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LibreOffice 7: First impressions of a solid update

LibreOffice is a free, open source office suite. It's interesting and worth investigating, but it is not right for everyone.

Last month The Document Foundation released LibreOffice version 7.0.1.

Taken at face value it is a free, open source office suite. This has been my starting point in the past.

LibreOffice is interesting on many levels. You should consider downloading and investigating the software.

It is not right for everyone. Yet it is an important alternative to Microsoft Office, Apple iWork and Google G suite.

There are versions of LibreOffice for Windows, MacOS, ChromeOS and Linux. Android and iOS uses can get versions from Collabora. This is also a paid Enterprise edition.

Free as a starting point

LibreOffice is free. There was a time when free was its main attraction.

The world needed a free alternative to Office because people found Microsoft expensive.1

Many still do.

If that’s important to you, then you can download LibreOffice and not pay a penny.

The Document Foundation, the not-for-profit organisation behind LibreOffice, asks people to donate to help pay its bills. That’s fair enough, especially if you use LibreOffice in business.

Open source

These days open source is often more important than free.

Open source means you can get the code and tinker with it if you wish. You may be able to improve it, add features or otherwise tweak it to do things the original developers did not.

Being open has broader advantages than being able to rewrite code. As Dave Koelmeyer pointed out after I looked at LibreOffice 5.2, it uses open standards throughout. You get full document interoperability.

LibreOffice won’t lock you out because of proprietary traps. Microsoft Office and other proprietary suites don’t trap you as much as in the past, but risks remain.

There is a security angle to this. Governments and many large companies are sometimes wary of proprietary software. This is even more the case now that cloud plays a large role. They fear their data might find its way into a remote data silo and be vulnerable.

Microsoft has talked about Office being able to connect to Linkedin. Google can sift through data looking for advertising sales leads and so on.

With LibreOffice, open means everything is transparent.

When you don’t want clouds

Microsoft and Google want you to move everything to the cloud. That’s where they see the future. Google has never favoured the desktop. Microsoft now sees desktop versions of Office as a last resort.

There are cloud options for LibreOffice, but it is the last remaining cross platform old-style office suite that lives on your computer. No other office suite leaves you this much in control of your destiny.

More compatible than ever

Speaking of Microsoft Office, LibreOffice has boosted its compatibility with the popular commercial suite. The Document Foundation says it has better compatibility with docx, xlsx and pptx files.

Earlier versions of LibreOffice didn’t lag when it came to Microsoft compatibility.

The main difference this time is that you can save docx in native 2013, 2016 or 2019 formats. In the past the best option was the 2007 format.

Open Document Format

LibreOffice 7 now supports the 2019 Open Document Format. It uses this as its standard document format. You can add digital signatures and use document encryption.

Graphics are better supported in LibreOffice 7. There is Skia, an open source graphics library you can use to draw shapes. Vulkan is an addition to add graphics acceleration.

Although LibreOffice 7 has been around for a while, it is not the right version for everyone. Version 7, or even the version 7.0.1 that I downloaded last week, is somewhere between a beta and the finished product.

The Document Foundation says it is for the “technology enthusiast, early adopter or power user”. On the download page it recommends everyone else, including business users stick with LibreOffice 6.4.6 for now. The time for others to move will be when 7.1 arrives.

Historic criticism

In the past I’ve written about two aspect of LibreOffice that I don’t like. There has been a lack of polish and the software has felt cluttered and over complex.

Readers disagreed with both these criticism. The first is no longer the case. The software looks and feels as polished as anything in the proprietary world. The font support needs work, some typefaces don’t look as crisp as they should. But that’s a minor niggle.

As for the clutter: If you don’t want clutter and complexity you shouldn’t be looking at an office suite. This software category is all about complexity.

That’s why I don’t use an office suite for my writing. That said, I have to work with Word or Google Docs when collaborating with clients. For now, there’s an online LibreOffice for collaboration. It is not as developed as the proprietary alternatives.

  1. It’s no accident that Office has become far cheaper since LibreOffice has been a viable alternative. ↩︎