Q

LibreOffice, OpenOffice are tempting but differ from Microsoft Office

Open source and free suites such as LibreOffice and OpenOffice could save organizations money, but not effort in comparison with Microsoft Office.

We are considering getting rid of Microsoft Office in our organization and moving to OpenOffice or LibreOffice. How difficult is it to do this? Are there things we should be aware of?

OpenOffice and LibreOffice are free/open source productivity suites for many platforms -- including Windows, Linux and Mac OS X -- that provide much of the same functionality as Microsoft Office. Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawing/diagramming tools and database utilities are included in the suite, and there's no price tag at all for using or redistributing the software.

Given that Microsoft Office can get pricey, and that OpenOffice or LibreOffice can read and write Microsoft Office files, many smaller organizations are considering these suites. Many folks have gone down that path successfully, but a few things are worth keeping in mind.

First, the feature sets for OpenOffice and LibreOffice differ slightly from that of Microsoft Office -- and from each other, despite being based on common code. Some functions of Microsoft Office are duplicated in these products, but not in exactly the same way. The interface may be different, or the way the function behaves may not be quite the same.

Second, while OpenOffice and LibreOffice are able to open and save Microsoft Office documents, they're not always able to do so with perfect transparency. Sometimes the formatting of Microsoft Office documents passed to those programs gets altered when edited and saved by them.

Granted, these Microsoft Office alternatives are gradually improving their ability to read and write Microsoft Office files, but it helps to keep interoperation to a minimum. If you use OpenOffice or LibreOffice, convert documents to the native OpenDocument Format used by those suites (there are tools for mass document conversion) and don't pass them back to Microsoft Office if you can.

Third, one of the big reasons Microsoft Office remains entrenched in many organizations is because of document macros or other customizations. Not all of these work in OpenOffice or LibreOffice, so documents with such customizations need to be tested to make sure they work as intended.

This was first published in November 2013

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