Office 365 vs LibreOffice or OpenOffice

If the in-fighting between LibreOffice and OpenOffice has passed you by, you may simply have assumed LibreOffice is the most up-to-date version of the two, but that isn’t the case. LibreOffice is based on the same code as OpenOffice, but they’re now different forks, with different features and release dates.

However, they have far more in common than not, most notably the price: zilch. Both suites also have a similar look and feel that will be familiar to anyone who grew up on Office 97-Office 2003.

There are no fancy ribbons here, with LibreOffice relying on good old-fashioned commands tucked into nested menus. Want a macro? Go to Tools | Macro. For all the most common commands – Save, Print, Format Painter, Align Text – you click on the icons. Some people may find this easier to use than the ribbon in Office 2013.

Open Office

OpenOffice has just been updated to version 4, which features a sidebar that lets you control common settings depending on what you’re doing at the time.

The suites’ older influences are reflected in the fact that it’s difficult to create beautiful, professional-looking documents. You have to work much harder to get beyond a base level – think changing fonts, headings, colours, paragraph spacing and more – and certain finishing touches are beyond them altogether.

Libre vs Excel

Templates are available, but they leave much to be desired (some date back to 2000); we couldn’t find one that even came close to matching the quality of templates offered by Office.

Microsoft also wins for what we’ll call mobility. Both open-office suites offer little way for users to access files on the go.

Essentially, the only way to access documents on the fly is if you’ve actively chosen to save them to a cloud storage service such as Dropbox or SkyDrive. Even then, you have to be careful about the format in which you save documents. By default, both suites save to ODF (OpenDocument), which isn’t as widely supported as Microsoft’s DOCX.

LibreOffice does at least now make it possible to collaborate on documents in a business environment, thanks to support for Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS).

This standard supports open-source document management systems such as Alfresco, and works with SharePoint, too. Real-time collaboration is off the cards, however, since the system relies on checking files in and out: only one person can make changes at any time, although other people can read the document. The only sense of collaboration comes via comments in your chosen document management system.

Benefits of free

Proponents of open-office suites could rightly argue that we’re concentrating on what you don’t get; what about all the great features included for free? This is a huge plus point for both suites.

For and against

Advantages over Office 365:
-Lots of programs for free
-Familiar interface for traditionalists

Disadvantages:
– Tough to create good-looking documents
– Limited tools for collaboration

In this brief comparison, we haven’t even touched upon the fact there’s a fully powered database tool here, as well as Draw, the alternative to Microsoft’s Publisher.

Of course, not everyone needs to create professional documents, and some businesses may be willing to invest the time and effort required to create good templates.

As with Google Drive, when it comes to calculating value for free software, you should take into account the time spent fiddling with the way your documents look.

If your needs go beyond the basics, how much time will you need to spend to add polish to that document, spreadsheet or presentation?

Return to the main Office 365 feature here.

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