After years of manual installs and manual updates, open source flagship office suite LibreOffice is now available for installation by Mac users via Apple’s Mac App Store. This is quite an achievement, not to mention a big convenience.
I’ve been using LibreOffice on my family's computers for many years, including on our Macs (not everyone has switched to Chromebooks). This has been a breeze on any system running Linux -- every serious Linux distribution offers LibreOffice in its repository -- but for the Mac it’s been more of a fuss. Linux has historically been much more convenient to manage than Windows or OS X because every distro has a package manager looking after updates and dependencies for you.
On the Mac, that role has been filled by the Mac App Store. But Apple has not exactly made it easy for open source projects to be hosted there, thanks to a combination of commercial terms that assume a company is providing the software rather than a community along with a mercurial and opaque approvals process. We've been left with the dreariness that most open source software has to be manually installed and manually updated on Macs.
Now, at last, LibreOffice for Mac is in the App Store, under the name LibreOffice Vanilla, and it's free of charge. There is also a second product in the market, LibreOffice-by-Collabora, which is available for $10 for those wanting a version backed by a commercial supplier. At a mere $9.99 it's a third of the price of NeoOffice, an earlier fork of OpenOffice.org. Meeks told me that enterprise-level support is available for LibreOffice Vanilla as a separate purchase.
Making this happen took a lot of heavy lifting, not the least working out how a large open source project could even make it past the Apple thought police. Michael Meeks of Collabora told me it took “many man-weeks of work. There are a rather large number of quite tedious technical problems to fix.” These included adding the required sandboxing, changing the behavior of LibreOffice to obey rules about read-write access to files within packages, code signing, and -- most challenging of all -- dealing with changes in Apple’s rules while the process was in progress.
I’ll be switching our Macs to this App Store-maintained version of LibreOffice as soon as I can. This looks like the very best way to manage an up-to-date copy of LibreOffice on your Mac if you have OS X version 10.8 or later.