Seven Reasons for Choosing LibreOffice over Microsoft Office

OK, LibreOffice is free for the download, and you can install it on as many different machines as you choose. But a free price and a free license aren’t much good if the software doesn’t have the features you want.

Happily, that’s usually not a concern with LibreOffice or its predecessor, OpenOffice. Although many people assume that a free application must be inferior to one that they pay for, a comparison of LibreOffice with Microsoft Office (MSO) proves that the opposite is often true. Sometimes, MSO has features that LibreOffice lacks, but, just as often, it’s LibreOffice that has more tools than MSO.

However, unless you’re concerned about a must-have feature, there’s usually no need for a point by point comparison. Focusing on performance and high-level interface choices alone, I can think of at least seven reasons to choose LibreOffice over MS Office:

7. The Classic Menu Structure

In 2007, Microsoft Office has replaced the standard menu and toolbar with a ribbon, a collection of tabs with links and icons. Although most users have made their peace with the ribbon, many have not. Only a handful of other software companies have switched to ribbons, and, five years later, at least one company offers software to convert MSO to standard menus and toolbars at $38 per box.

By contrast, LibreOffice / OpenOffice.org have experimented with ribbons in pilot projects, but officially retain the classic look. Although nobody has shown that either the standard or ribbon layout is superior to the other, the standard layout does have the advantage of being easier to read, and of allowing users to discover functionality more easily. Being less compressed, the standard layout is also easier to read for those with limited close-up vision.

6. Common Code and Interfaces

Unlike MSO, LibreOffice is not a collection of originally separate programs grouped together by branding and a few interface choices. Instead, LibreOffice applications were designed to share as much code as possible.

This organization means that a LibreOffice installation occupies less hard drive space than an equivalent MSO installation, and is generally faster on the same machine. In these days of multi-terabyte hard drives, that may not matter on a workstation, although it could still be an issue on a netbook or lower end lap top.

Even more importantly, many dialogs are the same between applications, which makes learning easier. For example, windows for formatting text or its background in styles dialogs are identical whether you are formatting a text document or a spreadsheet cell.

5. Greater design control

MSO offers templates for slide backgrounds, tables, bullet styles, and almost every other feature. These templates have the advantage of being quick to insert, but users have extremely limited control over them.

For those who want hands-on control over the details of their document design, LibreOffice rivals a low to medium end layout program. Features can often be set to one or two decimal places, ensuring that your design is exactly as you want it. Experienced users, of course, will save the results in a template so they don’t have to create a layout more than once.

4. A regular six month release cycle

In the last decade, MSO has averaged a release every three years. Users have to pay for upgrades, although the cost is less than buying an entirely new version. These new releases have often been late, and have frequently changed file formats

In the few years of its existence, LibreOffice has settled into six month release cycles. While few office suites have major changes at this stage in their evolution, this release cycle means that LibreOffice can respond more quickly to changing needs and evolve more quickly. So far, releases have been more or less on time, and backward compatibility is total. Each release is free for the download.

3. Better navigation

One of LibreOffice / OpenOffice.org’s unique features is the Navigator. This floating window allows you to move through the document by using headers, graphics, tables, sections, cross-references, comments, hyperlinks, and other objects, and reposition sections of a document in relation to one another. It is especially effective if the objects you added are given descriptive names — for instance, if a picture is labeled “Author profile shot” rather than the default “graphics1.” The longer the document, the more useful the Navigator becomes.

The closest MSO has to the Navigator is its search functions, which are not nearly as convenient if you want to move to more than one position in the document.

2. More extensive styles and automation

Besides the usual character and paragraph styles, LibreOffice includes styles for pages, lists, and frames — none of which have more than limited equivalencies in MSO when they have any at all. These features help to automate features like tables of contents or outline lists. Learn to use them properly, and the time-saving can be immense, especially when editing extensively.

1. Greater stability

MSO works reasonably well in smaller documents — for instance, in twenty page text files. However, the larger the file, the more likely it is to crash, opening the possibility that it will become too corrupt to be recovered.

This limitation is in marked contrast to LibreOffice. Its ancestor OpenOffice.org is rumored to have been designed for stability because its original coders were required to write its documentation in the program. This rumor is credible, because (as I can personally witness) LibreOffice is capable of handling documents hundreds of pages long or hundreds of megabytes in size. The main limitation is the amount of RAM on the system you are using.

LibreOffice does occasionally crash. However, unlike MSO, the times that it has failed to recover all files after a crash are so few that I have to strain to remember them.

In fact, in ten years of using LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org, I can only recall two unrecoverable crashes — one of which was on a document of over 960 pages. By comparison, I have had as many crashes with MSO in a day.

Beyond free cost and license

As these points show, using LibreOffice is not just a political statement or a matter of putting up with inconveniences for the sake of multiple installations from the same source.

Of course, free cost and free licenses can be significant advantages. But, in LibreOffice’s case, there are also pragmatic reasons for preferring free software over its proprietary rivals. Install LibreOffice and start to use it with an open mind, and you should find additional reasons to prefer it as well.

BY BRUCE BYFIELD

Comments

  • Jaap Aap says:

    Speed and stability seem a bit of a stretch – mso wins hands down in these areas for me. But on my list there are 2 more items that more than make up for that: More file formats (unicode csv!) and Python scripting.

  • Adhish Majumdar says:

    Personally I find that LibreOffice is very good as long as one sticks with the open document formats. In my experience, everytime I have had to collaborate with someone who used MS Office, it has been a disaster (especially for doc, docx, ppt, pptx) and has forced me to return to MS Office.

  • Jeff says:

    Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and question the objectivity of some of your statements, especially in the speed and stability areas. I could report the exact opposite behaviors as you has described with LO and MSO. Certainly you can acknowledge that each subsequent release of both suites have made huge stability and speed gains. But to project your personal experience as a definitive statement for speed/stability certainly raises questions.

  • twogun says:

    I find that anyone who fails to reconize the LO’s stablity are those who have not truly wittness the instablity of MSO. MSO especialy starts to choke on very large documents while when LO will pur along. As far as compatiblity, I have just as much luck using LO to open MSO files as I do using MSO. The problems I’ve seen going from different version of MSO to another. Really MS can’t propperly make their own product backword comapible. I understand the older version not rendering the newer versions file but sometimes it’s the other way. why? When I went to collage I used Open Office and never had a problem with my document rendering with MSO on the university machines, people with older versions of MSO at home were always having problems.

    I’m not saying LO is better, I’m just saying MSO isn’t any better so why pay for it.

  • Adrian Johns says:

    I would echo others’ comments about stability, but for me (as a professional writer of books, among other things) the fatal flaw in LO, as in OpenOffice, is that its wordcounts don’t match those produced by MS Word. Maybe LO’s count is right, but it doesn’t matter: publishers trust Word, so it’s absolutely crucial that any other word processor that a writer might use should produce a count equal to Word’s.

  • New Mexico Mark says:

    I for one can confirm the stability (and recoverability) of LO vs. MSO.

    Collaboration using MSO’s horrible file formats has been a mixed bag. Usually it works fine, but the less the other party knows about general best practices and/or the more complex a document, the more likely it is things will be lost in translation.

    In addition to the reasons given, I’d add that anything that gets me away from MSO’s Lovecraft-esque nightmare of a file “standard” (that takes over 20,000 pages to partially document, and that requires built-in compression to hide the embarassment of a 50k file to say “Hello World”) is a good thing.

    Finally, I really enjoy using an application that isn’t constantly trying to lock me in to one company. I use LO seamlessly on Linux, OSX, and Windows platforms. I also use MSO on Windows and OSX platforms because my organization pays for it. However, there are far more differences in MSO between platforms than LO. And even though I could get my own copy of MSO almost for free for use at home, MSO is still way more trouble and cost in resources than it is worth to me, even if it were free.

  • sdb says:

    With the 2.x and early 3.x versions I had a lot of problems with calc data imports (slow, crashes, incorrect data). OpenOffice fixed it in 3.3 and since 3.5 libreoffice has been pretty good.

    Not perfect… Still a rare crash, and sometimes incorrect data!!!

  • Rufus Polson says:

    I’m an LO user at home, MSO user at work, and I have to question the navigation point. I’d never noticed the “Navigator” function, so I just eagerly tried it on a long document with a lot of headings. Either it doesn’t work or I couldn’t get it to work. Little floating window sits there mocking me, not doing any of what the Help function claims it should be doing.
    Meanwhile, current version of MS Word has a side pane that appears automatically and shows a list of the document’s headings–click on one and you’re there. It’s the first sweet new feature I’ve seen in Word since I can’t remember when.
    I still hate the ribbon interface though. Glad LO doesn’t have that.

  • Word what says:

    “[...]the fatal flaw in LO, as in OpenOffice, is that its wordcounts don’t match those produced by MS Word.”

    You’ve got to be kidding me. “the fatal flaw”?
    I’ve just tested this with a couple of thousand pages document. Both got it right, although Word couldn’t tell me how many characters there where.

    If “publishers trust Word”, the publishers are asses.

  • Very Siberian says:

    Good article. I would add an eighth reason: LibreOffice and OpenOffice look and behave the same regardless of platform (Linux, Mac, or Windows). This makes it much easier for cross-platform users, or those who are switching platforms, to continue working without interruption. By contrast, there is obviously no Linux version of MSO, and the Mac and Windows versions are quite dissimilar in some respects.

  • rmcguire says:

    In my experience LO either works or acts seriously weird to the point that one has no idea what or why it is doing it.
    That said there is no way I would use MS Office…well maybe if they stopped distributing IE, and instead had an app were you choose your browser. (This would show that they can tell the difference between software that works and that which does not.

  • John says:

    In our small office we find that Libreoffice has all the functionality we will ever need.

  • Patrick Lindsey says:

    I use OpenOffice. I’d like to use LibreOffice, but it STILL DOESN;T HAVE A WORKING NATIVE MYSQL CONNECTOR,

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  • Steve Hanka says:

    The “fatal flaw” LO is that it won’t format MSO .docx files so that they look the same as under MSO. Much of the world uses MSO, and in my organization MSO is the standard. When I try to look at, say, a requirement specification written with MSO using LO, the font size is different, the headers and footers are skewed, and diagrams pasted into the document are either corrupted or not displayed at all. I therefore cannot even use LO as a document viewer. I use Linux as my development system, but must reboot to Windows to examine and modify documents that are shared with others within the company.

    If LO is to be taken seriously it must at the very least display and print MSO documents without all of these adjustments.

  • Chris says:

    Good article. LibreOffice is good software. I first started using OpenOffice at home a few years ago, when I bought a computer that didn’t come with anything more exciting than Word Pad on it. I found OpenOffice to be similar to my earlier experiences with Microsoft office software, though I didn’t have any basis to do a big comparison. I just need the basic functionality, I don’t need it to be able to interface with anything from MS or any of that stuff. Plus, a short time after I started using OpenOffice, I started using GNU/Linux and I was pleased to find that OpenOffice was already installed in some distributions and available in others. And, of course, once GNU/Linux distributions switched to LibreOffice, I started using that. I use it on both of my computers, which run GNU/Linux and I also use it in Windows on my desktop. I like consistency, so it’s nice to have software that I can use in both Windows and GNU/Linux, plus it’s always been stable and really great for me. But, I’m admittedly not one of those users who needs the functions that separate the open source office suites from MS Office.

  • lfnw901 says:

    I’ve used OpenOffice/LibreOffice for many years. It’s great software. The only thing it still lacks is good clipart which Word integrates right in. However, Google Images picks up the slack. I’ve found cases where LibreOffice can open .doc documents that MS Office cannot. Also, there are some copy/paste bugs with MS Office and LibreOffice works perfectly. I highly recommend LibreOffice, it is great software.

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  • wlmanager says:

    @Steve. my feeling is that will never happen. As soon as LO or AOO gets close to converting .docx to ODF 100% properly for the file types you mention, Microsoft will move the target.. Its up to MS to get serious and play ball so compatability issues can be worked out.

  • Chuck Pilger says:

    I have used OpenOffice/LibreOffice for a number of years for my own work, on Windows and Linux systems and find LibreOffice a great suite, which as others have mentioned allows one to seamlessly move from one OS to another without noticeable differences in the operation of the software. Unfortunately, I have to collaborate with a number of people who are not particularly computer literate but for whom the latest MO version will always be the gold standard. To work with these people I must switch to Windows and use Word or Excel. Several years ago I had to purchase MO 2007 in order to work in the docx and xlsx formats because they refuse to learn to save documents in older more generally accessible formats. Lord how I hate the ribbon!
    I can’t comment on whether LibreOffice is more stable than MS Office because I don’t have enough experience with both side by side, but I have had a number of crashes with MS Office and none with LibreOffice that I can recall.
    The cost issue is not relevant to me, since I expect to use an office suite every day for many years, only upgrading when absolutely necessary. I started using MS Office 2000 in 1999 and still use it when in Windows, in preference to Office 2007 .

  • M Johnson says:

    The only option that I wish LO had would be to mail merge into a directory format like that of MS Word. But huge kudos for utf-8 txt and csv file support since I transfer most of this work to my Mac. (please no hate mail or flames, the Mac is what my employer requires me to use, I use Xubuntu and Fedora on my two machines at home)

  • Michael says:

    Here’s a big one:
    office software protection platform

    This is Microsoft’s DRM/license validator which runs repeatedly if you have Office 2007+. This little gem can be a great source of pain and problems.

  • Gordon Messmer says:

    Ribbon vs Menu isn’t a question of superiority for Microsoft. The ribbon was implemented because that UI works much better in HTML applications and they wanted a consistent UI between the offline Office application and their online applications, like Sharepoint.

  • Andrei says:

    I was a happy OpenOffice user and I swiched to LibreOffice just because my Linux Distro provided it to me. Love them both.

  • Nadav says:

    7. No it’s NOT ADVANTAGE!!!

    classic menu are good in the start that people need to get use to the new layout.

    Office layout with the tab panels is much better after used to

  • Gyffes says:

    I loathe Office: it’s crashed, taking enormous documents with it, far too often. And I dearly love when it tells my researchers it cannot save due to lack of memory — on a system w/16gb available — forcing deletion of graphs and illustrations and Figure 1.. before it will save (or save as rtf, but that loses so much formatting, also!). And we paid HOW MUCH for this?

    MS paid millions to have their open format made THE open format… and then they went and failed to implement it as written: hard to blame LO for THAT!

  • Arron says:

    When I was teaching at an Australian university, I had to use excel 2007 for an online component of a third year unit. It was incapable of doing the analysis that Lotus 123 v1.1 for DOS managed in 1984 without crashing, so I ended up using Calc for the analysis and excel for the online component. A friend was doing their PHD, and their Word 2007 went unstable at around 150 pages of text mixed with graphs and graphics. The solution to both – use Ooo as it was then. The PHD thesis ended up at 1100 pages with no prob, referenced by Zotac and converted to PDF for review (there are non-MS answers). Nowadays, I am writing a quite complex textbook – two of the working docs are 661 and 317 pages as of now. I also have office 2010 – hate it – and neither word 2007 or 2010 will load the smaller doc, even when I cut and paste it in 30 page or so pieces. I could get another copy of any MS product for my own personal use for $A20, but I cannot see the point.
    Oh, BTW, navigator is probably the best thing Ooo / LO has ever done IMHO – so easy to jump anywhere in the doc without a search. The MS 2010 “side ribbon” would not be 10% of the usefulness. Now, if I can only get it to make my coffee…

  • Randall Wood says:

    A couple other things I like: master documents, the stylist (far easier to get consistent styles with LO/OO), totally customizable toolbars you can even make vertical, easy macros, an open file format, and PDF export. I wrote a book with Star office back in the day, and have liked this software ever since.

  • molecule says:

    M$ Word has a big advantage over LibreOffice …

    M$ Word now has a Reveal Codes feature!

    shocked?

    a free plugin is available!! It opens a window at the bottom, and makes Word much more usable in a work place environment. New secretaries can QUICKLY see where workers in prior secretarial pools screwed up and turned doc codes into a crossed mess.

    google: Reveal Codes plugin for Word CrossEyes Levit & James

    dumping pretty looking text to a screen output is no challenge … by comparison printers are totally unforgiving … yet we expect to reveal codes to format a forgiving device (html), meanwhile M$ used to hide code while trying to format text for a totally unforgiving device …

    LibreOffice Word NEEDS a Crosseyes type plugin … BTW one of the authors of the plugin was one of the original coders for GIMP!!

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  • What Smith says:

    LibreOffice has way too many bugs to be considered useful. Every time I need to use a somewhat scientific function Libre Office finds a way to frustrate me. You can’t even properly sort numerical values entered from a txt document (3.6.0.2)! MS Office was expensive but worked. OpenOffice was fantastic. Libre Office is horrible.

  • Paul says:

    Nice list.

    LO Rocks!!!

  • User says:

    @ Randall Wood

    Please can you please let me know how to make the Menu-bar vertical.

  • Tom says:

    I am attempting to have my first Linux desktop machine. I installed Ubuntu 12.10 which comes with LibreOffice. It has crashed my system every time I have tried to use it. I’m sure there is a work-around or solution and I am not asking for any help. I am simply stating that it is very frustrating coming from a pure Windows/MS background after hearing all of the wonderful things I was supposed to experience. I have never had any problems with MS Office in all of the years that I have used it. So right now there is definitely a preponderance of personal experience telling me to stay away from LibreOffice. I am glad that it isnot the reason that I built this box. I intend to use this machine for Android development. I have been programing for almost 35 years and have been almost exclusively a .NET developer for the last 12. I have been doing Android on Windows Server 2008 R2, but wanted to se if I was missing anything by moving a machine to Linux. Hopefully the rest of what I se is better than what I have sen so far.

  • Daniel says:

    I use LibreOffice at Home and Work for both Windows and Mac Systems. I exchange word processing, spreadsheet and presentation files with friends, clients and co-workers alike. They don’t even know I’m using LibreOffice (used to use OpenOffice before). I haven’t had any problems opening or saving native Microsoft Office files. I always save in Microsoft 2007 format compatible files.

  • Ben says:

    You can make distance-time graphs on LibreOffice Calc, which you can’t do with Excel. Excel doesn’t accept irregular increments on the X-axis. LibreOffice handles it perfectly with no fuss (even labelling the X-axis with time values in appropriate increments!). So impressed.

  • laloo says:

    LO is anyday better than MSO. And it doesn’t cost you with the free upgrades

  • Mike says:

    Ben says:
    April 27, 2013 at 5:01 pm
    You can make distance-time graphs on LibreOffice Calc, which you can’t do with Excel. Excel doesn’t accept irregular increments on the X-axis. LibreOffice handles it perfectly with no fuss (even labelling the X-axis with time values in appropriate increments!). So impressed.

    Excel’s scatter plot can do irregular increments, not exactly the same thing, but a nice work around.

  • Googly Googly says:

    I used MSO for 10 years and switched to Linux and LO. It took me some time to make out all the shortcuts and functions in LO but excepting one or two I could get everything in place. The advantage with LO is you have a wide scope to change the things to suit your need. I have started hating MSO for its crashes, ribbons, fees and moreover, Windows due to its virus problems. For one year I have no virus. I just forget that there is any virus in the world. Whereas if you are in Windows you are always haunted in dark dilapidated house where a ghost is most likely to attack at any point of time. I am general user and don’t understand much of technicalities you speak of. However, Linux and LO are far better and moreover free and free upgrade and free from virus. – thanks to the Linux and LO team.

  • Norman Bowlin says:

    I tried Libre and Open Office of several versions, over the years, and all of them were buggy. The latest one, for example, corrupted the watermark in the document. This is unacceptable. I have MS Office now. It may have bugs (not that any bit me recently) but the overall quality of the software is much better and more polished. Libre and Open Office does not pass that test – it is unusable in an environment where the word processor and spreadsheet will have to correctly handle all kinds of inputs, written by me or written by others.

    MS Office costs about $100 per license. This is a very acceptable cost of doing business. Perhaps this would be too steep if you are a grandmother with limited resources who only wants to create a single page note about a missing cat and print it for her nearest neighbors. As a business, you want to be as sure as it ever gets that the important proposal that you are writing will be correctly opened by the soliciting party (In many cases editable Word documents are requested, not a PDF).

    A good office suite is not a good target for an FOSS project. It’s a lot of boring, thankless work. Nobody has an itch that has to be scratched in such a masochistic way. That’s why FOSS suites are all not very good. Same goes for accounting systems, CAD systems, and many more. Often a FOSS project just can’t muster enough resources to complete the project. A for-profit company has no such problem; they just pay money, and developers show up for work.

  • Daren says:

    1. My vote goes to LO. Best thing is DO NOT compare at all. The two are of two different culture and attitude so better not to compare. Is LO capable of serving your purpose? If yes, go for it. Are you ready to discover a better way to improve and make it for common people? If yes, use LO. LO till now has served me a lot and my few hundred users are no more asking for MSO else I would have ruined! Hats off to LO. It serves my purpose and it serves well within its limits or boundaries and my expectations.
    2. Most of my users complaints were found to be improper java and a psychological mind set towards MSO. Another mind set works “free means garbage” because nothing on earth comes free! Come out of that mind set and think you never had MSO and I have to do it with LO – you will succeed!
    Long live LO creators.

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