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Day 11: Weighing LibreOffice as an Office Alternative

Today I will compare LibreOffice against Microsoft Office, and my experience with Google Docs.

Welcome back. For today's 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux post, I am taking a look at LibreOffice--the open source suite of productivity tools that comes installed by default with Ubuntu Linux. I examine how it works, compared with Microsoft Office, or my experience last month spending 30 Days With Google Docs.

Before we begin, though, there are a couple of things I want to clarify. First--I spent a decade or so with Microsoft Office, and thirty days with Google Docs. My examination of LibreOffice is just one facet of my broader experience with Ubuntu Linux, so there won't be the same level of detail. That said, the fact that I am writing about LibreOffice today does not imply that I just started using it today, or that today is the sum total of my experience with LibreOffice.

Admittedly, I have gotten more use out of LibreOffice Writer than the other LibreOffice apps. I'm a writer--go figure. Without VPN connectivity to PCWorld, I have been writing in LibreOffice Writer, saving the file as a DOCX file on an external USB drive, then rebooting into Windows 7 and opening the file in Microsoft Word to post it online.

The benefit of this arrangement is that it has given me an opportunity to test out the ability of LibreOffice Writer to work smoothly with Microsoft Word. Other than the fact that LibreOffice Writer defaults to a font called Liberation Serif, and I my default font in Word is Calibri, I haven't had any issues. The weird thing is that LibreOffice has no problem displaying and working with Calibri when I open a doc originally created in Word, but Calibri isn't available as an option on the LibreOffice fonts.

I spent some time working with LibreOffice Calc--the Microsoft Excel equivalent, and LibreOffice Impress--the Microsoft PowerPoint equivalent, and came away equally impressed. I was able to create files in LibreOffice and save them in their Microsoft Office formats (XLSX and PPTX) and open them up in Excel and PowerPoint without any issues. Likewise, opening and editing files in LibreOffice that were originally created in Microsoft Office was no problem.

I did not dive into advanced, super-user functions, but the fidelity between the two productivity suites seems to work just fine for standard formatting like bold, italic, underline, font color, highlighting, etc. PowerPoint slide transitions work just fine whether added with LibreOffice Impress or PowerPoint. LibreOffice Calc has autosum of selected cells like Excel, and simple formulas like displaying the sum of a column of numbers work just fine between the two applications.

To be fair, Microsoft has its own free productivity software--Microsoft Office Starter. But, Microsoft Office Starter is only available pre-loaded on new home PCs, and only includes limited versions of Word and Excel. It also comes with advertising to subsidize it.

Given a choice between the free Microsoft Office Starter edition, and the free LibreOffice suite, I would go with the LibreOffice Suite. The combination of the LibreOffice Suite, and the Evolution software that comes installed on Ubuntu Linux provide a suitable equivalent to Microsoft Office for cost-conscious users.

I still prefer Microsoft Office personally, but I am not concerned with the cost. I consider it a reasonable price for what I get. The fact is, this is a Microsoft Office world. For there to be real competition, these alternate tools would have to be able to stand on their own and still go head to head with Microsoft Office.

They don't, though. The reality is that the value of tools like Google Docs or LibreOffice is measured as a function of how well they create, view, and edit files in Microsoft Office formats without messing up the formatting, or causing too many headaches. Viewed through that lens, LibreOffice delivers. The software may lack some of the polish of Microsoft Office, but it has the tools and functionality to get the job done, and it works well enough to fill in as a substitute for those who can't--or choose not to--pay the price to use Microsoft Office, or for those who use a platform like Ubuntu Linux where Microsoft Office is not even an option.

I would use LibreOffice as a primary productivity suite replacement for Microsoft Office before I would choose to switch to Google Docs. It offers much more of the features and functionality, and more closely matches the experience I am used to as a Microsoft Office user.

Read the last "30 Days" Series: 30 Days with Google Docs

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