LibreOffice as a service offers alternative to Google Docs, Office 365

Web edition of the open source productivity suite still has a minimal feature set, but documents are editable in the desktop version LibreOffice

LibreOffice as a service offers alternative to Google Docs, Office 365

Web-based version of the open source productivity suite LibreOffice -- an open source competitor for the likes of Google Docs and  Microsoft Office 365 -- has been in the works for some time.

Today Collabora Productivity, a supplier of commercial support for LibreOffice, released a distribution of LibreOffice Online as part of a joint venture with ownCloud, makers of an open source file hosting and sharing system a la Dropbox.

Collabora Online Development Edition (CODE) gives developers a way to try out bleeding-edge features in LibreOffice Online. No support is provided for CODE, but Collabora and ownCloud are planning to deliver a commercial solution based on the same code sometime in 2016.

code screenshot 7 Collabora Productivity

Document editor for Collabora's LibreOffice Online, a browser- and server-based edition of the open source productivity suite. The initial release has only a subset of the full suite's functionality, but it will ramp up over time to include features like live collaborative editing.

A preview build of the product more closely resembles Google Docs than LibreOffice. Despite the editor being a little sluggish and the feature set minimal, the product did allow for basic creation and editing of word processing documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. "This initial version allows basic editing," the Collabora press release stated. "Collaborative and rich editing are on the roadmap."

A chief appeal of CODE and LibreOffice Online is that document processing on the back end is accomplished with code straight from the same codebase as the desktop edition of LibreOffice. Documents exported from LibreOffice Online/CODE are supposed to be editable in LibreOffice, with all details remaining intact. After editing the sample documents, I tried exporting them in LibreOffice's native .ODF format and they opened without issues in the desktop edition of LibreOffice.

Google and Microsoft, the two big providers of online productivity suites, both present major challenges to any product trying to break into this space. Both enjoy enormous mindshare and already provide a high degree of functionality, including collaborative features.

Collabora's main advantage seems twofold in the long term, once it reaches feature parity. One is the ability to offer private, self-hosted versions of the product; the other is having control over which version of the product is being deployed. But most users -- and most companies -- are now doing more work in the cloud and may be comfortable enough with Google and Microsoft to not be tempted by LibreOffice as a service.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.