The Document Foundation – LibreOffice 3.3 review

The open-source future of OpenOffice
Photo of The Document Foundation – LibreOffice 3.3

To talk about the new release of a open-source productivity suite LibreOffice, it’s necessary to talk a bit of corporate politics. For the path to LibreOffice was opened back when Oracle bought up Sun. Sun had been the surrogate parent of OpenOffice, having given it commercial support and stepped back to allow the open-source office suite to flourish. However, Oracle’s track record when it comes to open source isn’t quite as strong. Eventually, the moment arrived when some of the leading players behind OpenOffice decided to take a different direction.

Because OpenOffice was and is open source, the new LibreOffice team – known as The Document Foundation – could take away its own copy of the code, and start to develop the product itself. And that’s what has happened: Oracle still has OpenOffice, and still owns the brand name, but it’ll be following a slightly different path from LibreOffice.

What’s new in LibreOffice?
Given that the LibreOffice project is in its infancy, it’s hardly surprising that LibreOffice 3.3 is very similar to OpenOffice. It looks, feels, and works pretty much the same way. It’s also free of charge, featuring tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawing, databases and calculating formulae.

Open up any one of those tools, and you really do have to look closely to find what’s changed. That’s not to the detriment of the software, though. LibreOffice 3.3 offers a very strong and tempting alternative to Microsoft Office. Aside from the significant cost saving available to those opting for the free LibreOffice, there’s also the feeling that 80 per cent of users will be more than comfortable with the feature base that it offers. It does everything that most people need – and the word processing and spreadsheet applications in particular are very strong.

Slight improvements have been made to format compatibility, with better support for the likes of SVG files, Microsoft Works documents, and XML. It’s nothing radical, but it’s these – along with added little bits of polish – that are the only distinguishing factors about the suite.

What the future holds
In the years ahead, it’s inevitable that the paths of OpenOffice and LibreOffice will diverge. For now, it’s more compelling choice betweem the two is an ideological, rather than a practical, one. Do you want the version of the world’s most popular free office suite that’s overseen by a big corporate, or by a group of volunteers? Because that’s at the crux, right now, of the OpenOffice vs Libre Office decision. Whichever version you go for, it won’t be quite the equivalent of Microsoft Office – but they’ve closed the gap right down, and we suspect Microsoft knows it.

As things stand, for no money whatsoever, LibreOffice is a terrific bargain, and a project that’s well worth keeping an eye on.

Company: The Document Foundation

It might have broken away from OpenOffice, but LibreOffice hasn't yet established a true identity of its own. That's not a criticism, though - and it's something that will come in time. For now, it's a good office suite, at the best possible price: free!