LibreOffice 3.5: The best Office killer yet

Latest version of open source productivity suite brings better Office interoperability and improved user experience, but rough edges remain

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Improvements elsewhere are mostly minor. Calc workbooks can now extend to 10,000 sheets; by comparison, Excel workbooks are limited only by available memory. Graph plotting has been enhanced in both Calc and Impress. There are numerous other improvements scattered around the suite, but few will leap out at you.

Perhaps the most significant new feature is LibreOffice's built-in update capability, which can check for new releases at regular intervals. Through this mechanism, future improvements are likely to disseminate much more quickly.

Should you take the plunge?
The Document Foundation is justifiably proud of LibreOffice 3.5, but if you were expecting a revamp on the scale of Office 2007, you'll be disappointed. For all the work that has gone into the new version, most of it is under the hood. Still, if you're a current or LibreOffice user, you should waste little time in upgrading to this version, which is more stable and user friendly than ever.

Heavy Microsoft Office users face a more difficult choice. In reality, LibreOffice is not a drop-in replacement for Office, particularly for power users. If you exchange documents with others often or maintain a large archive of Office format files, switching to LibreOffice will take considerable effort, though it may pay off in the long term. What's more, many LibreOffice features still feel half-baked and leave considerable room for improvement.

There is also the future to consider. LibreOffice offers nothing to compete with Microsoft Office's networked components, such as SharePoint, Lync, and Windows Live -- or, for that matter, with Google Docs. A stand-alone desktop office productivity suite may be going the way of the dinosaur.

On the one hand, the considerable effort the Document Foundation has invested into LibreOffice 3.5 has produced a solid product with a lot of promise for future improvement. Businesses that are not yet too tied to the Microsoft Office product family would be foolish not to at least consider it. On the other hand, while LibreOffice 3.5 may truly be "the best free office suite ever," to a certain extent you still get what you pay for.

This article, "LibreOffice 3.5: The best Office killer yet," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in open source software, applications, and Windows at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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