If you need a free, open source office suite, the leading choices are Openoffice and Libreoffice. And if you’re comparing, the two may seem more alike than different. The apps all have the same names, the user interfaces are really similar, and so are the feature sets. It’s not a coincidence, but there are some differences. Let’s take a look at Openoffice vs Libreoffice.
Libreoffice is derived from Openoffice, so that’s why the tools are so similar. However, there are some minor differences between the two that may be important to you.
Openoffice vs Libreoffice: Compatibility with Microsoft Office
Both suites can read Microsoft Office XML documents (files ending in DOCX, XLSX, PPTX, etc). However, only Libreoffice can write them. For interoperability with Microsoft Office without having to revert to the now-ancient Office 2003 formats, Libreoffice has a significant advantage over Openoffice.
When comparing Openoffice vs Libreoffice, this advantage goes to Libreoffice. About 10 times as many people use Microsoft Office, so being able to exchange files with them easily is crucial. The time will come when you will have to send a file to someone in Microsoft Office format.
Openoffice vs Libreoffice: Language support
Both suites support multiple languages, but you add them in different ways. Openoffice allows you to load additional language packs so you can change the language in the UI. If you’re used to that option, it may not be obvious how to get similar functionality in Libreoffice.
You can run the Libreoffice installer again, select the Modify option, and add additional languages. The languages then become available in Tools > Options > Language Settings > Languages.
In this case the two programs are equivalent, it’s just a matter of whether re-running the installer or downloading an additional language pack is more intuitive to you. But it’s also something you only have to do once, so this probably won’t be the deciding factor for you.
Openoffice vs Libreoffice: Release schedule
Both suites are relatively mature and feature-complete at this point, after decades of development. However, minor feature enhancements and bug fixes do continue to trickle out. Libreoffice releases occur every six months, with bugfixes coming approximately once a month. Openoffice has no set schedule, but typically releases one minor update per year, containing bug fixes and any new functionality.
Since both products are open source and based on one another, the two projects are free to use one another’s code. However, only about 10 percent of Libreoffice’s new code ever makes it into Openoffice.
The more frequent release schedule has caused some to speculate Openoffice may be more stable than Libreoffice, but users who want stability can stick with the Libreoffice “Still” release. Bugs do still surface in both projects, and Libreoffice bugs generally get fixed within a month, while it can take as much as a year for Openoffice to get a bug fix.
Users who want new features can go with the “Fresh” release of Libreoffice, which contains all of the newest enhancements.
The advantage in this case goes to Libreoffice. If you’re concerned about stability, download the “Still” release. If you want new features, chose the “Fresh” release. Either one is likely to receive updates about once a month. While Libreoffice will automatically check for updates, it may not automatically download them. Navigate to Tools > Options > Online Update and ensure the Download updates automatically option is checked. Openoffice has a facility to notify you of updates but doesn’t download them for you automatically.
Why the two projects separated
Openoffice began life as Star Office, a German-made office suite that aimed to compete with Microsoft Office, Wordperfect Office, and Lotus Smartsuite. Its main selling point was that it ran on more platforms than the others. In addition to Windows, it also had versions for DOS, OS/2, Mac OS, Linux, and Solaris.
Sun Microsystems bought Star Division, the makers of Staroffice, in 1999. Sun soon released it as a free download for personal use, and open-sourced the code in the early 2000s, with the initial Openoffice release happening in 2002.
Oracle in turn bought Sun in 2010. Many Openoffice developers had been unhappy with Sun’s handling of the project, but were even less excited about the idea of working with Oracle. A group of developers forked Openoffice to create Libreoffice in September 2010. The initial build of Libreoffice was a mixture of beta Openoffice code and code maintained by Novell.
In April 2011, Oracle announced it was pulling out of Openoffice and it donated the code base to the Apache Software Foundation. By then, Libreoffice had an installed base of about 10 million users.
Oracle’s stubbornness is the only reason the projects remain separate. A reasonable company would have simply acknowledged reality — the fact that nearly all the active developers had moved over to LibreOffice — and donated the code and trademarks to them. But that would have required admitting that they had made a fundamental error, so they had to find somebody else to take over instead. The community has remained overwhelmingly in the LibreOffice camp.