Get powerful, free office tools with LibreOffice

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Looking for an alternative to paying for Microsoft Office? Tried OpenOffice.org but found it didn’t quite fit? You might find what you need in LibreOffice free office tools from The Document Foundation.

LibreOffice consists of six full-featured office tools. Base allows you to manage databases, and create queries and reports to track and manage information. Calc is basically the same as Excel or any other mainstream spreadsheet program. Draw allows you to create illustrations, logos and flow charts. Impress is basically the same as Powerpoint. Math and Writer are pretty self explanatory from their names as well. Even these names are typical of the whole experience I had with LibreOffice: simple and effective. It is also multiplatform, running on Windows, MacOSX, and Linux.

LibreOffice was originally started by folks who detached from the OpenOffice.org project due to dis-satisfaction with the project’s parent company. That explains the similarities between the two. “Libre” comes from latin, meaning “liberty”.

[Note: this post was written by Freewaregenius contributor B.C. Tietjens.]

Libre2I have used both Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org and I have to say that I now am a big fan of LibreOffice for two main reasons. The first is as stated above; simplicity. Every tool in LibreOffice is so easy to use if you have no experience with office tools, and even easier if you have experience. The layouts of the menus and buttons and various toolbars are easy on the eyes and intuitive. I never had to search for a button or option that I needed, not for more than a moment or two, anyway. Each of the tools has it’s own help module as well, which can lead you through the learning curve for LibreOffice at light speed. The help modules were some of the best, easiest to follow and understand, that I have seen anywhere. It is apparent that a lot of work and research went into the interface of the tools and their help modules, to make them easy and pain-free to learn and use. There’s no animated paperclip trying to interrupt you every two minutes, and there’s very little in the way of technical jargon in the basic menus. For this reason alone, I would recommend LibreOffice to any one who wants to have the benefits of an office suite without the headaches of learning to speak geek. The main LibreOffice window opens on a choice of projects, giving you options about what you want to do in plain English. Options like “spreadsheet” or “formula” appear instead of some brand named code words for the same thing. The main window also offers a host of pre-made templates for you to choose from, if what you want to do is a common enough project, such as business cards or HTML documents. It also offers handy buttons for learning about it’s features, downloading more templates and features. All for free, of course!

Secondly, LibreOffice is open source. That means the source code is available for anyone to download and modify; this is a nice aspect of LibreOffice that compliments it’s ease of use. From what I have seen, it’s got a decent open-architecture that would make it easy to adapt to any needs you might have.

During my test, I used each of the tools to produce some basic documents in various formats and found that, compared to the other two Suites I mentioned, LibreOffice seemed to run and respond slightly faster and use slightly less resources. This is a boon to those of us who have older, less powerful computers, but still want to multi-task. I was able to run Calc and still have a movie playing in another window, a download going in a third, and a couple of desktop gadgets running as well. I used Calc to work out a sample budget for three months, and before I realized it, I was done and the numbers were all finished. It was completely painless and worked just as I had hoped. No muss, no fuss. LibreOffice even allows import of various file formats!

The only thing I noticed as a possible problem for LibreOffice is that it didn’t seem to mesh well with the customized aero theme I am using. I have my colors set to somewhat unusual ones, and the colors in LibreOffice appeared slightly odd and garish because of it. Luckily, this was easily fixed by switching to a more standard windows theme while using LibreOffice. This may be something that only occurs on my system or it may be something they are planning on fixing soon. Either way, it was a very small annoyance in an otherwise superb experience.

LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice.org: I am sure a lot of you are wondering if LibreOffice is so similar to OpenOffice.org, which one should I use? Well they are very similar but there are some differences worth pointing out. First, Libre supports more languages than OpenOffice.org, which can be a boon for those of us that are multi-cultured and multi-lingual. Secondly, LibreOffice does a better job than OpenOffice.org at handling Microsoft Works, Lotus Word Pro, and WordPerfect documents. One of the biggest differences, that may be important more to companies than to individuals, is that OpenOffice.org offers a premium version that will get them some pro-level support if they have questions or problems. LibreOffice users will have to rely on the community.

LibreOffice also offers some robust support for SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) within the Writer, Impress, and Draw modules. SVG can be exported from many popular drawing applications, like  Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Visio, and some CAD programs. LibreOffice also has a standalone help file installer, which can be a boon if you don’t think you’re going to need the help files and want to save some tiny bit of space on your hard drive, but doesn’t really matter otherwise. I did note that OpenOffice.org comes with Java bundled into the .msi installer, but it wasn’t the latest version so I had to go update it manually anyway.

All in all, I would say that unless you are running a big company and need the premium support levels of OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice is probably the better bet. However, the community support for LibreOffice is not to be overlooked. I found answers to pretty much every question I had, with a minimum of searching.

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick

Bottom line: I would recommend this office suite to anyone, no matter their experience level or needs. LibreOffice has you covered, and doesn’t have a price tag. In my book it’s a winner.

Version tested: 3.4.3 – OOO340m1 (Build:302)  on Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit.

Compatibility: Windows (32bit/64bit), MacOSX, Linux.

To learn more about LibreOffice and to download it, you can visit their home page: http://www.libreoffice.org/