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.
Open-source software like LibreOffice is defined by its community. LibreOffice has an active subreddit page, as well as a constantly monitored Ask page. There’s a whole Wiki site dedicated to the latest updates and changes to the software, and comprehensive guides for every single major update released for LibreOffice.
Despite being largely discontinued, you can still find support for OpenOffice if you look in the right places. The OpenOffice subreddit is pretty barren, but you’re likely to find answers to your questions on the official OpenOffice forum, which remains active. Beyond that, many of the other support sources – like 8daysaweek and the unofficial OpenOffice forum have closed down due to inactivity.
So perhaps there’s no surprises here, but with LibreOffice you’re much more likely to find the help you need.
One of the first things you probably want to know about LibreOffice and OpenOffice is which one will most readily handly your existing files, which may be in all kinds of formats ranging from Microsoft’s proprietary formats to more obscure ones like WordPerfect’s “.wp” extensions.
Both OpenOffice and LibreOffice are capable of opening a huge range of file formats, though OpenOffice is in fact capable of opening documents in a wider range of formats than LibreOffice (103 to LibreOffice’s 73).
But there is a catch. Just because these suites can open a certain file format doesn’t mean they can save in that file format. When it comes to what file formats you can save in, LibreOffice is decidedly more modern, most notably being capable saving files in Microsoft’s latest range of proprietary formats (.docx, .xlsx and so on).
So OpenOffice may win in pure quantity of compatible formats, but LibreOffice arguably outdoes it by letting you save in the biggest formats out there.
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.
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)
In short, they look very similar, but LibreOffice has more quality-of-life features resulting from more consistent development of the software.
Security and Stability
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.
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!
This post was first published in Feb 2018 and was updated in September 2019.