When it comes to free office software, there are two main choices: LibreOffice and OpenOffice (or, to give it its own name, Apache OpenOffice). The two are remarkably similar, so how can you make the right choice for you?
First, it is worth thinking about whether you need desktop office software at all. If you have an internet connection, Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations may provide everything you need without having to install anything, and with the added bonus that everything you create is automatically stored in the cloud. No more lost documents or having to e-mail work to yourself.
However, if you write, create spreadsheets, or make regular presentations, you will find that you need some more advanced features that you will only find in desktop software. If you are in that camp, LibreOffice and OpenOffice are two of the best options there are. They are both free to download and use, even professionally, and they are also open source, meaning their code is publicly available.
Indeed, they are so similar that it is difficult to choose between them, but there are some important differences.
Why are they so similar?
LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice share a common ancestor: OpenOffice.org. This open source office suite was originally developed by the software giant Sun Microsystems, but not all developers were happy with the direction of the project after Sun was taken over by Oracle.
As a result, a group of developers broke out and created a new fork. This became LibreOffice, which has since been hosted by The Document Foundation.
In 2011, Oracle announced that it was terminating the development of OpenOffice.org and donating the code to Apache
What are the differences?
Frequency of releases
One of the biggest differences between Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice is the frequency of releases. LibreOffice is updated much more often than Apache OpenOffice, which means that you will receive new functions and bug fixes faster.
The frequency of updates means that there is also a greater chance of errors in LibreOffice, but every phenomenon is likely to be resolved quickly.
Selection of tools
Both LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice essentially offer the same set of apps (Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Base and Math), but LibreOffice also includes a tool called Diagrams. As the name implies, this is a small application especially for creating charts and diagrams, ready to be imported into other documents. Useful for presentations.
If you are multilingual, it is worth noting that Apache OpenOffice offers more flexibility when it comes to languages, allowing you to download additional language patches as plug-ins. If you choose LibreOffice, you must first choose one language and keep it handy.
If you often have to make presentations, LibreOffice has the lead in terms of the number (and quality) of the available templates for slides. Both software suites offer an abundance of home-made designs for download, but the selection of pre-installed options from LibreOffice is much better than those from OpenOffice.
As you can see from the screengrabs, LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice are almost identical. The functional differences are very small; For example, the sidebar in OpenOffice Writer is open by default, while it is closed in LibreOffice.
LibreOffice looks a bit more modern thanks to the larger icons and leans towards subtle pastel tones, but it is nothing that influences your daily work.
Supported file types
This is probably the biggest determining factor for many people. Although both LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice can open and edit native Microsoft formats DOCX and XLSX, only LibreOffice can save these formats.
If you are going to share documents with people who use Microsoft Office, LibreOffice is therefore the better choice.
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