Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Microsoft Office has dominated the Office Productivity Suite market for years.  MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint have become industry standards.  But MS Office can be expensive, many hundreds of dollars depending on the version you want.  The less expensive versions also come with onerous licensing restrictions and burdensome registration requirements.  Fortunately, there is a good alternative that should meet all of your needs: LibreOffice.

LibreOffice has a complicated and long history. Back in 1999, Sun Microsystems bought a company called StarDivision.  It included a product called StarOffice, an office suite in direct competition with Microsoft Office.  Microsoft, of course, dominated the market at the time and most people had not even heard of StarOffice.  Rather than try to compete, Sun made the program free and open source, so anyone could work on it.  The name changed to OpenOffice.  It remained a free download but continued to be developed and improved.  Sun did not seem to have any business model for the program, as it did not even try to collect advertising revenue or use it as a loss leader for other product.   Personally, I think they just liked having a thorn in Microsoft's side.

In 2010, Oracle acquired Sun.  Oracle really had no interest paying to maintain and improve OpenOffice.  It saw no financial benefit and liked remaining on good terms with Microsoft.  It did not kill OpenOffice, but rather in 2011, donated it to the Apache Foundation, a nonprofit group.

Many OpenOffice users grew frustrated at this point because Apache really didn't put the money and resources into improving and upgrading the project.  Because it remained open source, anyone could take the code and improve it themselves.  A group of volunteers who had been working on OpenOffice for years, took the source code and started the Documents Foundation to continue work on the software.  This derivation was called LibreOffice which continues to be developed and upgraded to this day.  OpenOffice also still exists, but by the time it started development again, many people had already moved to Libre and saw no need to go back.  OpenOffice source code  is still freely available to all.  Other companies use it as well.  IBM Lotus Symphony Office suite is based on OpenOffice.  If you are so inclined, you could also download the source code and make your own variant.

Just because Libre is free does not mean it is substandard in any way.  It is a feature rich fully functioning office suite which can do virtually anything you want.  In the unlikely event you need it to do something it cannot, there are free downloadable add-ons available, or you can work with other online developers to build your own customizations or improvements.

Of  course, most of us are not coders or developers.  We just want a great program that works right way.  Libre absolutely delivers on this front.  The Suite includes Writer, a top of the line word processor. Calc, is its spreadsheet. Impress handles presentations.  Draw is used for graphics and diagrams,  The Base database program works great on its own or as a front end for other more complex databases such as the also free MySQL.  Math is great for developing formulas.  If you are a mathematician, scientist, economist, etc. you have got to try this.  Finally there is Charts for easy creation of charts.  People used to having a Mail program included in their office suite will be disappointed.  There is no program the corresponds to MS Outlook.  Of course, there are other very good mail programs available to replace Outlook.  They just aren't part of LibreOffice.

The most popular applications are Writer and Calc.  By default, both use an open document format that is compatible with a great many other programs.  But if you are working with others who have MS Office, you can set the defaults to save in Word or Excel format.  As far as features, I have yet to find anything that I can't do in LibreOffice that I can do in MS Office.

The program is updated every few weeks, but most updates are quite minor.  I like this method as it allows me to get used to changes over time, rather than a single major upgrade like the pay programs do.  But it is also not necessary to have the latest version.   Most changes are quite minor and often deal with issues that never impact you.  So don't feel like you must download new versions constantly.

I have only used the Windows version of LibreOffice, but there are also versions for Linux and Mac.  There is also a portable version which you can stick on a flash drive and use without having to install.

One nice thing about freeware such as LibreOffice, is that you don't have to spend a long time researching the product or reading here how everything works before you buy it.  It is a free download that you can install and immediately start using without cost.  If you are interested, download it from this link.

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