Microsoft Office 2010 takes on all comers

OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice, IBM Lotus Symphony, SoftMaker Office, Corel WordPerfect, and Google Docs challenge the Microsoft juggernaut

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Microsoft Office 2010 takes on all comers: LibreOffice 3.3.1
I mentioned in the OpenOffice.org review how that program has been repackaged in a number of different editions, all based on the original but with various alterations or improvements. The most significant such edition of OpenOffice.org is LibreOffice, created by a number of former OpenOffice.org developers. Dissatisfied with the way the OpenOffice.org project was being led by Oracle after that company bought Sun (OpenOffice.org's chief patron), the developers decamped and started work on their own edition of the program. If you have a choice between either one, go with LibreOffice -- it's everything OpenOffice.org is, but somewhat more refined. I plan on keeping an eye on how the suite shapes up over time. (See also: "Open office dilemma: OpenOffice.org vs. LibreOffice.")

Since LibreOffice is derived directly from OpenOffice.org, the major features are almost entirely identical. What's different is mostly under-the-hood and behind-the-scenes changes, but they add up quickly. For one, LibreOffice incorporates fixes that were developed for another OpenOffice.org spinoff, Go-OO, many of which revolved around document-compatibility functions or application performance. Another major addition in LibreOffice is bundled support for many languages, including spell-checking and grammar tools.

This does increase the size of the installer -- 158MB for OpenOffice.org vs. 218MB for LibreOffice -- but people with decently speedy Internet connections shouldn't feel much of a pinch. A slew of extensions are also bundled with LibreOffice, like the Presenter Console for Impress, which adds some more controls for how presentations are displayed.

Most of the work being done with LibreOffice right now seems incremental rather than revolutionary: a different set of icons, a few tweaks to the display. The under-the-hood changes that make the most outward difference are various performance improvements, originally devised for the Go-OO spinoff of OpenOffice.org (work on which has since been discontinued in favor of LibreOffice). No performance testing is needed to prove this; on the same hardware, LibreOffice does indeed launch and open documents noticeably faster than OpenOffice.org.

Other improvements also show themselves with a little hands-on usage. Spreadsheets in LibreOffice can now handle up to 1 million rows, versus 65,536 rows in OpenOffice.org -- handy if you're used to using Excel as an impromptu browser for database dumps. The LibreOffice suite has noticeably better handling of WordPerfect documents and includes import filters for SVG, Lotus Word Pro, and Microsoft Works files. These may seem like minor points to boast about, but they're useful to an organization that has a lot of legacy documents and wants to be able to read them accurately.

One notable change: In the Windows edition, help documents for the suite are now provided by default through the LibreOffice online wiki, rather than a local help file. This is dependent on the presence of an Internet connection; if you don't have one, pressing F1 causes a browser to launch and generate an error page. The local help file can be downloaded and added separately, though, if you plan on needing help when offline.

If you're an IT admin -- or just curious -- you can enable an "experimental mode" within LibreOffice that turns on features designated as unstable in the current version. Right now there are few features exposed through this function; the most notable is an interactive in-document formula editor.

Like OpenOffice.org before it, LibreOffice has a .pdf export function that is second to none.
Like OpenOffice.org before it, LibreOffice has a PDF export function that is second to none.
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