Review: LibreOffice 4 leaves you wanting more

Modest rev of the open source office suite has welcome new features, but old peeves still linger

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A new 4.0 feature is the ability to set variant first-page headers and footers for a given page style (what Word implements as document sections). Only ODF documents support this feature right now, but there are plans to expand support to imported DOC and DOCX files.

Most big organizations use some variety of content management system, typically one that adheres to the CMIS standard. Writer (and LibreOffice generally) can talk to such servers -- such as Alfresco or SharePoint -- to open and save documents they store.

Another CMS-related addition, by way of a plug-in, is the ability to publish documents as articles on MediaWiki servers. Writer is able to convert the document to MediaWiki markup automatically, which is genuinely handy, but unfortunately this is a one-way street: You can't point to an existing article on a wiki somewhere, import it for editing, then reexport it. Likewise, although it's possible to export a document as a MediaWiki text file, it's not possible to import it and edit it as a native LibreOffice document. Maybe the next point revision could allow this -- I suspect Wikipedians everywhere would be thrilled.

LibreOffice 4.0 Writer annotations
Annotations in LibreOffice 4.0 can span whole ranges of text, so it's unambiguous what they refer to. Word documents (DOCX) with such annotations now import correctly.

Calc and Impress, odds and ends
Calc, the spreadsheet app, has been gussied up. Most significant is a performance improvement when loading spreadsheets with lots of formulas. The formulas no longer need to be recalculated, which does wonders to speed up load time. (You can always force a recalculation if need be.) I also liked how individual charts can be exported as images, but I was disappointed with the limited range of options. You can't export a chart to a vector format like SVG, for example, which would have been really useful. (You can export to a PDF, but the embedded image is rasterized, which defeats the purpose.). Nor can you export at a different size or scale than what appears in the document itself.

Impress, the presentation app, has one major new feature worthy of attention. Those with the Linux edition of the suite and a Bluetooth-enabled, Android-powered phone can use an app for the phone to control Impress. The bad news is that only the Linux version of LibreOffice supports this right now, and it took great effort to get it working there. I hope it can be improved in the next release, which is when support for this feature is slated to arrive in the Windows and Mac OS X versions.

Some additions in LibreOffice 4.0 seem puzzling at first, but turn out to have unexpected utility. LibreOffice now includes an interpreter for the Logo language, which allows you to add programmatically created vector art to documents. The resulting vector graphics can be exported as SVG or PDF images. It's intriguing, but I'd like to see it integrated a little more deeply into the suite. It could be useful as an alternative graphics engine for Calc charts, for instance.

LibreOffice 4.0 Calc charts
Exporting charts as stand-alone graphics is handy, but limited to creating rasterized images, not vector art.
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