With the end-of-life of Office 2003 rapidly approaching, I’m having to look at alternatives. Even after five years, I find the Office ribbon demeaning and productivity-killing, so Microsoft’s newer products are out. With Libre Office, the price is right ($0), so I’m giving it a long look.

Here’s what I’m finding:

Load time. With my SSD, it loads in around 10 seconds. It could be better, seeing as Office 2003’s apps load in around a second under those conditions, but newer versions of Office have double-digit load times too. For the difference in price, I could load it into a ramdisk if I thought it was too slow.

Speed with long documents. I loaded a 400-page document into Writer, and it didn’t bog down as much as Word 2003 did. I would never try to load a document of that length into 2007 or 2012–they become unusable with 100 pages in memory. In this regard, it’s better than even Office 2003 was.

Autorecover. It works. It was slow, but it got the document back. Autorecover in Microsoft Office hasn’t worked consistently since version 2003. I don’t mind slow for something like this when it works.

Format flubbing. The most common complaint about the free office suites is that they don’t always get formatting of existing MS Office documents correct, especially when the formatting is complex. That should be a non-issue now, because MS Office isn’t fully backward compatible with itself anymore either. I know two people who lost their jobs over that, so thanks loads, Microsoft.

Patching. This is the piece I don’t like. There are none. Once or twice a year, you’ll be downloading and installing a new full release.