LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice at the command line

Beyond the Editing Window

Officially, the developers of LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice vastly prefer that users do everything from the editing window. There is a sound reason for this preference – from the editing window, users are less likely to run into difficulties such as corrupting files.

Still, most of the potential problems can be avoided if you work from copies. And, there's no denying that using ooo_cat, for example, is a far faster way to combine files than copying and pasting.

At other times, just dealing directly with LibreOffice or OpenOffice files lets you do things that are impossible from the editing window. For example, you can check Tools  | Options | LibreOffice | Paths to find your local configuration. Here, a little exploration will reveal the location of templates and features, such as custom gradients in Draw, so that you can back them up (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The directory structure of LibreOffice and OpenOffice makes it easy to know what to back up.

More ambitiously, if you change the extension of a file to .zip, you will find that it is actually a zipped collection of XML documents (Figure 3). To understand these XML documents fully, you can consult the specifications for the Open Document Format, the default format for LibreOffice or OpenOffice [5], but you need no special knowledge to extract the unformatted text from content.xml if a file is corrupt or to attempt repairs by pasting the XML documents to or from working documents.

Figure 3: LibreOffice and OpenOffice files are actually zipped collections of XML files. Sometimes, you can rescue corrupted files by careful editing.

By the time you've tried some of these simple operations, you should rightly conclude that, for desktop apps, LibreOffice and OpenOffice can have a surprisingly lively life at the command line.

The Author

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist and a freelance writer and editor specializing in free and open source software. In addition to his writing projects, he is also a fan of parrots, heavy exercise, British folk-rock, science fiction and 19th century novels. In his spare time, Bruce writes about Northwest coast art. You can read more of his work at

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