LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice: Why LibreOffice Wins

Monday Oct 27th 2014 by Bruce Byfield
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When comparing LibreOffice with OpenOffice, there are eleven clear reasons why LibreOffice is superior.

Also see previous: Apache OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice

Comparing LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice is like comparing identical twins. Even people who know them well have trouble distinguishing one from the other, and, when you find a difference, it is often trivial. All the same, the differences are growing, and LibreOffice has at least eleven advantages over OpenOffice – see the list below.

Both of these free office suites are descendants of OpenOffice.org (just don't ask in a crowd of Linux users which is true descendant of OpenOffice.org unless you're fond of flame wars). They have identical system requirements and feature sets. Both are supported by libraries of templates and extensions, and, if one acquires a new feature, the other frequently adds the feature in the next release.

However, after five years' separation, the two office suites are starting to drift apart -- and most of the increasing difference between the two is due to innovations in LibreOffice.

OpenOffice does have some features that LibreOffice lacks: a horizontal rule for web pages, a media player, and a macro recorder that is available by default rather than choice. However, many of OpenOffice's unique features are ones that LibreOffice deliberately dropped -- the horizontal rule, for instance, is only useful for designing a retro-1990s website.

By contrast, LibreOffice is steadily improving the interface and adding new features. None of these changes are revolutionary, but most of them are welcome all the same, and their effective just might be cumulative, depending on your priorities and workflow. When it’s LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice, LibreOffice is better for the following eleven reasons:

11. Slimmed down code

LibreOffice has devoted much of its efforts over the last few years to cleaning its code. The result? Open Hub (was Ohloh) reports that LibreOffice has 7.2 million lines of code compared to OpenOffice's 11.2 million.

You may not notice the difference when starting either office suite without a file. But open a file or save one, and the slimmed down LibreOffice is a beat or two ahead.

10. Increased MSO support

If you need to deal with another file format, chances are that it's Microsoft  Office, which -- unfortunately -- remains the computing standard. Both LibreOffice  and OpenOffice can open MSO's current format (such as a .docx text file), but only LibreOffice can save to it. Both support the old .doc format, but, since it  is becoming rarer, it is the current format that matters. This extra support takes much of the pain out of filesharing.

9. An Editing Window Closer to WYSIWYG

OpenOffice.org never changed its basic editing window. Neither, so far, has OpenOffice. The main text frame and headers and footers in OpenOffice remain unchangeable rectangles unless you open File -> Page Preview.

LibreOffice, however, has reduced these basic frames to their corners. This minimal approach is enough for you to see where the frames are while getting a much stronger idea of how the printed page will look. The approach is not complete -- that wouldn't be desirable, especially for troubleshooting -- but remains much closer than what OpenOffice offers.

8. Formatted Comments

Comments are marginal notes for revision or collaboration. In OpenOffice, the notes are plain text. However, for those occasions when more is needed, LibreOffice allowed comments to be formatted like the main text.

7. Revised Template Dialogue

OpenOffice retains OpenOffice.org's template window -- a cramped, gunmetal-gray dialogue that looks like it was designed in the 1990s, and is intimidatingly complicated.

As part of its general re-arranging of dialogue windows, LibreOffice has replaced this dinosaur with a modern looking dialogue on a white background whose function is obvious at a glance. The revision is enough to make the entire idea of templates more accessible.

6. Word and Character Count on the Information Bar

The information bar is the bottom part of the editing window. It contains basic information such as the current page number and page style, and tools for adjusting the input mode and the zoom.

In OpenOffice, if you want a word or character count, you need to select Tools -> Word Count. LibreOffice makes this frequently-wanted information on the information bar, making it available at a glance.

5. A Browser-Like Find Function

OpenOffice.org combined Find and Replace in a single dialogue. This arrangement was compact, but more than you need when you simply want to locate a word or phrase.

Recognizing this situation, LibreOffice splits the Find and Replace functions. In LibreOffice, selecting Find opens a field on the information bar that looks much like what you find in a web browser. How to use the change is immediately obvious, and the convenience far greater than selecting a menu item.

4. Advanced Features Toggle

As part of LibreOffice's efforts to improve the interface, features for specialized audiences no longer display by default. These include macro recording and settings for use of LibreOffice as an IDE.These features can be toggled on and off at Tools -> Choice -> LibreOffice ->Advanced.

3. Improved Header / Footer Tools

LibreOffice and OpenOffice are designed around styles. If you want a custom footer, you create a custom page style. This approach is efficient, but many users resist it. Sometimes, too, even the most dedicated user of styles occasionally wants a short one-off document that their template library doesn't cover.

To accommodate these use cases, LibreOffice adds a basic selection of header or footer tools, available when you click the margin outside the main text frame. The tools are a limited substitute for page styles, but better than anything OpenOffice has for such cases.

2. Title Page Dialogue

Like the header and footer tools in the main window, Format -> Title page is for those occasions when using page styles would be impractical. The settings in the dialogue quickly create a page style suitable for an academic essay or a business report. OpenOffice has nothing that compares.

1. Embedded Fonts

Sharing files is a problem as old as personal computing. The trouble is, you can never be sure if others have the fonts you use, and if your file is going to be reformatted with disastrous results. You can send always send a PDF, but only so long as the recipients don't need to comment or edit the file.

LibreOffice offers another solution with File -> Properties -> Font. With a single check mark, you can embed fonts in the file, guaranteeing that they will be available for all recipients.

Embedding fonts does have the disadvantage of ballooning font size. Consequently, you will want to embed only those fonts that are necessary. Still, the convenience is undeniable.

LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice: Ships in the Night

These features suggest the directions that LibreOffice is heading: cleaning and modernizing the code, and adding features for different types of users. So far as I know, no one has compared its change rate to OpenOffice.org's, but, so far as I can see, it has done more in five years than OpenOffice.org did in twice the time.

In comparison, Apache OpenOffice has continued OpenOffice.org's conservative rate of change. It is gradually adding to its supported languages, and adding polish here and there, but its innovations are far more cautious than LibreOffice's.

Nor do I see any immediate chances of that changing. Apache OpenOffice lost valuable development time when it received the code from Oracle and was setting up the Apache project. In addition, while OpenOffice's license does not allow it to borrow code from LibreOffice, LibreOffice's license allows free borrowing from OpenOffice.

However, the greatest difference is revealed on Open Hub: while LibreOffice has 298 active contributors to its code, OpenOffice has only 39. Unless this ratio alters quickly, OpenOffice is unlikely to stay competitive, no matter how dedicated its developers are.

Right now, LibreOffice and OpenOffice are like two boats drifting apart that are still close enough that a passenger on one can reach across and touch the other. However, with LibreOffice's advantages, it will soon catch the current and draw far ahead.

The problem is not that OpenOffice has anything wrong with it -- just that its ability to compete seems limited without major changes to the project.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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