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.
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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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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