When it comes to office suites (programs to create things like documents, spreadsheets, and presentations) – pricy programs like Microsoft Office instantly come to mind. So do some of the lesser-known titles like Corel’s WordPerfect suite. One of the downfalls for most of these office suites are that they can cost you a pretty penny or two … or ten … and not everyone can justify shelling out that kind of money.
That’s where office suites like LibreOffice come in. It’s free. Now, before you say “You get what you pay for” … let me say that LibreOffice comes with enough power and features to make it comparable to the big guys.
Where did LibreOffice come from?
Once upon a time, (in the year 1986) there was a little program called StarOffice that came to life in Germany. While it was a small program, it had big dreams – specifically, it wanted to compete in the same playing field as larger programs (like Microsoft Office). For several years, the project was very successful – so successful that in August 1999, it was acquired by Sun Microsystems.
By the following July, Sun started a new Open Source program called OpenOffice – a program that would finally be released in May 2002. With the power of Sun behind them, the project really took off. This success continued for many years.
In January 2010, Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle, which turned out to be no-so-good news for everyone working on OpenOffice. Now, the developers had one major fear – that Oracle would discontinue the development of OpenOffice. They also objected to Oracle’s requiring them to keep the document format copywrited.
They responded to these issues by forming The Document Foundation – which would let them create an open-source document format … and it would allow them to create a fork (a new version of the program based on the old one) of OpenOffice. And thus LibreOffice was born. (Libre is the Spanish word for Free.)
Before long, LibreOffice 3 was released, based on OpenOffice 3 (which is why LibreOffice 1 and 2 were skipped). There appeared to be a strong connection between OpenOffice 3 and LibreOffice 3 – mostly because they were largely based on the same source code – however LibreOffice did add a few features.
Wait – What is LibreOffice?
LibreOffice is an Office Suite – meaning it’s a group of programs that work together – made up of the following programs:
Writer – a document editor, similar to Word or WordPerfect
Calc – a spreadsheet program, like Excel or Lotus 1-2-3
Impress – A presentation program, like PowerPoint
Draw – a 2D graphics program, like Vizio.
Base – a database program, similar in many ways to Access.
Math – a program that can be used to create mathematical formulas that can be inserted into Writer documents or Calc spreadsheets.
LibreOffice Extensions – okay, this isn’t exactly a program – more like a program feature. While LibreOffice is a good, basic program – many users wish to add a feature or two (or ten). That can be accomplished by an impressive set of extensions – freely available to download from the internet.
What’s New in LibreOffice 4?
On Thursday, February 07, 2013 – The Document Foundation released LibreOffice 4 (a few days before they were expected to). New users may find LibreOffice 4 to be a pleasant surprise – it has made some major improvements to become more comparable with Office Suites like Microsoft Office or Corel’s WordPerfect Office.
LibreOffice 3 users (or those who use OpenOffice) will find a few notable new features. A lot of the improvements happen under-the-hood – meaning the user may not see the changes. These include a wide variety of bug fixes, stability improvements, and stuff like that.
One of the more exciting new features is the ability to open Microsoft Publisher files. There is also greater support for Microsoft Vizio files, as well.
There have also been several improvements to how LibreOffice handles Office 2007, 2010, and 2013 file formats.
You can now have a different header and footer on the first page of a document.
With a new graphic engine – LibreOffice has made some major improvements in the way it presents graphic content and gives users more editing options.
Firefox Themes and Personas can now be integrated into LibreOffice – so it is fairly easy to personalize the way the toolbars look. The standard grey color is just so … yesterday.
A new template manager will make creating new documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases a lot easier.
New Features for LibreOffice for Linux
Several of the notable changes only apply to Linux users, especially those running Debian … or, Debian based Linux Distros like Ubuntu.
LibreOffice can now integrate with Ubuntu’s Unity interface.
There is also a new Mork driver that allows users to connect with their Thunderbird address books. (Although, in some cases, this may take some configuration.) Currently, this is only available for Debian based distros – but I have a feeling this may be continue to be developed for other systems in the very near future.
What About the Java Problem?
If I had one concern about programs like LibreOffice – it is this: Java.
Lately, there have been a great number of problems with Java – including some potentially large security issues. There are a lot of people out there who have been urging users to completely uninstall Java – saying that its days are over so you might as well get rid of it.
Part of the reason I am a bit hesitant to jump on that bandwagon is that some programs, like LibreOffice (and others) seem to want Java installed in order to run (or, for some features to work properly).
Late last year, The Document Foundation said it was working on reducing LibreOffice’s dependency on Java. With this new update – you can tell they’ve been working on this.
In fact, in the settings – you can now turn Java dependency off completely.
I’ll be honest with you – I don’t know if LibreOffice still prompts you to install Java or not … And, I’m also not sure how blocking (or removing Java from your system) will affect the program. There could still be a bit more work needed in this area – but it is very good to know they are working on it. The official release notes for LibreOffice 4 does say that there is now less Java code in the programs themselves, so that is good too.
So, have you used LibreOffice 4? If so, please leave a comment below!