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Discover LibreOffice, a Free MS Office Alternative

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If you don’t have Microsoft Office, consider a free alternative that gives you the same basic programs and features. Eric Geier introduces you to LibreOffice, a fork of the popular OpenOffice.org (OOo) suite.
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LibreOffice is an open-source office productivity suite headed by a group called The Document Foundation. It runs on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux, and is available in more than 30 languages.

LibreOffice can be an alternative to buying Microsoft Office, which is pretty costly if you didn’t get it preinstalled on your computer or you can’t purchase it at the very-reduced academic prices.

LibreOffice offers similar applications to the popular MS Office suite:

  • Writer (like Word) to type up documents
  • Calc (like Excel) to create spreadsheets
  • Impress (like PowerPoint) to create presentations
  • Base (like Access) to build databases

It also provides two additional utilities:

  • Draw to build diagrams and sketches
  • Math, which is a simple equation editor

LibreOffice, however, does lack three MS Office applications: an email and scheduling application like Outlook, a note application like OneNote, and a desktop publishing app like Publisher. But there are other free and open alternatives, such as:

  • Thunderbird (like Outlook) is an email client and scheduling app.
  • WikidPad (like OneNote) for storing your thoughts, ideas, to-do lists, contacts, and more.
  • Scribus (like Publisher) for professional page layout and publishing.

Using LibreOffice can help you steer away from using pirated or illegal copies of MS Office. Legally purchasing the set of MS Office installation discs doesn’t mean you can legally install on multiple computers. The software license defines how many computers it can be installed and used on, which is usually one or two computers.

Comparing Against OpenOffice.org (OOo)

LibreOffice is similar to and actually a fork of another free and open project, called OpenOffice.org (OOo), which is now possibly defunct. OOo was the most popular and mature open office suite. It was largely supported by Sun Microsystems, which was bought out by Oracle in 2010. Funding for OOo was cut shortly afterwards, putting the future of OOo in jeopardy.

LibreOffice offers several small improvements and new features not seen in OOo yet. The biggest improvement you’ll likely notice is the ability to save into the newer XML-based format (.docx for Word, .xlsx for Excel, etc.) of MS Office 2007 and later. In OOo, you can open these documents, but to make changes you must save into the older MS Office formats (.doc, .xls, etc.) or another format. In LibreOffice, you can create new documents in the XML-based formats in addition to editing and saving existing documents.

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