Dueling open source alternatives to Microsoft Office match word processors, spreadsheets, and much more; which one should you choose?
OpenOffice.org is one of the leading competitors to the Microsoft Office suite of business productivity applications. Originally developed as StarOffice in the late 1990s, the suite had been managed in recent years by Sun Microsystems as an open source project. But when Oracle acquired Sun in April 2009, the future of Sun's software offerings -- particularly free ones like OpenOffice.org -- was called into question. Before long, key OpenOffice.org developers, unhappy with the status quo under Oracle, began defecting from the project.
The result was LibreOffice, a new fork of the OpenOffice.org code base that's maintained by a nonprofit organization called the Document Foundation. LibreOffice looks like OpenOffice.org and it runs like OpenOffice.org. It even reads and writes OpenOffice.org's OpenDocument file formats. The difference is that LibreOffice is being developed in a fully community-driven way, without oversight from Oracle. (The "libre" in the suite's name is derived from a Latinate root meaning "liberty.")
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The question is, which suite should you use? Both OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice recently announced version 3.3.0 of their respective wares. Both are available as free downloads (although Oracle also sells a version of OpenOffice.org that includes commercial support). Which one will be the better bet for now or in the foreseeable future? I installed both to find out.
Installation and language support
OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice each consists of six applications, called Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Base, and Math in both suites. The modules provide word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, business graphics, database management, and formula editing, respectively.
Both suites are available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X (Intel and PowerPC). You can also get OpenOffice.org for Solaris (Sparc and Intel). Because I wanted to test the most typical Office-replacement scenario, however, I ran both suites on an Intel PC running Windows 7.
The executable installers for both suites are similar; they ask the same questions and the install scripts seem identical, although LibreOffice setup is a little slower. I chose Typical Install for both.
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