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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Some long-standing features have been removed with 4.0, although I suspect the vast majority of them won't be missed. Case in point: LibreOffice no longer supports legacy binary StarOffice files. However, some omissions might create a few problems for users in mixed environments, such as the ability to export to legacy Word and Excel (6.0/95) document formats. None of the cuts should be real showstoppers for up-to-date users or to users whose workflow is entirely centered on LibreOffice.

Persistent peeves
Some performance and behavioral issues still linger. On opening a large document (500-plus pages) in Writer, even in native ODF format, and moving the cursor to near the end, the repagination process can cause one's position in the document to jump around, or the whole program may even hang briefly. Large DOCX files with lots of corrections and comments also open very slowly. Worse, I had trouble saving such documents to ODF format, then reopening them. They'd often crash with a nondescript error.

Contextual help is still handled clumsily. Pressing Help within the program takes you to a page in the LibreOffice wiki for the feature in question, and some features have either skimpy documentation or none at all. I also wish LibreOffice had something akin to Microsoft Word's draft-editing mode. The closest thing is Web Layout mode, which gives you incorrect pagination information.

LibreOffice 4.0 is better than the previous version of the much-vaunted open source productivity suite, but it's decidedly evolutionary, not revolutionary. The plethora of little changes and the gradual improvement of the most crucial features, like DOC and DOCX compatibility, are all quite welcome. Perhaps I should be more grateful for steady, incremental improvement, but I would have saved the "4.0" for a bigger milestone -- such as when LibreOffice is entirely free of its dependency on Java.

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