LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice: Making the Write Choice

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Anyone who’s been following all the drama and intrigue of office suite software development news for the past several years will know that LibreOffice has basically risen from the ashes of OpenOffice, as developers from the latter decided to go off to start their own project (while using the open-source code from the work they’d done on OpenOffice up to that point).

For a while it looked like OpenOffice was doomed, with Apache announcing that their development team was dwindling and unable to keep up with updates addressing everything from UI improvements to security vulnerabilities.

But after record-low download numbers in 2017, OpenOffice seems to have bounced back a bit, with a big update triggering people to take an interest again. In this article we compare the two Office suites to figure out which one wins.

Both OpenOffice and LibreOffice look much the same from the outset, with vintage-style interfaces that reject Microsoft’s tab-based look. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see the differences. Handily, LibreOffice keeps track of your word and character account dynamically as you write, which is great for those working with word limits. (In OpenOffice you need to click “Tools -> Word Count.”)

OpenOffice launches with a sidebar for various font and paragraph options, which is theoretically useful, except that many of the options are just repeats of what’s already in the toolbar across the top of the window. You can enable this sidebar in LibreOffice as well, but I think it’s a little superfluous.

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Font embedding is a nice addition in LibreOffice, too, which ensures that whatever fonts you use in your document get displayed correctly in other word processing software that opens the document. On a related note, LibreOffice allows you to save in the .docx format, while OpenOffice doesn’t. (Both let you save in the OpenDocument format and most of Microsoft’s proprietary formats.)

Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice use open-source document formats and have exactly the same programs with exactly the same names contained therein. Namely:

  • Writer – word processing software
  • Calc – Spreadsheet software (Microsoft Excel equivalent)
  • Impress – Presentation software (Microsoft Powerpoint)
  • Draw – A vector program (decent alternative to Microsoft Visio)
  • Math – Mathematical formula software
  • Base – Database management software (Microsoft Access equivalent)

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In short, they look very similar, but LibreOffice has more quality-of-life features resulting from more consistent development of the software.

LibreOffice gets updated much more than OpenOffice, thanks to a bigger team and more resources. A factor in this could also be that there’s a license in place, and that means the LibreOffice lot can help themselves to the code from OpenOffice but not the other way round.

The rarity of updates with OpenOffice also means they’re not quite as on the ball in terms of security, and the team often take a long time to address the latest security vulnerabilities and bugs. A major bug in the macOS version that causes crashes when making diagrams in Calc is yet to be fixed, while Apache seems to be constantly scrambling to iron out security issues.

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OpenOffice is hanging in there, but you get the sense that it’s struggling to keep its head above the water.

LibreOffice has all the advantages in this one, though there are a few users who’ve reported features bugging out in it, only for them to work fine in OpenOffice. It’s good to have a backup office suite, in other words, though we think there are better options than OpenOffice out there. Check out our list of free alternatives to Microsoft Office to get an idea!

Image credit: Fighting by DepositPhotos

8 comments

  1. “LibreOffice has all the advantages in this one, though there are a few users who’ve reported features bugging out in it, only for them to work fine in OpenOffice.”
    Is it possible that it is particular hardware that is causing the “features bugging out” rather than the software?

  2. I have always found both interfaces so old and ugly compared for example to the Microsoft and google office suites. I would like to understand for what reason those who are used to the Microsoft Office 2016 would want to use something that looks like windows 98, i really don’t understand the lack of design polishing. For my part i chose the Google suite which suits my needs and looks like something made in 2018.

    • I did a lot of processing and all these menus are really good. It is because I use keyboard more often and You seems to be mouse-bound user. People like You tend to be low-productive, slow and have plenty of time to look for proper functions.

      The “polishing” is totally wrong strategy, although -modern. I have a licensed MS Office 2016 at my work computer, but also always have LO at my disposal. Me and people like me we do want to do to our job instead of looking at stupid pictures and reorganized tab bar system which tends to be occupying a lot of precious space.

      I can add that my experience is mostly MS Office 2003 and then I simply see how M$ started slowing our performance using those stupid changes, that no one knows, but seems are well accepted by people around the world.

      So now You have two reasons for this old design – speed and clarity.

      • MS office changes (more downgrades than upgrades) are not accepted by the people like you said
        (Also, myself, would like a minimalistic customizable toolbar instead a “ribbon” which eats a lot of space on the screen)
        I have tread plenty of complains about the stupid ribbon and the bug with the selection with the mouse, but no one from the M$ staff is interested as long the money flows. Big companies still buy MS suite.

  3. LibreOffice seems to get worse with each new update. They seem to have too many volunteers who do what they want to do, not what needs to be done. Users who complain about bugs basically get told that they may or may not get fixed, depending on whether a volunteer steps forward.
    I keep hoping for more “adult supervision” “quality control”, etc. For example, why are they still using Java? Apparently no one else does, so many people either don’t have Java Runtime Environment or have uninstalled it. Then on a rare occasion they discover they need it for a specific LO function, then LO help won’t even give you a straight answer on where to install it.

    It’s just nutty, every time I have a problem I have to spend an hour trying to fix what should take 1 minute! For example, LO Writer keeps changing text in my word docs (ex: it might change “spend” to spending”) even though I have turned off auto-spell and grammar check. I then have to manually proof the doc to catch all the errors made BY LO! There are a lot of things where so should be able to right-click to find what you need, but it isn’t there. Even the LO update page is confusing, it offers too many choices to the average person who just wants to update the current version.

    Another thing lacking in LO is templates. Guess what, there are 100 times as many templates in Open Office that will work in LibreOffice, but LO doesn’t link to them, even though they work in LO. I think too many people are uncritical of LO’s failures.

    The reason I stick with it is that I feel it’s less of a risk in terms of hackers trying to inject viruses/macros, I think they focus on MS Office. Also, I don’t want Micro$oft and Google knowing everything about me and then “monetizing” it (selling my info to advertisers), so I try to use open source software, like LibreOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, etc.

  4. JRE is installed automatically along with the rest of LibreOffice. You should have no need to install it afterwards. Unless you uninstalled it manually.

    “LO Writer keeps changing text in my word docs (ex: it might change “spend” to spending”) even though I have turned off auto-spell and grammar check.”
    Interesting. I’ve been a LibreOffice user (Windows and Linux versions) since its StarOffice days and I have never encountered that problem. Granted, I’m only one user and cannot generalize based on my experiences but so are you.

    “Even the LO update page is confusing, ”
    There is no need to go to the LibreOffice site to get check for an update. If you click on the HELP drop-down menu, there is a ‘Check for Updates’ entry. LibreOffice also notifies you with a ‘Update Available’ message if there an update. You can also run the LOManager program which will apply the update. In none of the three options are there ‘too many choices’ for the user.

    “Another thing lacking in LO is templates.”
    Google is your friend. Search for ‘LibreOffice templates’ and you will find at least 5 sites that have hundreds of LO templates.

    “there are 100 times as many templates in Open Office that will work in LibreOffice, but LO doesn’t link to them”
    Why should LibreOffice link to a competitor’s products? FYI, even though OO and LO are forks of the same code, their developers ARE basically competitors. Although that may not last too long. Apache may be closing down the OpenOffice project.

    “The reason I stick with it is that I feel it’s less of a risk in terms of hackers trying to inject viruses/macros”
    Security by obscurity is not a safe policy. :-)

  5. I tried libreoffice for the word count. I used to have a live word count extension for open office but my 2012 version kept crashing so I had to make a new user and lost it. I somehow wasn’t able to reinstall it and decided to try libreoffice. Three hours and I uninstalled again. I couldn’t even remove the headers and footers that were added to all of my old open office documents. In open office, it’s as easy as Tools/Options/OpenOffice/Appearance/Text Boundaries to remove the grey box around the text, but removing these default headers and footers in libreoffice seemed impossible. I googled and googled and the explanations made no sense, or it was for an older version and no longer worked or god knows what. I reinstalled open office and I found a newer word count extension that works just like the libreoffice word count in less time than it took me to figure out the simplest thing in libreoffice.

    I’m not techy and just want a program that will let me write and do basic formatting for no or little money. Open office does that. Libreoffice is not for folks like me. It’s just not intuitive whatsoever. I never had any issues with open office until my old version started crashing after six years of use.

    I’m not going to spend money on word. I don’t give a crap about how sleek and modern it looks, the price tag isn’t worth it for what I do.

  6. LibreOffice is a fork of OpenOffice. When Oracle bought out Sun, everyone was scrambling wondering what would happen to OpenOffice and Java. They were worried Larry Ellison’s drive for profits would turn them into monetized machines for big O. (Tons of legacy software is written in Java, and lots of folks used OpenOffice, so Oracle forcing folks to suddenly license all that would have turned the IT/IS world on its head and caused outrage for Oracle).

    LibreOffice has had more development than OpenOffice, and has kept up with MS Office a bit more. But, as others have said, you will be using an interface that harkens back to Win95/98/XP days sans Ribbon. To some that’s a blessing. To others.. well, they love their ribbon (which, while annoying sometimes, helps condense down some of the most used features with nice mouse-over target buttons).

    If you’re a casual Office user, then LibreOffice can fill in. However, there are some software companies that need MS Office only (eg: SAP Business Analytics requires MS Excel, no Libre/OpenOffice Calc functionality).

    Work forces that have tried to migrate to Libre/OpenOffice have just found too many small nuances to keep it from sticking, like opening files of different formats (notably Word to Writer) fonts and table formatting can get altered to not look like the original. When you’re dealing with corporate contracts or resumes and such, it’s just best to use what everyone else uses, which is still MS Word.

    Also, for power users, while MS Office uses Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) I think LibreOffice / OpenOffice both use Python (they have Java applets, but automation scripting via user is in Python). Python is like VBA in that it’s high-level and simple, but it’s a change of pace and requires a learning curve. So, you can’t just open MS Excel spreadsheets that have macros in them and expect to use them as-is in Calc. If you’re a marketing or analytics shop with big Excel spreadsheets, you’re stuck with Excel unless you want to spend time/money redeveloping your spreadsheets in Calc / Python. (But, really, that kind of stuff should be in IT/IS side of house with applications development. But, I’m the first to tell you the real world isn’t always the same as the fantasy IT/IS world. So, there’s a lot of extracurricular analysts in dept’s stuck with massive automated excel and ms access projects via VBA that makes it hard to transition to Open/Libre.)

    Since MS has gone the way of subscription (MS Office 2016 the last version you can get that’s “buy once, use forever”), you’d think more people would go with Libre/OpenOffice as an alternative. But, MS Subscription has been ok with IT dept’s, since they are often keeping machines going in ebb and flow fashion yearly anyways. The subscription is tied to a user, not a computer, so they can have a pool of subscriptions and just replace computers whenever they need due to depreciation or obsoletion or destruction. IT dept’s work differently then home users, though, in that they have massive pools of software licenses they get in bulk. They also have more control of MS software via enterprise editions.

    What we’re seeing in the home user market is more folks willing to try Libre/OpenOffice, b/c they’re sick of having so many maintenance fees in their life as-is. There is still a generation of home users that remember “buy once, use forever” licensing, and they’re sick of Office 365 subscriptions. Especially when they find out that a lot of what MS is doing these days is just data-mining information off of software use (from Windows, Office, apps, etc) like Google does, but MS makes you pay for the privilege while Google and others give you free services which they harvest from. (MS has a “pay us and we’ll take extra advantage of you” while Google, et.al. have a more “quid pro quo” mentality).

    So, we see an uptick in Google Docs, Libre/OpenOffice, and other Office alternatives.

    For the average users, it really comes down to whether you want to pay a subscription fee or not these days, b/c MS is cutting off support for their older MS Office versions. So, eventually, you will need to be Office 365 or some alternate unless you want to keep using an older MS Office version that isn’t getting security fixes and risk your computer’s (and possibly network IT / server) security health. For some folks, their old MS Office 2000/2007/2010/2016 is fine. For others, they want to look into alternatives. And the alternative is to either pay MS for a 365 subscription or look for something else.

    At least with LibreOffice/OpenOffice, you don’t have spyware harvesting usage data from you (unlike Google docs, Office 365, etc). Every product seems to have a catch these days. Either pay for a decent product (which has other catches) or use a free product (which may not be as good or has other catches). (“other catches” = spyware).

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