Latest version of open source productivity suite brings better Office interoperability and improved user experience, but rough edges remain
OpenOffice.org has long been one of the top competitors to Microsoft Office, but the open source productivity suite's future was clouded in 2009 when Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, which had maintained OpenOffice.org since late 1999. Oracle eventually donated the OpenOffice.org code to the Apache Foundation, which promises a new release this year.
Meanwhile, buzz has been building around LibreOffice, a fork of the OpenOffice.org code by a consortium of former OpenOffice.org developers known as the Document Foundation. Like OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice includes a word processor (Writer), a spreadsheet (Calc), a presentation maker (Impress), a drawing and diagramming program (Draw), and a database manager (Base). Superficially, the two suites appear almost identical, and LibreOffice even carries over its version numbering from the last OpenOffice.org release.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Open office dilemma: OpenOffice.org vs. LibreOffice | Microsoft Office 2010 takes on all comers | Track the latest trends in open source with InfoWorld's Open Sources blog and Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]
Behind the scenes, however, the Document Foundation and its volunteers have been hard at work, cleaning up the code, fixing bugs, and adding features. The new version 3.5 includes more than 30,000 code changes -- making it, in the Document Foundation's words, "the best free office suite ever." Based on my tests, that claim might actually be true -- but price isn't everything.
Installation is free, but not easy
LibreOffice is available for Windows 2000 and later, Mac OS X 10.4 and later (Intel and PowerPC), Linux, and Linux x64. I installed the Windows version, which comes in two parts: one installer for the applications and another for the online help (available in 107 languages). Version 3.5's new installers are MSI packages, sure to please sys admins.
Installation took longer than it should, mainly because of LibreOffice's reliance on Java. You can use most of the suite's features without Java installed, but it's required for a few functions and Base won't work without it.
Unfortunately, LibreOffice doesn't come bundled with a Java Runtime Environment (JRE), so you have to download and install one yourself. Keeping current with Java updates and security patches is also your responsibility, which could be a deal breaker for organizations with strict IT policies.
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