Friday, January 28, 2011

LibreOffice: An Intriguing Alternative to Microsoft Office

Other than the cost, I have no objections to Microsoft Office. I've used it perforce for years, and I've gotten used to it. Like Xerox copiers and HP LaserJet printers, MS Office is the standard against which all other "office" programs are measured.

(And the cost is perfectly understandable. MS is in business to make money, and they charge what the market will bear. Entities who sell software deserve to make a profit doing it. Don't ever use pirated software, and always pay a reasonable price for software.)

I've also used and enjoyed OpenOffice.org for years. OOo, as it's called, is a "free and open-source" alternative to MS Office. It's very well put together. It's a little larger than MS Office, and it's a little slower than MS Office, but it does some things that MS Office doesn't do, and it does some things better than MS Office does. The user interface (how it looks on the screen and how you interact with it) are a little different from MS Office, but even the MS Office UI changes from version to version. You get used to the OOo interface quickly, and the Help function is very good.

When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems (who were the custodians of OOo), the future of OOo was suddenly called into question. Oracle didn't do anything to allay peoples' fears, and in fact said some things that aggravated those fears. So a movement was started to create another version of OOo, independent of OOo and Oracle's influence. The movement eventually took the name "The Document Foundation," and the name "LibreOffice" was chosen ("libre" as in "free") for the new version of OOo.

TDF embarked on a rapid effort to develop and release LibreOffice before OOo disappeared for good. This week, they released their first production version, called LibreOffice 3.3. (The latest public release of OpenOffice.org is 3.3, and LibreOffice 3.3 is a direct derivative, or fork, of the previous version, OOo 3.2.)

LO 3.3 has some great features. One intriguing feature is the ability to import, edit, and save SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) files. SVG is an open format that is gaining respect, even popularity, among the graphics community for its power and portability.

Another great feature, and the one that excites me the most, is its portability. LO 3.3 can be installed on your hard disk drive, like any other software, but it can also be installed on a removable storage medium - the ubiquitous Flash drive. I installed it on a flash drive, just to try it out.

First, the minuses:
Flash drives aren't fast. Any time the program needs to do a "disk access," as it were, it hesitates. You will notice this when you're typing or mousing and suddenly things freeze for several seconds. You'll also notice that, once in a while, the letters appearing on the screen are a few keystrokes behind your fingers and trying hard to catch up.

I expect that the non-portable version of LO, installed on a hard drive instead of on a flash drive, will run faster. I'll keep you posted.

One area that LO hasn't explored yet is the cloud - the world of software that runs inside a Web browser. Microsoft has a web-based version of MS Office. Google, Yahoo and other big Web actors also have web-based office suites. Whether LO will go there remains to be seen.

Okay, that's it for the minuses. Now for the pluses:
It really, truly works! Please forgive the exclamation point. I was skeptical at first. I tried it on my home computer, an Intel i3 M330 64-bit running at 2.13 GHz with Windows 7, it works fine. I then tried it on my work computer, an older machine with an Intel Pentium D dual-core running at 2.8 GHz with Windows XP Pro, and it works equally well. I'll have to try it on some older machines and see how they do.

Okay, so the fact that it works is the only plus so far. I'm sure I'll be adding to the list as time goes on.

Cautions:
As one would expect, it eats up a lot of disk space. Installation on a flash drive takes 482 MB.

And be careful removing the flash drive! I don't know what tricks TDF did to make LO run directly from the flash drive, but because of those tricks, you must make sure that you have completely exited LibreOffice, and closed all of its windows, before you remove the flash drive from the computer. It's also a good idea to tell your computer you want to "Eject" or "Safely remove" the flash drive before you pull it out. If you don't know how to do this, you shouldn't be using the portable version of LibreOffice. Just install it on your hard drive, and you'll be happy.

Where to get it:LibreOffice 3.3 is available for free download from http://www.libreoffice.org/ . The portable version is available for free download from http://www.libreofficeportable.org/ . If that link stops working, then try http://portableapps.com/apps/office/libreoffice_portable/ .

PortableApps.com is an intriguing concept, the gist of which is that you put portable versions of all the apps (er, programs) you really need on a portable device such as a flash drive or MP3 player, and carry it around with you all the time. To run your applications, you plug the flash drive into the nearest computer, open the flash drive, and click on the program you want to run. It doesn't require you to install anything on the host computer, and it doesn't secretly install anything, either, or write any temporary files on the host computer. It's very clean, and very polite.

PortableApps.com has an entire suite of such programs, and they're proud to add LibreOffice Portable to their suite. At this time, LO Portable and PortableApps.com only work on Windows machines. But the non-portable version of LO 3.3 works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux machines.

End note 1, Nerd talk: Some people keep their Linux on a bootable flash drive as well. I guess you could install LO 3.3 on your bootable Linux flash drive!

End note 2, Money talk:
LO is free. So is OOo. In the phrase "free and open source," free means free, like the air you breathe. But they're always willing to accept donations. If you save $100 to $500 by using LO in place of MS Office, consider donating part of the money you saved to TDF. Your donation will help to keep it free.

End note 3, Truth in advertising:
Unlike that crap that passes for reviews of the ripoff known as ProFlightSimulator, this is an honest, original, and independent review. Nobody asked me to write it, and I don't get any compensation of any kind for writing it. I simply think that this is a good product, one that other people will want to know about. If you don't believe me, go read my article, "Blogging for Dollars". If you still don't believe me, I don't care.

UPDATE! MAY 17, 2012: OpenOffice is back! Who would have imagined? Oracle decided they didn't want it, but rather than kill it, they put it in a basket on the Apache Incubator's doorstep. Now it's been renamed Apache Open Office and it's ready to roll. Will you switch back?

3 comments:

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

An interesting and informative post, my pickled owl friend. Being on Mac, and having had a discussion about MS Office 2011 vs Open Office vs NeoOffice (which I heartily disliked) this comes as intriguing news to me. I may well download LO and give it a try, after I finish puzzling my computer's problems. I think it, like I, has the flu.

Jason Depew said...

Very cool. Though I'm a slave to MS Office, I'm a huge OOo fan and have visions of abandoning the one for the other. I'll have to give Libre a try.

(I need to learn a romance language some day...my limited knowledge had me thinking you were writing about a suite called "BookOffice.")

Zyzmog said...

Commenting on my own blog entry: I said that LO hadn't addressed a cloud-based version, as MS Office and Google had done. Well, the email announcement for the portable version said it was for "USB, removable and cloud drives." I guess they're waiting for someone to install it in their cloud servers and make it atmospherically accessible.