Office Suite Update

Me and my junior editor, Kleopatra
Me and my junior editor, Kleopatra

One of the consistently high scoring articles has been my write-up on LibreOffice/OpenOffice. It’s time to take another look at the two most popular Free Software Office Suites.


When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, and didn’t respond to the community about the future of OpenOffice, the community took action. The quick announcement of the LibreOffice fork on September 28, 2010, took Oracle, Apple, and Microsoft by surprise.

The quick first release shocked the industry. By getting a stable release out by January 25, 2011, just under four months after the fork was announced, The Document Foundation stole a march on everyone, no one in the industry believed that they would be able to get a working release on the market that quickly, especially an improved release. They added new features by rolling in parts of the Go-oo fork of OpenOffice into LibreOffice 3.30. The new features included:

  • SVG image import
  • Lotus Word Pro and Microsoft Works import filters
  • Improved WordPerfect import
  • Dialog box for title pages
  • Navigator lets one heading be unfolded as usual in a tree view.
  • “Experimental” mode that allows unfinished features to be tried by users
  • Some bundled extensions, including Presenter View in Impress
  • Colour-coded document icons
  • On Linux, the GStreamer multimedia framework is used to render multimedia content such as videos.

OpenOffice released their own version 3.30 at the same time. The feature mismatch caused some confusion among users..

There were several minor LibreOffice 3.3 point release updates. Each update addressed bugs, and added minor features.

The big shocker came on June 3, 2011, when The Document Foundation released LibreOffice 3.4, a major update. While there were a few issues with the first release, The Document Foundation worked hard at repairing the problems, and after a couple of point releases, LibreOffice 3.4.3 was released on August 31, 2011.

Many reporters have commented that The Document Foundation could have avoided the problems by slowing the release schedule. What most of them have missed is that by working with this aggressive release schedule The Document Foundation has pushed the envelope, adding new features at a speed the commercial office suites are unable to match.

The Future

Apple and Microsoft haven’t issued press releases about LibreOffice of course. Rumors on the street are that both companies are less than happy with the progress that The Document Foundation has made.

While LibreOffice is not totally comparable to Microsoft Office, in that it doesn’t have matching applications for all functions, it does give a solid, inexpensive option. It works beautifully on Microsoft Windows, and is often used by offices which have large archives of documents saved in different versions of the Word file format, because it often is more compatible with Microsoft Office, than Microsoft Office.

On the Mac LibreOffice is less competitive. Users of Mac OS X Lion now share many features of IOS5 (IOS is the variation on OS X which used on iPods, iPhones, and iPads), and these features tie into Apple’s iWork Office Suite giving functionality that LibreOffice doesn’t have on the Mac as yet. Also iWork isn’t as highly priced as Microsoft Office, and can be purchased through Apple’s Mac App Store at a discount off the cost of buying the Boxed version, making it even less expensive.

On Linux, the competition is OpenOffice, KOffice, and Gnome Office.

OpenOffice is falling behind on features and bug fixes, at the present time. This could change with the donation of OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation. So far though there doesn’t seem to be any major changes.

KOffice is a totally different project, with its own strengths and weaknesses. KOffice has Windows and Mac OS X versions. It has never gained the user numbers, mostly because of its dependency on the QT technology, and the uncertainty in the community as to whether Nokia could be trusted. If this changes, it is probably that KOffice penetration will increase dramatically.

Gnome Office is a collection of separate programs, without the close coupling that most expect in an Office Suite.

The LibreOffice people have aggressive aims. From Wikipedia:

As of September 2011, The Document Foundation estimates that there are 10 million users worldwide who have obtained LibreOffice via downloads or CDs. Over 90% of those are on Windows, with another 5% on Mac OS X. There are an estimated 15 million Linux users, with most having obtained the software directly from their distribution. This gives a total estimated user base of 25 million people.

In 2011, the administrative authority of Île-de-France has decided to include LibreOffice in a USB key given to students which contains free open source software. The USB key is given to approximately 800,000 students.

The Document Foundation has set a target of 200 million users worldwide before the end of the decade.

To reach 200 million users, even with the new opportunities on tablets, smart phones, and web office suites, The Document Foundation would have to penetrate the Microsoft Office market heavily. This would cause serious problems at Microsoft, where over half of the corporate profits come from Microsoft Office.


LibreOffice has several powerful strengths:

  1. It is Free Software
  2. It is Community operated
  3. An aggressive release schedule
  4. Other free software licenses, which will allow inclusion of code from other projects
  5. It gained powerful backing from many operating system vendors

It has several weaknesses.

  1. The corporate sector dislikes the license, which limits their use of it
  2. Microsoft and Apple software bundling

Strength number 2 overpowers Weakness number 1. In every case where the corporate sector has gone up against the community, the community has won.

Weakness number 2 has become less of an issue as consumers become more educated about their options. Microsoft in particular may bundle web browsers, but they are continually loosing market share because of an inability to supply what the customer wants. This has nothing to do with skills, but is related to Microsoft’s inability to understand customers.

While Apple was excellent at understanding customers, the death of Steve Jobs may have a negative impact. While Steve hasn’t been heavily involved in day-to-day operations for the last several years, he has been involved in product development. Steve Jobs wasn’t an inventor, Steve Wozniak was the inventor of the pair. Steve Jobs strength was in understanding people, and what they would use. Does Apple have a replacement trained? We don’t know, and may not know for another two or three years, until the last of the projects that Jobs worked on is out of the production queue.

My estimate is that LibreOffice will gain market share. Whether it will gain as much market share as The Document Foundation is aiming for I don’t know.

The combination of quality, price, reliability, and fast updates should prove very attractive to most users.


Wayne Borean

Wednesday November 2, 2011


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