Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown?

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LibreOffice 5.1 is now an extremely well known contender for the title of “Best Office Suite.” LibreOffice has seen its user-base experiencing consistent growth, and in the last couple of years we have seen a number of large organizations and government departments making the permanent switch to the free Microsoft Office alternative.

It makes sense. LibreOffice has moved from strength to strength and now offer so many premium features across the suite that the glowing comparisons, relative strengths, and benefits of the free suite are causing more people than ever to consider their Office subscription.

LibreOffice 5.1 Download Page

Microsoft released the latest iteration of their office suite behemoth, Office 2016, last September to almost universally positive reviews. However, a central theme to many reviews was of an office suite update that was good, but not amazing, leaving many wondering if the updates Microsoft has delivered will compel enough users to upgrade.

Does this give LibreOffice a chance to wow potential new users? Let’s take a quick look and find out.

LibreOffice 5.1: What’s New?

Despite coming only six months after the previous 5.0 update, LibreOffice 5.1 has packed in a pretty comprehensive table of new features:

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  • Reduced start up times, overall better optimization across all operating systems.
  • User experience improvements focused upon improving productivity.
  • New support for Apple Keynote 6 presentation slides, Gnumeric, VBA macro streams back into MS OOXML.
  • New support for cloud storage providers.
  • A number of new LibreOffice Calc features, including a statistics regression dialogue box with linear, logarithmic, and power support.
  • A host of new LibreOffice Impress functions, modes, and settings, as well as deeper integration of OpenGL for smoother transitions.

As with any major update there are also numerous small feature adjustments throughout the entire suite, as well as the standard bug fixes you would expect.

New Menu Structure

In one of the more visual changes to the LibreOffice environment, users now have access to a single menu containing application specific options. The three main applications – Writer, Calc, and Impress – all receive their own straightforward menu aimed at decreasing the search time to find core application features.

Italo Vignoli, spokesperson for developers, The Document Foundation, and one of their founding members said:

“One menu has been added to each of the three main applications to make it easier for users, so there is a Style menu in Writer, consolidating every style feature in a single menu; in Calc it’s the Sheet menu with every cell or sheet-related command; and Impress has every slide-related command for presentations in a single menu”

Writer then receives the Styles menu, Calc receives the Sheet menu, and Impress receives the Slide menu.

Libre Office 5.1 New Menu Options

The sidebars have also received some minor tweaks here and there, further streamlining operations, which is exactly what you need in your office suite.

New Cloud Storage Integration

LibreOffice 5.1 introduces integrated cloud storage solutions. Users can now connect to various remote servers, including Microsoft SharePoint, Google Drive, OneDrive, Alfresco, WebDAV, and custom FTP servers. You’ll now be able to open files from and save directly to these services without any additional software or a bodged workaround.

LibreOffice 5.1 Open-Save Remote File

To connect to a remote server head to File > Save to a Remote Server. In the new Remote Server panel, head to Add service and select your provider. You’ll then have to enter your credentials. Once you’ve saved your information, your remote server should appear in the same panel. Repeat the process for each remote server you’d like access to.

LibreOffice 5.1 Remote Server Support Options

Once set-up, you’ll only need a couple of clicks of the mouse to access your remote drives in future.

Changes to Formula Engine

The LibreOffice 5.1 update has also brought changes to spreadsheet application, Calc. On top of seemingly basic (but useful!) additions such as new commands for adding rows below and columns right, and PNG export, the Calc formula engine has been adjusted to remove restrictions of table structure references in cells. While not a mind-blowing addition, this change will certainly allow for greater interoperability with other spreadsheet applications, including Microsoft Excel.

As The Document Foundation strive to create an office suite as compatible with other applications as possible, continued development in this area is vital, especially as Microsoft, the leaders in office suite software packages, largely dictate the evolution of file formatting standards.

Also new to Calc is a statistics dialogue box offering users opportunity to calculate statistics regression like power, logarithmic, and linear.

Express With Impress

Sticking with overall update theme of increased productivity, Impress has new shortcuts to speed slide navigation and sorting, new menu links to easily save a background image across all slides, and slide design itself receives an equalize width/height option, aimed at reducing editing time between similar shapes.

The toolbar also has a new addition in the Edit Modes drop-down menu. This new menu allows navigation between master/non-master modes allowing for much easier, much faster switching between content and container.

Finally, all Impress OpenGL transitions have been ported to OpenGL 2.1+. This does remove support for some older GPUs, but makes much better usage of modern ones. Four new transitions have been added to Impress.

More New Features!

On top of those larger changes, The Document Foundation still found time to pack in a whole bunch more.

  • LibreOffice Math comes with new optional auto-closing brackets, as well as support for MathML files stored in the clipboard.
  • LibreOffice Base now supports importing of the Mozilla Thunderbird address book, utilizing a recently updated mork driver.
  • LibreOffice Chart ships with improvements in equation rendering, along with support for negative Y values for Exponential and Power trend lines.

And finally, users can now insert Unicode characters using Alt+”x” shortcut combinations. The list goes on!

Better Than Office 2016?

LibreOffice 5.1 is the undisputed king of the free office suites. Having seriously optimized the underlying LibreOffice code, The Document Foundation can now push the free office suite further afield, with work on the LibreOffice Viewer for Android app and LibreOffice web (coming to us relatively soon) ongoing.

LibreOffice in numbers

Is it competing with Microsoft Office 2016? In some quarters, yes. LibreOffice ships with many major Linux distributions and is certainly extremely popular among users of open source software.

However, and as we hear time and time again, Microsoft Office is the de facto tool for a staggering amount of businesses, academics, and governments. Because of the decades-long slant towards Microsoft, many organizations simply cannot envisage using a different office suite, even if the offerings are just as good in many places, and importantly, free of charge.

The numbers separating Microsoft Office and LibreOffice are disparate, and actually represent a poor way to assess the undoubted achievements of thousands of individuals who have contributed to the ongoing project. If you want a great, free office suite, choose LibreOffice.

How have you found LibreOffice 5.1? Is it enough to make you switch from Microsoft Office? Let us know below!

Image Credit: LibreOffice in Numbers via Collabora Productivity

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