LibreOffice 4.2 better bridges the gap with Microsoft Office

Improved Office compatibility, OpenCL-powered spreadsheet math, and more features round out latest update of the open source productivity suite

The latest point revision of the popular OpenOffice.org fork, LibreOffice, is now available for download. Version 4.2 sports a good mix of improved existing features and some valuable new ones; here are some of the most crucial improvements and additions and what makes them stand out.

Better "round-trip" integration with Microsoft OOXML documents

A constant issue with LibreOffice and Microsoft Office has been the way documents saved in one program and edited in another get mangled because of differences in how the two interpret the OOXML format. (One item bit me quite often: the change-tracking flag in DOCX files.)

Fixing this ought to make it incrementally easier for LibreOffice to be used side-by-side with Microsoft Office in the same organization, since forcing an all-or-nothing switch between the two suites won't win a lot of support. The Document Foundation, LibreOffice's sponsor, offers advice for prospective converts and recommends moving to an intermediate document format like ODF (which Microsoft Office supports). But odds are any organization that's using Office to any degree will stick with OOXML, so having better interoperability is always a plus.

A new OpenCL-powered Calc engine

Many math operations in LibreOffice's spreadsheet app, Calc, are now GPU-accelerated thanks to a rewritten interpreter for spreadsheet formulas that uses OpenCL. OpenCL serves as a neutral front-end for AMD, Intel, and Nvidia GPUs alike, so most late-model GPUs should work with it. Most of the boosts in performance will be visible for bigger spreadsheets, whenever a great deal of recalculation has to be executed in parallel.

Word of LibreOffice getting OpenCL math has been brewing for some time now, with adding the OpenCL engine serving as the perfect justification for the LibreOffice team to rip and replace Calc's aging core logic. Given that Microsoft Office itself doesn't have anything like this kind of GPU-accelerated math yet, it ought to be interesting to see how Redmond chooses to respond in time.

Better installation and configuration controls

Admins looking to deploy LibreOffice on Windows via Group Policy and Active Directory now have many more hooks in LibreOffice to do it. Windows users of 4.2 can also enjoy a few tweaks to the UI that make LibreOffice behave a bit more natively -- for example, recent documents in the taskbar icon list.

Another addition, one that opens up a range of end-user tinkering possibilities, is an expert-level configuration window, akin to the advanced settings window in Mozilla Firefox. This lets pros directly edit many of the under-the-hood settings not exposed through the rest of the config UI.

It's one of many examples of how LibreOffice stands in philosophical contrast to Microsoft Office -- it's not just open source, but also increasingly friendly to developers and tinkerers who don't need to (or want to) root around in the source to get more out of the program.

LibreOffice also stands in contrast to its originating project, OpenOffice.org, by dint of being released on a more predictable basis and being governed by its own autonomous entity, the Document Foundation. OpenOffice.org is no longer under Oracle's wing -- it's now an Apache Foundation project -- but there's clearly been enough differences of opinion about the management of OpenOffice.org to make an alternative approach worth the while.

The full rundown of new features is available on the LibreOffice website, with the next major point revision, 4.3., scheduled for release in July 2014.

This story, "LibreOffice 4.2 better bridges the gap with Microsoft Office," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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