Lodahl's blog: Is LibreOffice better than the competitor?

09 February 2015

Is LibreOffice better than the competitor?

One of the most common objections to open source applications such as LibreOffice is that there may not be quite the same features in open source programs. They are simply not good enough - it is said.

Let's have a look at some of the areas where LibreOffice is actually BETTER than the competitor Microsoft Office.


PDF is one of LibreOffice's very strong areas. Here are a few examples:
  • With LibreOffice you can create PDF-files of very high quality. In fact, such high quality that they live up to most government requirements for PDF files for document exchange. It's the special document format called PDF/A-1a. PDF/A-1a has two particular advantages: they can be read by machines, so for example a screen reader (used primarily by blind people) and that they are self-explanatory, making them completely independent of software from one vendor. The latter is important for documents that are to be long time archived. In a 100 years from now, it is not certain that [insert a product name here] exists.
  • With LibreOffice you can (with the drawing application Draw) make corrections to existing PDF files. For instance you can do what is normally called merge-and-split (e.g., you can pick a single page from one PDF file and paste thar page into another PDF). You can actually do minor changes to the content itself.
  • It is possible to export to PDF with comments (comments are converted to PDF comments).
  • With LibreOffice, you can save the editable ODF file as part of the PDF file. The result is a rather large PDF file, but you can open it with LibreOffice and edit the content. This also applies if it is a spreadsheet.
  • With LibreOffice, you can create PDF forms with input fields.
  • With LibreOffice you can sign PDF files digitally if you have a digital signature.

Import filters

Another of LibreOffice's very powerful features is all import filters. LibreOffice can open virtually all relevant file types, including old Microsoft file types, that even Microsoft Office can't open.
Here are some examples:
  • LibreOffice supports the SVG-formatet. Inserted SVG-images can be ediited directly from e.g., Incskape through the contect emnu "edit with external tools...". After editing the image with Inkscape you can save the changes back directly to the LibreOffice document.
  • Import of graphic formats: DXF, MET, PBM, PCD, PCX, PGM, PPM, PPM, RAS, SGF, SVM, TGA, XBM, XPM.
  • Import of MacOS older vector and bitmap graphics formats: Beagle Works, ClarisWorks, Great Works, MacPaint, MacWorks, Super Paint, MacDraw, MacDraw II, ragtime for Mac 2-3.
  • Importing video and audio formats FLAC Audio flac, Flash Video (flv), Matroska Media (MKV), OGG Audio, Ogg Video, Quicktime Video, WebM Video, Real Audio (.ra), RealMedia (.rm), Digital video (.dv) Audio Codec (.ac3) and Ogg Opus (.opus).
  • Older Mac OS word processing documents: MS Word for Mac (1 to 5.1), MS Works for Mac (1-4), ClarisWorks / AppleWorks, Write Now, MacWriteII / MacWritePro, DOCMaker 4 FullWrite Professional, HanMac Word-K / J, LightWayText for Mac 4.5, Mariner Write Mac Classic 1.6 to 3.5, MindWrite Document, Nisus Writer Classic Mac 3.4 to 6.5, TeachText / SimpleText 1, Tex-Edit 2 Writer Plus, Z-Write 1.3, eDOC 2 Acta Mac Classic, Beagle Works / WordPerfect Works 1, Great Works, MacDoc 1 MoreMac 2-3, ragtime for Mac 2-3
  • Older DOS / Windows word processing documents: Microsoft WinWord 5, Microsoft Word 6.0 / 95, Hangul WP97 and Text 602 (T602), Lotus WordPro.
  • Import of e-book formats: Fiction Book 2.0, Broadband, Plucker (Palm) eReader (Palm), zTXT (Palm), TealDoc (Palm), PalmDOC (Palm), AbiWord files.
  • DocBook import and export.
  • Import of MS Visio files.
  • Import and export AportisDoc (Palm), Pocket Word documents.

Specific features

You can use color palettes from GIMP as palettes in LibreOffice.

Writer works almost as a DTP-program with frames, styles and conditional formatting.

In Calc you can format celles with styres and conditional formatting.

With Draw you can edit and manage your diagrams, show them in Writer, Calc or Impress; Draw is a small «Corel Draw» with underestimated power; use it to annotate bitmaps too, bitmaps that can be enhanced with filters directly in Draw.

Impress has a built in "Presentation console", that gives the presenter access to his notes, the outline of the presentation and a preview of the next slide. All at the same time as the current slide is on the main monitor or projector.

The Navigator

The so called Navigator in LibreOffice is a unique feature that is not available in MS Word. With the Navigator you can always get an overview of your document, and everything the document contains.
The Navigator shows among other things an overview of all the headings, and you can click on the headings and jump directly to that location in the document. You can also move around the headings and change heading level. The text in that section follows the heading. You can thus move around the chapters and sections in one simple process.
At the same time, you have an overview of all your tables, text frames, pictures, bookmarks, etc.

Frequent updates

LibreOffice is released with new versions every six months. Between versions, is published on a monthly basis bug-fixing versions for the last two or three main versions. The frequent updates may seem like an inconvenience to end users, but you don't necessarily have to upgrade every time. It is perfectly possible to upgrade once or twice per year.
The advantage of the frequent updates is that the development of e.g., the user interface is ongoing, and you will experience only small improvements in each version. Often brand new features are not mandatory to use in the first few versions. This is unlike proprietary products, which often takes several years between updates, and you will therefore experience major changes every time. The advantage for users is that you, the user does not experience going through a period of learning each time the application is upgraded.
One can explain it in the way that LibreOffice is evolutionary, whereas MS Office develops revolutionary.

Free support

Most home users and small business users can easily use the free support that can be found on the Internet. There are user forums in many native languages, and on the international level, there are a number of places where users help users – this applies to both beginners and advanced users.
If you use LibreOffice professionally, you may need professional support through a consultancy company that offers such support.
Similarly, you have the opportunity to submit bug reports and ideas for new features. If you are not qualified for this, you can get help from local companies or consultants who are better qualified. I have reported a number of major and minor bugs and got most of them corrected in subsequent versions.

Working across computer types

You can run LibreOffice on Windows, Mac, Linux and BSD and Documents can move freely between these environments without any problems.
LibreOffice can both open and save OOXML and Microsoft XML formats. The opposite is unfortunately not the case to the same extent. LibreOffice even supports the "clean" OOXML format, namely OOXML Strict, which Microsoft Office do not. LibreOffice is also found in a "portable" version, which you can run from a Windows computer without first installing the program.

Enhancing with plug-ins

LibreOffice can be enhanced with extensions e.g., containing images, templates, special settings or code. The code can be Basic, Python, Java, JavaScript, or C ++. Such extensions are normally also usable across computer systems.

Other functions

Writer supports complex spreadsheet calculations in text tables.
Writer supports master documents.

Open source

You get a wide range of advantages as a result of the open source license.


With LibreOffice, you are not bound by specific, often quite expensive, cloud solutions, that a particular supplier has chosen for you. You are not bound by anything, simply because you have the right to change the program's source code. LibreOffice already supports a variety of standards and protocols, including CMIS and WebDAW, which makes it possible to work directly from document management systems, such as Alfresco, Google Drive, Nuxeo, MS SharePoint, MS OneDrive, IBM FileNet LotusLive Files, Lotus Quickr Domino, Open Data Space or OpenText ELS.
LibreOffice uses a file format which is an open standard - not only by name. In fact it has been instrumental, so that other office applications use the same file format. For example, WebODF an editor for websites, where you can edit text files and get the result as odt-files. And it means that the application Calibre can convert ODF-files to a wide range of e-book formats.


Although only very few people care about it, you have as user the opportunity to look the project over the shoulder. You can improving the code, and even that fewest people have resources to proofread the source code, the possibility is there. You can see both the source code, but also follow the bug list and the internal mailing lists. There are professional consultants who specialize in this kind of work like the company Coverty who have machine analyzed the source code in LibreOffice, and reported a number of potential errors. Most of these errors has subsequently been corrected by the community. The latest statistics from Coverty suggests an error density of 0.02 defects per thousand lines of code. Commercial software vendors probably implement similar analysis, but the results will not be published.

Free as in free speech

One of the basic advantages of open source is the right and the opportunity to develop new features or fix bugs in the program. This is a possibility which is certainly not found in Microsoft Office. It may well be that you don't have such skills to hack the code you self, but you might find a freelance consultant or a local company who can do it for a fee. And maybe there are others who have the same needs as you have, and so you can team up to pay the consultant. A good example of this, is a group of German and Swiss authorities who together made a public tender to improved implementation of OOXML in LibreOffice.
It is also the same "freedom to improve the program" that enables us to translate LibreOffice into Danish and many other languages. LibreOffice comes in more than 100 different languages, including some of the "narrow" language that Microsoft Office doesn't support. If you need additional languages, you can download them for free.

Free as in free beer

LibreOffice is free and you are under no obligation to buy expensive subscriptions from a particular supplier. You are welcome to make a donation, but it is optional whether to pay or perhaps help us translate the next version. At the same time you risk nor the supplier suddenly change the license terms.
Free applies as mentioned before, if you need additional language packs or dictionaries. You can get lots of dictionaries for spell checking, but also grammar of English – and its all for free.


Anonymous said...

Nice post!
I'll keep it as reference when someone asks me what's special about LibreOffice and open source.

Unknown said...


Thanks a lot for your interesting post.

IMHO, what would be *really* useful, might be a comparison between LibreOffice and OpenOffice...

It is pretty straightforward to compare LibreOffice with Microsoft Office.
On the contrary, it is MUCH more difficult to choose between LibreOffice and OpenOffice...

Many friends of mine always ask me whether they should opt for LibreOffice or OpenOffice whereas it is pretty clear for them to understand the many advantages of choosing open source software :-)

Best regards,

Silvio Grosso

Unknown said...


Thanks a lot for your interesting post.

IMHO, what would be *really* useful, might be a comparison between LibreOffice and OpenOffice...

It is pretty straightforward to compare LibreOffice with Microsoft Office.
On the contrary, it is MUCH more difficult to choose between LibreOffice and OpenOffice...

Many friends of mine always ask me whether they should opt for LibreOffice or OpenOffice whereas it is pretty clear for them to understand the many advantages of choosing open source software :-)

Best regards,

Silvio Grosso

Giblart said...

@Silvio: In terms of features, LibreOffice checks all the same boxes that OpenOffice does. Additionally, it also has lots of features that were improved/added since the split of the two projects.

OpenOffice's development is far slower than LibreOffice's (comparing code changes in the development version per day, OpenOffice typically has 2-3 [1], while LibreOffice has around 50 [2]). The vast majority of OpenOffice's new code (= the bits useful to both projects) also immediately flows into LibreOffice. Because of license issues, no LibreOffice code flows into the other direction.

As such, there is currently little reason to choose OpenOffice over LibreOffice, unless you experience crashes in a particular area and you can't wait for the fix (but please report them on bugs.documentfoundation.org then).

[1] http://cgit.freedesktop.org/libreoffice/core/log/?h=aoo/trunk
[2] http://http://cgit.freedesktop.org/libreoffice/core/log

Sid said...

Staroffice, Openoffice and now Libreoffice has been there for a long time giving hope for open source OS users. But the major gripes were the bugs, lack of features (such as no tables in Impress) and ugly UI. But with the inception of LO, things are changing to the better at a fairly good pace. This article is really important to prophesize about this good piece of software. Version 4.4 was really good and the inclusion of two new fonts as defaults in LO is very much welcome. But I have some wishes for LO which is long pending. The icons and the UI is still ugly showing it roots from Staroffice. I wish the UI is totally revamped with new icon themes giving a new life to this software suite. A better look will definitely increase the user base of this worthy software

Unknown said...

@ Lodahl : Thanks a lot for your reply :-)

@Sid : What about the Galaxy icons or, even *better*, the Sifr icons [1] ?

[1] https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/File:LibreOffice-4.4-OS-X.png

Anonymous said...

A colleague just found your blog, great infos and nices articles!

You should also add to LO these possibilities:

- Writer
Almost a small DTP software with it's powerfull use of frames, styles and conditionnal formatting (quite more powerfull than the competition);

- Calc
Yes, use styles for cells and pages + for conditionnal formatting;

- Draw
Edit and manage your diagrams in Draw, show them in Writer, Calc or Impress; Draw is a small «Corel Draw» with underestimated power; use it to annotate bitmaps too, bitmaps that can be enhanced with filters directly in Draw;

- Impress
Ah, the Presentation console !

I'm so angry when I read that LO can do x% (smaller than 100) of the competition, how can it be? Please read https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Feature_Comparison:_LibreOffice_-_Microsoft_Office

Leif Lodahl said...

@Anonymous: Thanks for you additional ideas. I have added these to the article. I also added something else: The ability to insert SVG-files and edit SVG-files with Inkscape.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great article. I think it is worth linking the comprehensive and great comparison table from the Wiki:

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your points. LibreOffice is in fact very competitive with MS Office and in some point simply better.

A few corrections, though:
MS Office can also create PDF/A-1a and can also import PDF. It also has a presentation console. The navigator exists in Word (actually, it even has an advantage, because you can delete a heading with the subordinate text from the navigator. I really would like to see this in Writer, too!). With Office365, the changes in MS Office are also evolutionary.