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LibreOffice is one of the many alternatives to Microsoft Office. It is also one of the most attractive due to its combination of powerful functionality and lack of advertising, even though it is free. The entire suite currently consists of Base, Calc, Draw, Impress, Math and Writer. With the exception of Math, they have equivalent Microsoft counterparts, namely Access, Excel, Visio, PowerPoint and Word. Math is a formula editor, similar to Open Office’s Math Guide.


Like many Office suites, LibreOffice is generally viewed in terms of how it compares to Microsoft Office and the comparison is very favourable. Visually the icons and menus are similar enough to their Microsoft counterparts (and generally obvious enough) for most people to feel comfortable with it fairly quickly. LibreOffice also keeps fundamental short-cuts in line with Microsoft, for example CTRL+S to save.
From a technical perspective, LibreOffice does an excellent job of handling the newer “x” format files (docx, xlsx) and so on, which means that LibreOffice users can work with Microsoft Office users without the latter being aware of any formatting differences. Writer also supports HTML, which is a distinct advantage in today’s world of writing for the web. Meanwhile Calc will retain VBA macros if documents are saved in Excel format (unless you tell it not to), although those who plan to import formula-heavy spreadsheets should be aware that if they want to edit them, they will need to start from scratch using Calc’s language rather than VBA. (It’s similar but not the same). On the plus side this only needs to be done once. While Writer, Calc and possibly Impress will form the core of most people’s usage, LibreOffice has plenty more to offer.
Draw provides a compelling alternative to Microsoft’s Visio, while Math is a strong counterpart to Open Office’s Math Guide. The database application, Base is the exception to the rule in terms of Microsoft compatibility as it only saves files in ODF Database format. It also requires Java to be installed in order for Base to create new databases, although this is unlikely to be a problem for most people. Base can not really be used as a like for like Access replacement for applications which require the sort of tight integration with other Microsoft software that Access can provide and obviously it does not use Visual Basic (LibreOffice has its own programming language). On the other hand Base has a lighter, more agile feel than the behemoth which is Access. It also has more than adequate support for the core functions needed by individuals or small organizations.


The current version of Apache Open Office looks similar to both the original Open Office and LibreOffice but only time will tell if it is as stable and user-friendly. Although Google is involved in the development of Apache Open Office, it is also committed to the development of GoogleDocs. At this time the functionality this suite offers is basic to say the least, it is still adequate for many users and has the advantage that work is automatically saved on Google’s network, meaning it is safe in the event of hardware failure.


While many businesses remain wedded to Microsoft Office, LibreOffice is becoming an increasingly popular choice for private individuals and for public-sector and not-for-profit organizations. It is powerful, simple, fully-featured and arguably the best of the fully-featured open-source Office suites. For most private users it can easily replace Microsoft Office on the desktop (including for Mac users). Versions for Android and iOS are currently in development and in the meantime the more basic but lighter Kingston Office can plug the gap for tablet users. Kingston Office may also be a better choice for users of older computers or cheaper tablets, due to its smaller footprint. GoogleDocs is also worth considering for those who only require basic functionality but like the reassurance of having their documents saved online.


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