Putting office suites to the test

LibreOffice

The Document Foundation maintains LibreOffice [1], the product that was forked from OpenOffice in 2010, and is developing it further. The office suite is currently the default in almost all major Linux distributions and is available across platforms. Although the original codebase of OpenOffice and LibreOffice is almost identical, the two office programs have diverged over the years because of licensing rights issues.

Both suites, however, use the Open Document format by default, and it is even possible to work simultaneously with both office programs in different environments without a problem. However, LibreOffice is now showing far more agility than OpenOffice, and the community also provides better support.

Interface

LibreOffice 5.0.6 offers an interface that is functionally similar to that of OpenOffice, which differs only in appearance. It adopts the OpenOffice sidebar in a modified form.

Unlike OpenOffice, in which users always install all the components, Linux distributions sometimes only load individual components – primarily the Writer word processor, Calc spreadsheet, and Impress presentation program. The software repositories of many Linux distros then have extensions that enhance the office program's feature scope, which you have to install manually in OpenOffice.

Because of the great similarity between LibreOffice and OpenOffice, those switching to LibreOffice will hardly need any training to make the move (Figure 4) – even the suite's program modules have the same names as those in OpenOffice. In direct comparison, however, it is striking that LibreOffice lets you work much more smoothly. Not only do the individual modules launch faster, large files also open at a noticeably quicker pace, as well.

Figure 4: LibreOffice and OpenOffice operate very similarly.

A Question of Formatting

When tested with intricately designed Microsoft Word files, LibreOffice was not fully convincing in its handling of either the older DOC or newer DOCX variants. Much like OpenOffice, it sometimes made errors in displaying fonts, locating placeholders in the document, and, in a few places, rendering the table layout. Even so, LibreOffice's conversion filters were able to display graphics in the document (Figure 5). Although it flawlessly imports simply organized documents, you still have to put in some time-consuming manual rework for layouts with a more complex structure.

Figure 5: LibreOffice gets along better than OpenOffice with DOCX documents – but, again, not really well.

Compared with the Apache product, LibreOffice gains points with its considerably larger number of import and export filters that can load some of the more time-worn formats without error. Additionally, it has an integrated export filter for the widespread PDF format, which is well-crafted and indispensable for office use.

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