LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice, Part Deux

Well it’s been a momentous few weeks for FOSS fans recently, not least because LibreOffice — one of the most popular exemplars of free and open source software today — celebrated its second anniversary late last month.

“In just 24 months, we have achieved what many people thought was impossible when the project was launched,” said Thorsten Behrens, SUSE developer and deputy chairman of the Document Foundation board.

Indeed, with 325 active committers over the last 12 months, LibreOffice is now the third-largest free software project listed on Ohloh focused on the development of a desktop application, Behrens said, following only Firefox and Chrome.

‘It Has a Better License’

Yes, it’s been a glorious journey ever since LibreOffice was forked from back in 2010, and Linux Girl has come to rely on the young package exclusively for the writing she does every day.

With LibreOffice now a default part of Linux distributions large and small, in fact, many wonder whether a place for OpenOffice remains.

It’s a question bloggers were mulling earlier this year, and recently — thanks to a blog post that popped up last Monday — it’s been on their minds once again.

“If you are like me, you prefer LibreOffice over (Apache) OpenOffice because (1) It has a better open source license. (2) It has more community support. (3) It is more rapidly developing and releasing updates,” the post innocently begins.

However, it comes to a shocking conclusion.

‘OpenOffice Just Works’

Namely, when working with spreadsheets on the job, “LibreOffice has a bug that has persisted for many months, whereas OpenOffice just works.”

Holy Surprise Endings, Batman! Yes, you heard that right: “in this case, the solution is to use OpenOffice,” the blog post concludes.

Did that start a merry little conversation in the Linux blogosphere? You bet it did — not just in the comments on the post itself but also on LXer and at blogobars throughout the land.

Linux Girl fired up her LibreOffice engines and tried to take down as much as she could.

‘The Damage Has Been Done’

“I rarely find myself in a position outside of work that I’m required to use an Office product, and even instances inside of work are more rare than for most, I’d imagine,” Google+ blogger Linux Rants offered, for example.

“I use LibreOffice, and will no longer use OpenOffice,” Linux Rants told Linux Girl. “Oracle’s heavy-handed attempt at taking it over soured me to the entire project.

“I realize at this point that it’s been given back to the community, but the damage has been done for me,” he added. “I moved to LibreOffice as soon as it was available, and have no plans on returning to OpenOffice.”

‘IBM and Oracle Made a Big Mistake’

In fact, “LibreOffice is clearly superior,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed.

“They have been coding like mad for years now while was checking licenses,” he added. “Really, was good, but it seriously lacked useful features like SVG, which Sun sat on for years.”

LibreOffice, on the other hand, “made it a much higher priority,” Pogson noted. “They also threw out dead/sub-optimal code, so LibreOffice is pretty smooth these days.”

In short, “IBM and Oracle made a big mistake trying to maintain the status quo with,” he concluded. “Sooner or later they will have to admit that or spend lots of money re-inventing the wheel instead of using shared code.”

‘They Will Continue to Limp Along’

Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, had a different view.

“Over time I have come back to appreciating OpenOffice, although I am not really a fan of office suites,” Travers explained. “I still prefer Gnumeric for most spreadsheet work, truth be told, in particular because of mature LaTeX export support.”

In any case, “both projects have a lot of work ahead of them, and hopefully both will prosper,” he said.

“If OpenOffice can get their act together and encourage the right sorts of community, then they will have a bright future, possibly brighter than that of LibreOffice,” Travers predicted. “If they can’t, they will continue to limp along.”

‘The GPL Is More End-User Friendly’

For Slashdot blogger hairyfeet, it’s all a matter of licensing.

“The Apache license is more developer friendly, the GPL is more end-user friendly, so it all depends on which of those you are,” he explained.

“If you are a business that wants to build custom applications on top of an office suite? Then use OO,” hairyfeet said. “If you are just Sally homemaker who needs a way to type up her recipes? Then LO is more for you.”

‘We Keep a Copy of LibreOffice at Church’

Indeed, more than a few bloggers could see a place for multiple competing packages.

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack, for instance, is placing his bets for the long run on LibreOffice, he told Linux Girl.

Nevertheless, “it really doesn’t surprise me that people feel the need to keep more than one brand of office software around,” he added.

“We already have to keep a copy of LibreOffice around at church in case someone comes in with a PowerPoint presentation that somehow manages to end up with something incompatible with Office Viewer, and somehow resaving it using the latest version of MS Office won’t fix it,” Mack explained.

‘Use What Works for You’

Similarly, “I find that one can complement the other,” Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol agreed.

“Actually, I use IBM’s take on OpenOffice — Lotus Symphony — quite often, as it has better support for .docx rendering, so I don’t find it so bad to work with the two,” Ebersol added.

In fact, “as someone who has been teaching office apps for many years, the overall story should be that all of them are pretty much the same,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien suggested.

“I can use MS Office at work and LibreOffice at home and be just as productive in either,” he explained. “So why not just use what works for you? The differences, when you find them, are always weird marginal cases that 99 percent of people would never encounter.

“If you have one of those oddball cases, and OpenOffice works better than LibreOffice, just use it,” O’Brien concluded. “It is still free software.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

1 Comment

  • I started using LibreOffice rather than MS Office for a while now.

    After switching to DIA from Visio (DIA is soooo much better) and GIMP, Scribus, Inkscape from Adobe products, I thought that I’d try out OpenOffice. It had much fewer features compared to Libre. Plus, we needed the converttopdf feature of Libre that Open didn’t have.

    The only issue with Libre is the amount of bugs and that it is not cross compatible with Word. Clearest example: make a docx, try opening it with word 2010, it won’t open. another: make a table of contents, save it as a .doc, try opening it with word, table’s not cmopatible. another: make a list of illustrations. they come up, but you can’t ctrl+click on them to see those illustrations.

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