LibreOffice is an open source, personal productivity suite for Windows, Macintosh and GNU/Linux. The suite of programs includes a word processor called Writer (somewhat like Microsoft Word), a spreadsheet program called Calc (somewhat like Microsoft Excel), a presentation program called Impress (somewhat like Microsoft PowerPoint), a drawing program called Draw (somewhat like the old Microsoft Paint), a math program appropriately called Math (I'm not sure what to compare that to) and a database program called Base (somewhat like Microsoft Access). The best part of LibreOffice is the price: free.
Libre means "with little or no restriction," a great title for open source software.
LibreOffice is a "fork" of OpenOffice. Today marks the one-year anniversary of The Document Foundation (TDF) and the LibreOffice project. The project has seen considerable growth during its first year of existence. TDF estimates that there are now 25 million LibreOffice users worldwide, and more than 330 separate programmers have contributed code to the project.
The original OpenOffice software was first started as a commercial product called StarOffice some years ago by a small company in Germany that was later acquired by Sun Microsystems. Sun then renamed the program and gave the OpenOffice software away free of charge to anyone who wanted it. In fact, Sun was best known as a hardware company that often gave software away free of charge. Sun was later acquired by Oracle Corporation, a company that typically does not give away free software. The developers who were creating the free software found Oracle's policies to be confining, and most of the key members of the project soon left to found their own new project, called The Document Foundation (TDF).
To date, TDF has developed one product, LibreOffice, and that product is now maturing into a reliable and useful suite of programs. To be sure, LibreOffice is still developing and probably will never be a major competitor to Microsoft Office. However, the availability of free software to be used in place of Microsoft's $400 to $700 office suite of programs will appeal to many people, including myself.
I have been watching LibreOffice's development over the past year and have recently been using the product frequently. This article is being written with LibreOffice.
In short, the word processor in LibreOffice is great for light-duty use. It is excellent for writing letters, memos, or articles for this newsletter. However, it does not have the desktop publishing capabilities of Microsoft Word or any other $400 piece of software, nor would I expect that of free software. If you need to automatically produce Tables of Contents, sophisticated text layouts on printed pages, kerning, or other advanced word processing uses, you will want Microsoft Word or WordPerfect or some other well-established word processor with a high price tag. However, if you simply need to write an article for a newsletter or a letter to your aunt, LibreOffice is a great choice.
I haven't used Calc (the spreadsheet program) very much, but my limited usage seems to show that it also is no competitor to Excel. It doesn't have nearly as many macro capabilities as Excel, and I suspect many other things are missing as well. Still, if you want to add columns of numbers and determine some averages for your monthly financial reports, Calc is more than capable of the job.
I suspect the remaining programs are in a similar state of development: capable of simpler tasks but not yet a competitor to Microsoft Office. Admittedly, I have not yet used the other programs in the productivity suite. My primary needs are for frequent word processing and also for occasional spreadsheets.
I found LibreOffice to be easy to download and install. Once installed and launched, LibreOffice resembles the older OpenOffice software. That's understandable as both products were created by the same team of programmers. I found the user interface to be simple and logical at all times, although rather plain looking. You won't find fancy graphics or subtle colors in the menus and certainly no confusing “ribbon menus.” However, all the items you expect to find in the menus are easily found in logical places. In short, LibreOffice never seems to get in the way of writing.
LibreOffice has all the basic functions I would expect in a word processor: spell checking, the ability to read and write .DOC files, .DOCX files, and a variety of other formats, dialog boxes, the ability to handle one million rows in the spreadsheet program, online help, and much more.
The same program also has several surprisingly sophisticated capabilities, such as the ability to import SVG pictures into Draw and edit them interactively.
Early versions of LibreOffice were known to be buggy, and the software would crash frequently. I believe most of the major bugs have been eradicated. In perhaps ten or twenty hours' use, I haven't seen a single abort or other problem on version 3.4.3. That is the latest available version as of the date I am writing this article.
Open software is always available free of charge. Indeed, LibreOffice is free for use by everybody. You can download a copy of LibreOffice, install it on as many computers as you like, and use it for any purpose you like (including commercial, government, public administration and educational use). The developers of LibreOffice invite you to give away copies to anyone who is interested.
I rather like LibreOffice and plan to continue to use it. That may seem strange when you learn that I also have a complete, legal copy of Microsoft Office already installed on the same computer. Most of my writing and spreadsheet needs are simple. Most of the time, I don't need a sophisticated and high-priced desktop publishing product. In addition, I find Microsoft Office to be rather confusing to use. That is especially true of the later versions with the so-called “ribbon menus.” I can never find what I want in the ribbon menus!
In contrast, LibreOffice is fast, always easy to use, and never uses ribbon menus. For most of my writing needs, the time from when I first think of an idea until the time the finished article is saved on my hard drive is a significantly shorter time with LibreOffice than with Microsoft Office.
Should I ever need some of the sophisticated functions, I'll switch to Microsoft Office for that one project. I doubt if that will happen often.
If you would like to take LibreOffice for a test drive on your Windows, Macintosh, or Linux system, start at http://www.libreoffice.org/. If you later decide you don't care for it, you can always uninstall LibreOffice. I am betting you won't do that, however.
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