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LibreOffice and Other Desktop Office Suite Programs Offer Better …

NOTE: The following article has nothing to do with genealogy. However, I feel that every computer owner should know about these free and low-cost choices available.

Microsoft Office once had an unquestioned stranglehold on the world of productivity suites and programs. However, recent software products now compete with Microsoft Office, and I like one of them even better than Office. Best of all is the price tag: FREE.

LibreOffice is a desktop office suite for Windows, Macintosh, and most versions of Linux that combines a word processor, spreadsheet program, presentation program, drawing program, math program, and a database program. It competes with Microsoft Office in most every way except one: price. LibreOffice is available FREE of charge. There is no pro version or upgrade to any other available versions. There is only one version, and all features are available free of charge in that version. Indeed, Libre is the Spanish word for free.

Documents created with LibreOffice are also about 99.9% compatible with documents created by Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It even handles the dreaded .DOCX and .XLSX formats without a problem. Newsletter readers often send me documents created in .DOCX format. I can read those files, edit them, and send them back without a problem. The other person never knows I am not using Microsoft Word. LibreOffice can also import some very old file formats that cannot be supported by Microsoft Office, such as Microsoft Write (.wri) documents, Open Document Format (.ODF), HTML web documents, Lotus Word Processor (.LWP) documents, WordPerfect (.WPD), Apple Pages (.PAGES), Gnumeric spreadsheet files, and a bunch of others I never heard of, far more than the limited number of file formats available in Microsoft Office. It will also create .PDF files.

I have both Microsoft Word and LibreOffice Writer Document installed on the Macintosh I am using at the moment. I normally use LibreOffice instead of Word simply because it is faster and is easier to use. It also has almost all the same functionality as Microsoft Word although you can find a few minor exceptions. Those few exceptions all seem to be for things I never use. The latest version of LibreOffice has an updated user interface that I find much easier to use than the annoying ribbon interface of Microsoft Office.

In fact, it works much like Microsoft Office 2003, my favorite version of Office. Every release of Microsoft Office since 2003 strikes me as a downgrade. For anyone using LibreOffice in a corporate environment or possibly for a few at-home users, the latest LibreOffice version 5.1 has also added integration with remote servers. The supported servers include Alfresco, FTP servers, Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft OneDrive, and WebDAV. I often write articles and save them directly to a hidden area on the EOGN.com web site, where they are available to me when traveling and using different computers. Just like Microsoft Office, LibreOffice also works well with Dropbox, SugarSync, SpiderOak, and almost all other cloud-based file storage services. This means you can create, edit, and save files to these cloud and Internet services just as easily as if they were on your own computer s hard drive or local area network.

Drawbacks

All is not perfect with LibreOffice, however. For starters, the spreadsheet program, called Calc Spreadsheet, uses macros that are not 100% compatible with the macros in Excel. If you already have a large investment in Excel macros, you probably will not want to switch everything to LibreOffice s Calc Spreadsheet. The presentation program in LibreOffice, called Impress Presentation, does not have all the features of PowerPoint. It doesn t have as many methods of having text and images enter and exit a slide, and there are a few other incompatibilities as well.

I have not done extensive testing, but it appears to me that Impress Presentation is compatible with PowerPoint 2003 but not 100% compatible with the later versions of PowerPoint. Actually, my favorite presentation program is Apple s Keynote; but, it is available only for Macintosh. I give presentations in many different locations and occasionally have to copy my presentations to Windows computers so that they may be projected on whatever hardware is used in the presentation room. Therefore, I normally use LibreOffice s Impress Presentation to create my PowerPoint slides. Luckily, LibreOffice s Impress Presentation will also import Apple Keynote s .KEY files, so I can still use Keynote to create presentations and then play them in LibreOffice. However, not all the fancy graphics in Keynote will display properly in LibreOffice. Of course, none of the .KEY files can be imported into Microsoft s PowerPoint. (Apple s Keynote can save files in PowerPoint s .PPT format, however.)

If you are looking for a good, full-featured, open-source office suite of productivity programs, I suggest you look at LibreOffice.

Best of all is the price tag: FREE. LibreOffice is available at no charge at http://libreoffice.org1. This article was written with LibreOffice, as are most of the other articles published in this newsletter.

Other Options

LibreOffice is not the only free or low-cost desktop office suite available today. Several other products compete with Microsoft Office, and most of them are also very good programs. Apache OpenOffice has long been a popular choice and is also free. In fact, LibreOffice was created when a group of programmers working on Apache OpenOffice became unhappy with the program s owner s policies and broke away to form their own program, called LibreOffice. The programming code to both programs is open source, so the LibreOffice programmers legally copied much of the code from Apache OpenOffice and made changes to the sections they wished. I like both programs, but LibreOffice has a better user interface, in my opinion.

I am sure some other people will disagree with me. Your choice. You can try both of them and see which you prefer. OpenOffice is available at http://openoffice.org2.

NeoOffice is a complete office suite for Macintosh OS X. With NeoOffice, users can view, edit, and save OpenOffice documents and LibreOffice documents, as well as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. In fact, NeoOffice is simply OpenOffice that has been modified to look more like a native Macintosh application. It uses the Macintosh interface but otherwise is really Apache OpenOffice under the covers. NeoOffice costs $29.99 and is available in the Macintosh App Store. A NeoOffice viewer is available free of charge but can only view files created with NeoOffice, Microsoft Office, and most other office productivity suites.

The free NeoOffice Viewer can view, export as PDF, and print documents. It cannot create new documents. You can learn more about NeoOffice at https://www.neooffice.org3.

KingSoft also offers an office productivity suite of programs called WPS Office. Formerly known as KingSoft Office, WPS Office has many loyal users who love the program. It is available free of charge with some limitations, or the fully unlocked WPS Office Professional version costs $79.99. WPS Office is also available only for Windows, not for Macintosh. More information may be found at http://www.kingsoftstore.com4.

SoftMaker offers two different productivity suites. The company s FreeOffice at http://www.freeoffice.com5 is essentially a light version of the company s more robust, commercial suite. You can easily obtain a serial key from the company with nothing more than a valid email address, which quickly grants you to access software such as TextMaker, PlanMaker, and Presentations.

The lightweight software offers very fast loading times and one of the best interfaces of any free office productivity suite. While easy to use, I find the program doesn t offer all the options available in LibreOffice, Apache OpenOffice, or Microsoft Office.

Google Docs is perhaps the most popular office software for many reasons primarily because it s free and accessible from virtually anywhere with a valid Internet connection. Since it is cloud-based, Google Docs does not require any software to be installed on your computer. The well-known office suite, which is available via the cloud-based Google Drive, provides a word processor, spreadsheets, presentation capabilities, and all the basic perks of Microsoft Office without the premium price tag. The software also provides a nice central hub for all your documents. However, Google Docs is not nearly as robust as Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, or Apache OpenOffice. I use Google Docs on my Chromebook computer but rarely for anything else. You can access Google Docs at http://docs.google.com6.

Summation

When it comes to office productivity suites, you are not locked into the expensive Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint programs. You have several free and low-cost choices. All of them will read and write files created by Microsoft Office, and most of them offer additional file formats as well. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars for Microsoft Office on your next computer, I suggest you first try some of the alternatives listed above.

I suspect you will be glad you did.

Eat your heart out, Microsoft.

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References

  1. ^ http://libreoffice.org (libreoffice.org)
  2. ^ http://openoffice.org (openoffice.org)
  3. ^ https://www.neooffice.org (www.neooffice.org)
  4. ^ http://www.kingsoftstore.com (www.kingsoftstore.com)
  5. ^ http://www.freeoffice.com (www.freeoffice.com)
  6. ^ http://docs.google.com (docs.google.com)

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