Review: Apache OpenOffice 4 vs. LibreOffice 4.1

Not so fast, LibreOffice -- OpenOffice has a shiny, new, and improved major release of its own

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Side by side: Key differences
Put OpenOffice 4.0 and LibreOffice 4.1 next to each other on the same system, and differences emerge even apart from their respective feature sets. For one, OpenOffice launches noticeably faster than LibreOffice, even without the OpenOffice Quickstarter function turned on. The Quickstarter isn't even included in LibreOffice anymore, a hint as to how the two projects are on somewhat divergent development paths.

Despite the extensive work put into both suites, they still have trouble converting large, complexly formatted Word documents. I fed an 800-page project to both programs, and it opened in both but exhibited different conversion issues in each. Neither app converted the document's custom section numbering correctly. In LibreOffice, the page numbers in footers didn't convert properly; in OpenOffice, they didn't covert at all. Also, the "Web layout" view in both programs, which presents documents in something akin to draft mode in Word, fails to present the user with an accurate page count. Of course, these shortcomings are more nitpicks than showstoppers, especially if you've already adopted either suite and made ODF central to your workflow.

The biggest differences involve an issue that most desktop users aren't typically concerned with: licensing of the source code. OpenOffice is now an Apache Foundation project, so it uses the Apache license, whereas LibreOffice is licensed under the LGPLv3. Consequently, code from OpenOffice can be migrated to LibreOffice but not vice versa. Extensions created for one suite can be migrated more or less as-is to the other, though they need to be tested.

Both projects also have different development cycles. OpenOffice has historically released new versions whenever the development team has been ready. The Document Foundation promises new revisions of LibreOffice every six months, partly for predictability and partly as a way to sync up with the releases of other products (such as Ubuntu Linux).

Do we have a winner?
Comparing OpenOffice and LibreOffice isn't like comparing, say, Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro. Because both programs are open source and share a code base, they're more similar than different. Today, LibreOffice has a slightly better range of new and improved word processing features, while OpenOffice is slightly ahead in performance. This could change in six months or sooner.

The choice boils down to how they're implemented and how well their features and development cycles match user needs. LibreOffice has the edge in terms of regular updates, but OpenOffice releases feel meticulously polished. If you want cutting-edge feature sets, go with LibreOffice. If you want the most refined versions of the features available, go with OpenOffice. Both are free, so at least you don't have to choose based on price.

This article, "Review: Apache OpenOffice 4 vs. LibreOffice 4.1," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in applications and open source software at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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