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LibreOffice is a robust Microsoft Office alternative

Is an open source Office alternative enough to dethrone Microsoft's productivity suite? See how LibreOffice compares with Office 2013 and Office 365.

Microsoft Office 2013 may represent the state of the art in productivity suites, but as I described in my previous article, Office 365 offers the mobility -- and limitations -- of cloud computing. Still, Office isn't the only game in town. Let's take a look at the open source LibreOffice as a viable Microsoft Office alternative.

LibreOffice

LibreOffice is the premier player in the free software world. It's a standalone desktop application that runs very well on Windows, Mac OS and Linux. You simply go to the LibreOffice site, download and install the productivity suite, then use it. If you want to participate in squashing bugs or adding your own features, the source code is freely available.

Updates are normally done manually by downloading a new release and installing it. It will replace the old version. You can also install in a different directory, if you want to be able to run multiple versions on the same endpoint device.

Files are stored locally, although you could certainly put them up on a server and access them over a network. As such, it is very similar in function to the regular Office suite.

There isn't any reasonable integration with email or share calendars, as in Office 2013 and Office 365. Instead, users typically have to manually attach documents to emails using external applications such as Microsoft Exchange or the Thunderbird email client to send things around to colleagues. Scheduling is similarly clunky.

Being a standalone desktop application, LibreOffice will work with or without a network, which is definitely a plus for me. I'm frequently mobile and sometimes write stories in what you might call "undeveloped environments."

Power inverters and 4G connectivity only go so far, and I still need to be able to write. Being able to absolutely access files any time from your primary machine may be an important consideration in your choice of productivity suite.

I've personally used LibreOffice exclusively for the past couple of years, and it absolutely meets all of my current professional needs. I don't use complicated formatting, exotic spreadsheet features or dazzling slide animations, so I'm probably nowhere near pushing the limits of its capability. Your mileage may, of course, be different.

By the way, this story was written in the native LibreOffice Writer (.odt) format and exported as a Windows 2013 XML (.docx) format.

Follow the apps

Businesses are also experiencing a significant paradigm shift in the way applications are used, with cloud services and the advent of highly reliable connectivity options. Will cloud-based services (applications) replace standalone programs? Do you really need to be able to edit your documents from your Android or iPhone device? Will desktop applications eventually disappear altogether? Only time will tell.

Users have a nice variety of Microsoft Office alternatives these days. Some are standalone desktop versions and some live only in the cloud. If you are contemplating switching to a new platform or operating system, or even upgrading your current suite, be sure to analyze your needs and understand your options before pulling the trigger.

About the author:
Rob Reilly is an independent consultant, writer and speaker serving clients in the private sector, small business and tech media. His analytical and "how-to" articles cover Linux and open source, the Internet of Things, DIY and the Maker Movement, and technology career development. He can be reached at robreilly@earthlink.net.

Next Steps

Five steps to using Office alternative LibreOffice

How LibreOffice and OpenOffice differ from Microsoft Office

Learn why the Office 2013 suite still beats its competitors

Do enterprises really need Microsoft Office?

CloudOn offers mobile users Microsoft Office alternative

IT might favor Office in the cloud over Office 2013

This was last published in October 2014

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Have you chosen LibreOffice over Office 2013 and Office 365? If so, why, and how has it worked out for you?
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Having worked with LibreOffice and OpenOffice over several years, I have found that it can be a decent alternative if the organization as a whole uses the same conventions. It's not perfect, and in many ways, LibreOffice lags behind Microsoft by a given revision, but it does the bulk of what most users would want to do quite well.
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Have tried OpenOffice on & off for a while now at the same time as going over to Linux but am unable to go over completely. The database section lets it down; but apart from that it is quite good with the odd tweaks needed to convert decent Excel sheets. A lot of people rely on the ACCESS data base probably much more than they realize.
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I use LibreOffice almost exclusively, but I also tend to do very little formatting in my word docs, preferring to handle any formatting in InDesign or the HTML (if I'm writing web content). I know others who said they weren't comfortable with LibreOffice because they were too used to very specific features of MS Office.
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Jim, that would be my biggest concern - for better or worse (most would say worse) I'm used to the Office way of doing things, and any added benefits I'd get from LibreOffice might be counteracted by the time it'd take to get comfortable with something new. I know this is exactly what Microsoft wants. 
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For most of the interactions that people use Microsoft Office for (and yes, this is a generalization), there is a narrow window of uses that are almost universal. For the vast majority of people, moving to LibreOffice or to Google Docs would be relatively easy. For those users that do rely on the power user tools, LibreOffice is still a good release behind what Microsoft offers. The question comes down to "is that generation behind worth the licensing cost for most of your users"? I'd be willing to bet that, if an objective look was made and a feature to feature comparison, and what was actually used by most users, organizations could probably have a few full licenses for Microsoft Office, and have the rest of the users use LibreOffice, and they would see a large net savings, while having most of the productivity benefits.
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I have found Libre office to be crash prone. Unfortunately when a crash occurs Libre office will no longer open the document file. I understand that Open office will, though. I was using the latest Libre office release until I abandoned it last July. Similar problems have been reported on the Libre office site as bugs, but the Libre office team does not appear to be taking the problem very seriously.
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