LibreOffice is the flagship office suite for Linux. It’s also quite popular with Windows users. As a free, open-source and cross-platform solution, LibreOffice allows people to enjoy the world of writing, spreadsheets, presentations and alike without having to spend hefty sums of money. The only problem till now was that it didn’t quite work as advertised. Microsoft Office support was, for the lack of a better word, lacking.
Version 4.4 is out, and it promises a great deal. A simplified interface, new looks, much improved proprietary file format support. Sounds exciting, and as someone who has lambasted LibreOffice for this very reason in the past, I felt compelled to give this new edition its due rightful try. On top of Plasma 5 no less. So let’s see.
There are several ways you can obtain LibreOffice. Official and unofficial repositories are available for various distributions, self-contained archives, installers in the DEB and RPM format, and best of all, Kubuntu Vivid Beta ships with LibreOffice 4.4 out of the box. It’s Bob’s your uncle and no mistake!
To make my test even prettier, I improved LibreOffice with the Sift set of monochrome icons. Now, I know that everyone’s done this already, which makes my own attempt slightly lame, but you will have to forgive me. Anyhow, the new version of the office suite comes with many improvements. To name just a few, in Writer, you get a smart, quick-action sidebar always active on the right side of the screen, cloud integration, a better way of managing styles, import filters, and more.
Working with LibreOffice, free ride
I am slightly ashamed that I used an Alanis Morissette reference, but I couldn’t resist, Dr. Schultz style. Right. The moment you launch any one of the LibreOffice application, you notice the improvements. Immediately. Most of the focus is on making Writer look the part, which is understandable, and it sure does not disappoint. It’s a better product. Period.
The rest of the suite is also better, more elegant. The programs are simply more modern. Although some of the menus and options swim with unnecessary abundance, and some of the work flow schemes remain distinctly archaic and slow, LibreOffice is more intuitive, and therefore, more productive than in the past.
If you activate some of the toolbars and start clicking around, you will notice that the icons and options will change in a contextual manner, similar to how the Ribbon was realized in Microsoft Office. This is not an optimal solution either way, but it’s a nod toward a convention, and may help some of the new users get accustomed to the suite. It also helps reduce the clutter, although the perfect productivity formula lies elsewhere. Not with Microsoft Office, nor LibreOffice for sure, but that’s a completely different story.
Still more fun
I kept on playing and testing, and started enjoying myself more with each new step. The sidebar is highly useful, especially if you like to work with Styles. Previously, this functionality was a little weird, a little clunky, but now, it’s just right. Again, we’re talking about tiny changes, but they make all the difference. A step toward Microsoft Office, two steps away, and you get the right balance. The thing is, if it’s fun and pleasant, it ought to work in the end, and that’s grandma’s hidden ingredient.
The most important part, Microsoft Office support
You may not like or ignore Microsoft, but the thing is, most if not all people out there use it to create and view documents, which means that sooner or later, you will have to send someone a file created in Office, because you cannot afford to have any conversion glitches in your important work. You can use Microsoft Office Online in Linux, and that’s a neat solution, especially since till now, LibreOffice simply wasn’t accurate enough in converting ODF to DOC/DOCX and vice versa, as I have outlined in my comparative reviews and test. That was a pretty big limitation, which essentially made LibreOffice inadequate as the default office suite for the majority of users in the world.
Well, this new version promises a revolution. To see whether it can live up to everyone’s expectations, I decided to run a fairly complex and brutal test. Remember my cometdocs article? Back then, I took my Crash book, in PDF format, and converted it to a DOCX file using this online utility. When I tried to open it in LibreOffice, the results were simply catastrophic.
Here and now, the game has changed! Completely! Utterly. The quality of conversion in LibreOffice 4.4 is very good. Perfect? No, not quite. It can never be perfect. But my 182-page document, full of images, references, footnotes, preformatted code, and other cool elements, all of which were initially conceived in LaTeX then transformed to PDF and finally to DOCX looked pretty much spotless. The image quality was a little low, but it has nothing to do with LibreOffice. I was amazed. I had not expected this, and it seems for the first time ever, LibreOffice is a most viable solution for home office use. Blimey.
LibreOffice 4.4 is everything you could have hoped for, and then some. It’s beautiful. It’s streamlined. It has an improved UI, which offers much more intuitive work flows, resulting in an immediate boost in productivity. It comes with enhanced menus, a more intelligent way of working with styles, easier graphics, copy & paste options, a simpler method of polishing up presentations. Most importantly, it offers a genuinely good support for the proprietary Microsoft file formats, allowing you, for the very first time, to consider LibreOffice as the one and only office suite you’ll ever need.
I have never quite expected this. In fact, LibreOffice 4.4 should have been called 5.0, because it is that much better. Perhaps grander changes are needed to justify a full new release. Just think of the possibilities, if we got all this in a single dot revision. Imagine what will happen when LibreOffice finally matures toward the next large release. Seriously, the day of testing could not have turned out better. All the little things I wanted are there. Check. Everything purrs like a kitten engorged on baby seal livers. Check. Awesomeness everything, and I am searching for more fanatic wording to convince you that you should abandon all and everything you’re doing and start testing LibreOffice. This is a monumental release, and I only have absolute praise. Well done.