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Despite Oracle's Antics, LibreOffice Gets a Big Update

This second major release of the free productivity software suite adds numerous enhancements to performance and usability.

The world may be reeling this week from Oracle's bizarre decision to bequeath OpenOffice.org to the Apache Software Foundation rather than the Document Foundation, but that hasn't stopped the latter from rolling out the second major release of its widely adopted LibreOffice contender.

Sure enough, the Document Foundation on Friday announced LibreOffice 3.4.0, a significant update to the free office productivity suite that now incorporates the contributions of more than 120 developers.

LibreOffice 3.4 can be downloaded from http://www.libreoffice.org/download.

Soaring Popularity

LibreOffice was created as a fork of the OpenOffice.org productivity suite back in September, of course, as a result of Oracle's uncertain intentions regarding the free and open source software.

The new package has not only gone on to be embraced by the majority of the popular Linux distributions--including Ubuntu, Fedora and Linux Mint--but it has come to include the contributions of six times as many contributors as were involved in its first beta release.

"We care for our developers, and it shows," noted Italo Vignoli, a steering committee member and Document Foundation spokesman. "Our core developers have invented the mechanism of the easy hacks, which makes it simple and enjoyable for volunteer contributors to get to know LibreOffice code, challenging their development skills with basic or elementary tasks."

Newly Improved Features

I use LibreOffice every day as my main word processor and am excited about the features added in LibreOffice 3.4, which is aimed primarily at community members and power users. Here's a rundown of some of the highlights.

1. Updates to Calc

LibreOffice's Calc spreadsheet module now boasts faster performance as well as improved compatibility with Excel spreadsheets, the project's developers say. Pivot Table -- the new name of DataPilot -- now offers support for unlimited numbers of fields and named ranges as data source.

2. UI Improvements

The user interface for Writer, Impress and Draw has been improved with many new features, and several cosmetic changes have been applied to the Linux version, in particular, such as a better text-rendering engine and an improved GTK+ theme integration.

3. Support for Unity

The new LibreOffice release adds initial support for Unity, the new interface adopted in the latest version of Ubuntu Linux, or "Natty Narwhal."

4. Linux Performance

LibreOffice 3.4 now offers smoother startup on Linux with a splash screen that appears before starting to read all the application's data. The result is "a faster time to splash and cleaner code," the project notes.

5. A Smaller Windows Installer

The Windows installer download has been decreased in size by more than 30MB thanks to better compression schemes.

6. Parallel Installations on Linux

LibreOffice 3.4 can be installed in parallel with version 3.3 on Linux, the project team notes. The user configuration is shared, however, so both versions cannot be started at the same time.

7. Better Code

For developers, several thousand lines of German comments in the code have been translated into English and more than 5000 lines of dead code have been removed from Writer, Calc and Impress.

A complete list of new features and fixes is available on the LibreOffice Web site.

LibreOffice 3.4.0 should not be implemented in a corporate environment, the Document Foundation says. Rather, the best releases for such deployments start from x.x.1. Still, this new release is an exciting snapshot of all we can look forward to in this winning productivity software suite.

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