LibreOffice – The Likely Future of OpenOffice

For those of you who don’t follow tech news, here’s a brief summary: OpenOffice, supported by Sun, has long been known as a excellent free alternative to MS Office. When Oracle bought Sun, many feared that Oracle’s control might not necessarily be a good thing for the project. Some members of the OpenOffice team decided to create The Document Foundation as a central place for the work to continue in an open community fashion, and even invited Oracle along in the hopes that “we can all just get along”. Well Oracle declined, and the result is that The Document Foundation will soon release LibreOffice, a community-based fork of OpenOffice which has already received backing from the likes of Canonical, Red Hat, and Google. While the final release is not yet available, we can get our hands on the release candidate which should tell us what kind of changes we’re in for.

Particularly well informed readers may be wondering “What about Go-oo, the existing OpenOffice fork?” If that’s the case, you’ll be pleased to know that Go-oo’s enhancements will be built in to LibreOffice, as well as improvements from other forks.

Some of those enhancements include improved file format compatibility (such as MS Works and WordPerfect documents), better platform integration (especially on Linux), improved performance and a cleaner user interface.

As a multiplatform application, LibreOffice will run on Windows, Mac or Linux. The download page does provide RPMs, but no packages for Debian/Ubuntu users. Fortunately there’s a PPA, so Ubuntu users can just open a terminal and enter:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:libreoffice/ppa
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install libreoffice

Alternately, you can also add its unofficial repository to your sources.list,

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

Add the following to the end of the file. Save and close.

deb http://download.tuxfamily.org/gericom/libreoffice /

If LibreOffice does not provide menu icons, you can launch it manually with

#Tested on Ubuntu 10.10
/opt/libreoffice/program/soffice

Which will open the full suite.

libreoffice-start

If you’d like to launch a specific component, the executables are in the same location. For example,

/opt/libreoffice/program/swriter

would open directly into the word processor.

At first glance, there’s very little difference to be seen between LibreOffice (top) and OpenOffice (bottom).

libreoffice-compareUI

That’s because many of the differences between the current versions of OpenOffice and LibreOffice are backend changes, such as those meant to improve performance and document support. That leaves very little to discuss about the differences from a user perspective, at least until the projects have diverged a bit more.

In fact, you may even see some old branding from OpenOffice still left behind in a few places, such as in a some of the graphics and icons.

It may not be too surprising that Google has chosen to put its support behind The Document Foundation as opposed to Oracle, but Google’s not the only one. Novell, Red Hat, and Ubuntu’s Canonical have all shown support for LibreOffice, and Mark Shuttleworth has gone so far as to say that “Office productivity software is a critical component of the free software desktop, and the Ubuntu Project will be pleased to ship LibreOffice from The Document Foundation in future releases of Ubuntu.”

With many of the major Linux vendors behind them, it looks like LibreOffice will be the office suite of the future, at least on many non-Microsoft platforms. Oracle, while perhaps never a darling of the open source community, seems to be making more enemies than friends as of late. If they cannot build more good will toward one of their most prominent offerings, the days of OpenOffice as the free suite of choice may soon be at an end.