initially easier to use out of the box, but is not as powerful per se as LibreOffice.
My recommendation is that it would make sense to use LibreOffice for individual projects in small to medium size businesses and among private users, while G Suites should also be added and used as collaborative efforts when making documents. Why this combination? LibreOffice is light and works nearly effortlessly, while G Suites is by far more mature than Office 365, as office 365 itself does not even work with Office products that are installed offline. Office 365 online still suffers from poor performance this year, as per my last attempted use. Furthermore, G Suite tools, both for private and commercial use,are by far more mature and easier to use than online and offline-based Microsoft Office products.
In this regard, we can say that for almost 90%+ of users of Microsoft Office, both using the online and offline version, LibreOffice (and G Suites) are perfect substitutes, where G Suites are perfect for collaborative efforts, and LibreOffice for offline efforts. The only issue stemming from LibreOffice is that some initial effort is needed to understand how some of the tools work. However, once done, LibreOffice is quite easy to use, with little amount of bugs appearing during use.
We should take a moment to appreciate that an open-source, free software from a Non-profit organization has managed to at least replicate and provide the tools which are found in Microsoft Office that “non-power” users need. This in itself is an amazing achievement, and Microsoft should take a look at how it develops its products, as competition from Google, Apple, and others are slowly replacing the aging and fractured services and products provided by Microsoft. This is evident by broken update system management found in Windows 10, online cloud-based office suites by Microsoft are half-backed solutions. In an age of free and open-source software such as LibreOffice or Google Suites, it makes little sense for users to pay 70 to 100 USD per year for software which is on-par to the competition at best, and at worst with the large host of issues which windows 10 and Microsoft Office presents, sub-par towards the competition.
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