Mar 052013

Article from Tcat Houser editor-in-chief of

It is probably a fair bet that as long as humans are Homo sapiens we are going to see forking of our binaries. As with most things there are both reasons to cheer and have a feeling of doom. Here we are going to look at the three most popular Office Suites: OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and Microsoft Office.

Unless you are a student of history or like me, are a human fossil, you would not know there was a day when Microsoft was the rebel camp. Data was chained in silos, hidden behind glass walls and maintained by high priests. It was also very expensive. A user had to go to a high priest and beg for services.

Microsoft was the rebel leader with a very low-cost operating system and programming language. It grew up to become the benevolent dictator. Somewhere along the way it lost the word, benevolent.

There was an independent company in Silicon Valley known as Sun Microsystems. While they made their money in hardware with their Sparc systems, they had a low-cost competitor to the Microsoft Office Suite known as Star Office. It really was not very good however I would buy some copies at $50 a seat because even in the late 1990s Microsoft was already losing its benevolence.

OpenOffice traces its roots back to StarOffice. With the collapse of Sun Microsystems they were swallowed up by Oracle. In a political move the company spent more time worrying about what they’re going to do with Java then Star Office/Open Office. However they did not ignore it and rallied to remove any leader of the project that was not an Oracle employee.

This caused a groundswell of revolution and LibreOffice was born. So was a fork in the programming code.

Most of the Linux distributions went with LibreOffice. Certainly, this make sense as OpenOffice was being managed and maintained solely by Oracle Corporation.

Over the years the dust has settled a bit and the animosity between the two alternatives to Microsoft Office has abated.

Which Should You Choose?

That is a very difficult question to answer, without knowing more about your situation. You may in fact need to use Microsoft Office.

It’s a Matter of Collaboration

It really depends on your work environment. If what you are doing in knowledge working and management is done 100% either by yourself or within a single entity if you choose to break out a hammer and chisel carving Slate stones before inking them and running paper over the inked stone, you can get away with it.

If you have to send documents and spreadsheets to other people you may or may not be able to get away with using one of the open source office suites.

It’s a Matter of Complexity

Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice are here to stay. Personally, I use LibreOffice and Microsoft Office.

LibreOffice has features that I both want and need that I cannot find in Microsoft Office. Some of the free extensions out there are just incredible. However there is one area where OpenOffice beats LibreOffice, hands down. That is compatibility in the output to Microsoft Office.

Where we sit and 2013 is: LibreOffice is more nimble and has more features offered. And this comes at the expense of the compatibility of the output to Microsoft Office. This is where OpenOffice leaves LibreOffice in the dust.

Because of my collaboration needs I also must have Microsoft Office. One area where Microsoft leaves the other office competitors in the dust is in the spreadsheet arena. Microsoft has welded it to its SQL. There are third-party worksheets that even unpopulated with data that would not fit on yesterday’s floppy.

When All You Have Is a Hammer, Everything Looks like a Nail

I know I’m not going to be able to change human nature. People will continue to try to use a word processor when a document processor such as LaTeX would be a better choice. I have watched knowledge workers use auto complete to manage as an address book.

You and I might know a better way. That does not mean we get to be the benevolent dictator.

If you are forced to deal with other people that use Microsoft Office out of laziness or necessity, the reality is OpenOffice is your better choice. The more you are producing your output for faxing, camera ready output or other finished product the more freedom you have. In that case you will probably be happier with LibreOffice

That’s how I see it and I stand in front of you ready to take the arrows.

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  29 Responses to “OpenOffice versus LibreOffice versus The World”

  1. What about Calligra Suite?

  2. I have encountered PPTX files are opened better with LibreOffice 4 than OpenOffice, especially when smart art is used. So, with my personal experience, I think LibreOffice is better in compatibility than OpenOffice.

    Can you please mention which MsOffice file formats are better supported by OpenOffice than LibreOffice?

    • Hey Deekshith, you pegged me to the wall, LOL. Here’s the deal. Only this weekend I did my first “slide show” since the 90’s, as a test for video output. I’m a PPT ID10T! And to answer your question, OO org runs rings around Libre Office in the DOC (X) world.

      As I mentioned in the article, folks like to try to use DOC (x) as LaTeX or MS Publisher. ๐Ÿ™ The harder they push that, the more it breaks between MS Office and the Open Source world.

      I don’t know much about the XLS world except as part of my life another firm I work with found the Open Source stuff could not handle the weight a really heavy spreadsheets. I noodled out it the reason is MS Excel is bonded to MS SQL.

      The reason I was playing with PPT is I’m re-visiting YouTube and Marketing. I was *so wrong* in my guesses from 2009. It DID work. It just took a few days short of forever to get there.

      This certainly is not a Linux question so I won’t go into it more here. If you are wondering I put the data (and how I blew it) here.

      • > OO org runs rings around Libre Office in the DOC (X) world.

        I’d love to fix your bug(s) around DOC(X) – it’s something we invest a lot of effort into. Please can you mail me your documents privately (and in confidence) so they can be fixed. I strongly suspect some small feature causing the aggravation. And of course at LibreOffice we care passionately about improving interoperability – so this is a disappointing and unexpected outcome – indeed, as some commenters have mentioned they really appreciated the improvements we’ve made all over including the DOC(X) filters.

        I look forward to your bug report ! ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks.

        • Cool! Let’s take this off line! Tcat a t TR c B dot com

          As I said recently, I blew a 20K a month gig teaching because my security profile created in the latest Libre Office would not open in whatever the AUE govt is using….

  3. Jan you bring up an interesting question! I’ve been more focused on the desktop angle where the ‘heavy lifting’ commonly occurs. Calligra seems to be moving fast in the tablet space. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Where my crystal ball is foggy is:

    Will the tablet space rely more on ‘Cloud’ or Remote Desktop calls OR/AND depend on local processing such as Calligra?

    It is a Tough Call. Part of the reason for the lack of clarity is different strokes for different cultures. Example: the QR code has been part of regular life in Japan. In the EU, less so. In the USA its on the ketchup bottle and I sure don’t see anyone using their mobile camera to donate to charity (even with Heinz money) by clicking on the QR code.

    I applaud the speed at which Calligra is progressing ๐Ÿ™‚ What I don’t know yet is: Is it a solution in search of a problem?

    That will depend on a culture by culture basis for the answer.

    We’ll all have to stay tuned to find out :<

    Meanwhile I'm researching more Qt applications. Check back here soon for that.


  4. Could you please give precise examples where OpenOffice produces better Microsoft Office files than LibreOffice?

    • Hi Snort!

      In a short answer, no.

      Longer answer. I am an independent consultant/researcher/writer. I work with a variety of firms, globally. Showing precise examples would be revealing data from firms I have a limited and specific role.

      I can say from the larger view, the dust has settled. LibreOffice is the more nimble fox of research. moves more slowly and incorporates (later) LibreOffice features and does a better job on complex files. At the end of the day, some are just stuck with MS Office.




      • Given LibreOffice has included extra support for DOCX and can actually write files in the latest Microsoft Office formats, I would have said you have your advice the wrong way round. Apache OpenOffice is for people who want to stick to a long-lived brand and don’t mind having loads of stuff missing; LibreOffice is for people who need to interoperate with “the real world” including reading MS VIsio and MS Publisher files.

        There’s a refreshingly honest feature comparison with MS Office on the TDF wiki that may help; I’m not aware of a similar chart for Apache, maybe another reader knows?

        • Thank you, TC!

          And we can add that MS Office now reads ODT files, right? Well sorta Yes, sorta no.

          It comes down to complexity and specific functions.

          The two things I’m sure of: This topic is changing and fast moving. The other is it is like shoes. Gotta find the right size and style for the job at hand. (Don’t go dancing in worker boots ๐Ÿ˜‰

          I’m not in charge of what versions of any of the Office Suites a firm uses. Some are back at MS 07. Others are cutting edge Libre. Some have no problems. Others it is hell on earth.

          One of my main points was about having to collaborate file formats. It is *impossible* to say this or that works or doesn’t, to a specific task. If you see something I don’t or know of better research, I’m buying you a beer! ๐Ÿ™‚

          My thoughts are based on dealing with this digital mess since Star Office, and my daily work. I’m certainly open to learning more to bring some peace to the pile of bits!

  5. While on the topic of and LibreO I have something for you that is too short for an article and still very useful. and

    Funny thing is I am using the one in LibreO V4.

    I use it to replace a double space with XML markup in a batch file. That XML is required to make the Text To Speech (TTS) to create the files found on Google Play.

    While I have both free and paid there, this is not a plug to buy my work as it is a very niche market focus (US Military – DoD folks in IT) … Still you may want to sample some of the free stuff to get the concept… The concept is to learn dull boring crap to pass an exam while you are doing something more fun and/or useful.

    The key is repetition, which is why the voices are fast — you don’t ‘listen’, you play.

    Doing the XML markup in a batch file using this extension saves gaggles of time.

  6. Regarding file format compatibility with MS Office, I absolutely disagree with your judgement. I run here LibreOffice 4.0.1 and Apache OpenOffice 3.4.1. I get lots of MS Office files and almost always LibreOffice produces the better results in import and export, particularly with docx, pptx, xlsx. There are some few examples, where .doc were opened better in AOO, but these were very rare examples.

    • Hey Aldi: whom says: “I absolutely disagree with your judgement”

      GREAT! I am Delighted to hear that! (True and really)

      ” I run here LibreOffice 4.0.1 and Apache OpenOffice 3.4.1. I get lots of MS Office files and almost always LibreOffice produces the better results in import and export, particularly with docx, pptx, xlsx.”

      What I notice is you are speaking of state of the art, 2013. Cool.

      that is not what the entire world runs under. :<

      My comments and blog, I didn't do for trash talk. I'm not (yet) crazy. Some folks (companies) are still on MS Office 2000.

      Your world may have rare examples.

      I recently had my Security Preview for the AUE blow up in a DOCX file from Libre. Would not open on whatever the hell they are using. That is my world when I wrote the blog post, and it hasn't changed in my world since Star Office.

      Yes, Libre is moving faster then anyone. And I blew my data to the AUE only 3 weeks ago for my visa entry for work in a DOCX file. Using the latest Libre.

      The point is the rest of the world has to be as current as you or both are STUFFED.

  7. One of the biggest differences I found a few years ago was between MicroSoft Access and OpenOffice Base. None of the queries, screens, or reports were transferable. I had to recreate all of that with different approaches to get similar results. What a pain that was. At least I was able to access that data I had.

    Has that changed now? Are they more compatible? And what about LibreOffice? Which Is more compatible with Access now?


  8. I am finally making the break from ms office (yes i know, years behind time). Your article told me exactly what I wanted to know, on a note perfect info/humour/waffle ratio. Thank you.

  9. Libre office totally kills spreadsheet macros I’ve been using for two decades and it seems to be all about wrong data types in VB and passing data. It looks like they are so anxious for modern (=trendy) scripting that they are ignoring VBA. Clearly no QA in this area.

    I’m removing it from my MacBook and will install OO after I lick my wounds and figure out what happened on an 8 year old m$ PC.

  10. I think you did OO a disjustice in not mentioning it was no longer control by Oracle.

  11. I can’t speak for LibreOffice, but OpenOffice is a total mess…at least the version I try to use on my MacBook. In just the last week I came across two ridiculous glitches: every color hex value I enter is interpreted as some shade of gray, and when I try to sort data it…well, doesn’t sort correctly. At all. The latter is a very basic spreadsheet function…if it doesn’t work, something is very wrong.

    Thusly, I declare OpenOffice as an unfortunate piece of crap. I won’t even go into it’s issues with Office compatibility, which are largely Microsoft’s fault, but somewhat simply due to shoddy/lazy programming.

    I find Google Docs is actually a more reliable solution than OpenOffice (and for collaboration, it is utterly awesome). I’ve yet to try LibreOffice.

  12. I’ve used LibreOffice for Ubuntu Linux, OpenOffice for Ubuntu Linux and MS Office 2000 for XP and work in a large bureaucracy where MS Office is the only supported office suite tool. In many repects none of these work now that MS Office 2007 and newer are in vogue. As TCat says, OpenOffice Writer converts better to MS Word 97 and DOCX. Neither Libre- or Open-office writer for Linux convert very well. Only the simplest text features will convert. Tables won’t convert. Both Libre and Open scramble table contents from Word documents and Libre and Open tables will not convert at all to a Word table. The comments in edit tracking won’t convert in either, though Libre-Office keeps them separate while OpenOffice will bunch every comment together and display them all at each comment entry. OpenOffice writer maintains more of the overall formating style, but never fully, so you can never count on a conversion either way to look the same as initially laid out. LibreOffice can’t handle inserted graphics of a Word doc or docx. LibreOffice will put the graphics in odd places and interfere with existing text such that the text disappears. Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice writer chokes on inserted elements like text boxes. LibreOffice won’t show all the content of the text boxes and sometimes not at all. And so on. In summary, if you are on a project where the wordprocessor files are being shared to create a final result, the exact same word processor needs to be used by the team. Since I am overshadowed by Word users, I am stuck either using Word or taking on all the writing / formating myself and while frustrating my colleagues that have to work with limited text formats for their edting (yes, MS has a monopoly now because of fear of change to taking up freeware once the bureaucracy has invested in the MS jugernaut). Since I moved to Linux to get away from IT bureaucrats and the MS control freaks, I have doomed myself to inefficiency (because i work in teams where everyone else uses MS).

    RE: Spreadsheets. For the simple stuff, Libre, Open and MS convert one for one with each other. Introducing graphs and other add-ons introduces conversion problems.

    RE: presentation. Used ppt and odp. Keep it simple and they convert well enough between them. Most issues are in the different font sets between systems. PPT has more features to wow people and distract the audience from the message.

    RE: databases. Used Access and tried to use Open base and then convert to Access. Hopelessly complicated. gave up.

    Reminder. This is all about the Ubuntu Linux versions verus the MS versions for XP.


    Office suites do just fine in their own worlds

  13. I am a author and I wish not only that Libre Office was more compatible with Microsoft office but to add a feature that would save me a lot of grief. When I write a sentence that overlaps into the next line. If I want to change the context to a ” ” I want to do so without cutting out the word or sentence and pasting it 4 tabs over. Make it so I can click beside the word, even if it is at the beginning of the left side of the page without having a ” at the beginning to be able to shift over several spaces. I know this is nitpicking but it would really make my day.

  14. I use LibreOffice because it comes with Ubuntu… but I should mention that by default it does not come with the Canadian English spell check dictionary. That is a ridiculous oversight, when Australian, British and American English dictionaries are installed by default. I now have to go through a complicated process of adding the en_CA extension, even though it is misleadingly listed in the options for Languages. Why don’t people realize that we are not British, we are not Australian, and we are not American?!

    I have no idea if this is an issue with OpenOffice, but LibreOffice does the job well enough that I’m not going to bother uninstalling it and installing OO, just to discover that LO was indeed the better option.

  15. Sorry, but this article is simply a joke. Better remove it, before people get hurt.

  16. Once I had to make a quite complex Excel workbook with many sheets and a large data set (27K lines and 12+ fields each) that the worksheets had to analyize. A recalculation took 4-10s on a quad-core machine.

    I could never make the formulas to collect info from all the data lines, 5 to 20 lines were always missing from the graphs and reports. But when I opened this monster in OpenOffice, we saw a miracle: everything was right. Back to Excle, and the lines were missing again.

    Is OO or LO better than MS Office? I don’t think so. But they are free and technically they can match MSO. I think they both worth a try.

  17. One huge advantage Libre has over Open in the fact that it can open works documents. Quite often when setting up a new PC we are asked to transfer works files over but cannot install their works as it was a preinstalled version.

    Open office and even Microsoft Office to a large extent struggles with these .wks and .xlr files.

  18. Whenever I receive an proprietary MS document I send it back and request an open format.

  19. Thanks for the article. Funny and helpful!

  20. I’m spreadsheet user since Lotus-123 (for DOS), Lotus Symphony (for DOS), Lotus-123 for Windows up to Lotus-123 2000, use MS Excel since the year 2001, and now I use Libre Office Calc (mostly), rarely MSExcel, and almost one full year didn’t touch OOo/AOO.

    Back in the year 2009:
    I can open/create/modify/save *.xlsx or *.xlsb files with Open Office org without any problem, as long as the files has no macro. The only problem is speed.
    Libre Office not there yet.

    This year 2013:
    Libre office still has problem with MS Excel files. Only open *.xlsx, and can’t open *.xlsb file, but has better spreadsheet macro support.
    I don’t know how ApacheOO handle *.xlsx/*.xlsb and spreadsheet macros.

  21. Thank you for a well written article, very good reading. I liked it !

    I have personal experience in some of the challenges LibreOffice has with Office, well actually it’s Office’s problem, since Office has a lack of will to read anything not genuine Office, but since a majority of users use Office, it’s back to you and it’s your problem….
    So after reading this I might give Open Office a try. Nothing wrong with Libre Office but sending spreadsheet back and forth between Libreoffice/Office was a challenge. . . I never solved it. Followed all the good advice, but still had lines missing, and macros…… ohhh nooo!

    Maybe you could add a chapter for the early editor’s as well. Remember as a student we had a BIG Prime whatever solution, and a fantastic editor that allowed us to edit all text in one sentence full page width…. remember the feeling of a major braketrough… yepp I am so old that I know what a 320K floppy is….. miss Dos 3.0 cheers

  22. I have to disagree with the assessment that OpenOffice is compatible with Micro$oft Office than LibreOffice since the former can only open the newer .docx, .pptx, and .xlsx formats, while LibreOffice can both open and save to them. LibreOffice is also the only third party application I know of that can open Publisher files, if only in read-only form.

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