Document Foundation Freshens Up LibreOffice

The Document Foundation last week announced that it was rolling out LibreOffice 5.4.1 Fresh, the first minor upgrade to its LibreOffice 5.4 open source suite of productivity apps introduced earlier this summer. It also announced LibreOffice 5.3.6 Still, representing the sixth release of its LibreOffice 5.3 family originally introduced in January.

LibreOffice 5.4.1, which represents the “bleeding edge” in terms of features, targets technology enthusiasts and early adopters, the foundation said. LibreOffice 5.3.6 targets more conservative users and is geared toward deployment within enterprises.

LibreOffice 5.4.1 includes compatibility improvements, as well as about 100 bug and regression fixes, according to the foundation. Version 5.3.6 contains about 50 bug and regression fixes.

Among the improved features, the upgrade to 5.3 includes a cross-platform text layout engine, which allows consistent text layout across various operating systems, Matthias Eckermann, director of Suse Linux Enterprise product management, told LinuxInsider.

The upgraded version of 5.4 has improved input filters for EMF (Enhanced MetaFile, an image format used for printing in Windows), plus vector image format. Thus far, the upgrades have been well received, according to the foundation.

Greater Enterprise Adoption

There are between 150 million and 200 million users using LibreOffice, said Italo Vignoli, spokesperson for The Document Foundation.

“Most users are happy with LibreOffice and with the progress of each new user release in terms of user interface, features, quality and stability,” he told LinuxInsider.”Some users who stumble into specific bugs complain about their bug not being solved immediately, but are often new to the open source ecosystem and therefore do not have a clear understanding of the process,” Vignoli said.

The foundation will roll out a new series of minor fixes for LibreOffice 5.4 in September, October and November, he noted, while alpha and beta releases for LibreOffice 6.0 will begin in October, with its official release scheduled for early next year.

The upgraded LibreOffice has helped drive additional demand from enterprise customers, observed Michael Meeks, general manager of Collabora Productivity and deputy chairman of The Document Foundation board. Collabora is the leading contributor to LibreOffice.

“Clearly, our substantial investments in improving interoperability, and working with customers to fix their specific issues, fill missing gaps and migrate people [is starting] to pay off,” he told LinuxInsider.

Collabora has announced several new or renewed enterprise users, Meeks said, including 1,500 users at the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Bayern, Germany, and 1,000 users at regioIT who use Collabora Online with Nextcloud, the company’s LibreOffice-based cloud productivity software.

Open source productivity suites like LibreOffice have helped drive more enterprise adoption of open source platforms, said Forrest Smith, director of product CX at Neverware.

“I think the boom you see in open source protects everyone,” he told LinuxInsider.

Distant Horizon

While LibreOffice offers a few nice improvements from the recent launch of 5.4 and the earlier launch of the 5.3 family, the product has a long road to travel before it is able to supplant Office 365 in any meaningful way, suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“LibreOffice is the default standard for Linux users, but it hasn’t penetrated much on Windows or the macOS,” he told LinuxInsider.

The focus on Linux has left the impression among many potential users that adoption for the Mac or Windows user is not under consideration, and there isn’t enough backing to create a marketing effort to convince potential users otherwise, Enderle said.

LibreOffice faces two key obstacles, said Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research. One is that it is swimming upstream against Office 365, which he considers to be the greatest product ever developed by Microsoft.

“Our enterprise customers want to see Office 365 format deliverables — period,” he told LinuxInsider. “We can’t afford to have even small hiccups in supported features, or minor file format inconsistencies.”

His firm uses G Suite as the preferred tool for internal collaboration, Teich said, noting that what Google does well with its suite of productivity tools is make online document collaboration “blindingly simple.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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