We now recommend LibreOffice as the best free alternative to the Microsoft Office suite. In our computer repair business, people often ask us whether they really need to buy Microsoft (MS) Office or if there is a good free alternative. For home users and SOHO users we think in many cases they don’t need MS Office.
There are several good free alternatives but LibreOffice is our favorite – it’s a full office suite which includes Word Processor, Spreadsheet and Presentation programs that can read and write documents used by MS Office.
What About OpenOffice? OpenOffice is the most well known free Office suite – it started 10 years ago and has a large user base. However, earlier this year the majority of the development team and corporate sponsors left the project to create LibreOffice instead – effectively they took the freely available OpenOffice code, changed the name and then continued to develop it as a new product.
OpenOffice was abandoned and its main commercial sponsor (Oracle) washed their hands of it. As a result, OpenOffice has not been updated for nearly a year (2 years for the portable version) and development appears to have stopped. However, LibreOffice has taken OpenOffice and continued to build on and improve it – the latest version was released in August (portable version in September) with improved performance and many bug fixes. LibreOffice is effectively the new version of OpenOffice.
Fortunately, as LibreOffice is basically OpenOffice with further improvements, there is little new to learn when switching to it – existing OpenOffice users should quickly feel at home with LibreOffice. Updated 12th Aug 2012 – Open Office has been resurrected, rebranded and updated – the new Apache Open Office 3.4 has been released.
- It is totally free (saving you at least $120) and can be installed on as many computers as you like – unlike MS Office Home & Student edition which is limited to 3 computers.
- It can be used legally by home users and businesses (businesses cannot legally use the Home & Student version of MS Office – they must buy the Business version of MS Office costing $220+ per PC/laptop).
- It is compatible with MS Office documents i.e. it can read documents created in MS Office and write documents that MS Office users can read too.
- Its installation file is about one fifth of the size of MS Office and takes less time to install.
- In our experience, because the software is less ‘bloated’ it is also much less likely to go wrong than MS Office – and it doesn’t need any silly activation or registration process.
- Some may think the interface (look and feel) is not as ‘modern’ as MS Office 2010 – we think it looks like an older version of MS Office 2003. However, many people actually prefer the clarity and ease of use because the minimalist interface makes it easier to find the most commonly used menus and options.
- Some of the most advanced features of MS Word and Excel may not work fully in LibreOffice (mainly very complex business features that most home users will never need or come across).
How To Install LibreOffice – Go to the official website LibreOffice.org and click ‘Download LibreOffice’ then select from the 2 dropdown lists which version you need – the various English versions start with ‘en-’. Download the latest version (currently 3.4.3) of the main install_multi.exe installation file (about 190MB in size so may take some time).
Now download the smaller helppack.exe file which provides help in your chosen language. Run the main install_multi installation program, click Next to continue then click ‘Unpack’. The installation files will be extracted and installation continues.
Click Next to continue then type in your name and click Next again. Now you have the choice of Setup Type (Typical or Custom) – choose ‘Typical’ then Next. Leave the box ticked to create a shortcut to LibreOffice on your desktop then click Install to complete installation – may take a couple of minutes. Click Finish when completed.
Now install the HelpPack.exe installation program for your language – the install procedure is basically the same.
[Alternatively, there is a portable version available at PortableApps - Portable means that you can try the program without installing so it’s easy to just delete it afterwards if you wish]
How To Configure LibreOffice – You should see 3 new items on your desktop:
- a ‘LibreOffice Installation Files’ folder – you can now delete this folder.
- a ‘LibreOffice Help Pack Installation Files’ folder – you can now delete this folder.
- a LibreOffice shortcut – use this to run the program.
Double click the LibreOffice shortcut to open the LibreOffice Main menu as shown below:
Tip: If you already have MS Office installed you may first be asked if you want to associate LibreOffice with text documents, spreadsheets and presentations – tick all 3 selection boxes to associate LibreOffice with these three types of file.
Click one of the items in this screen to open a blank new document and edit away!
If you have any existing Word/Excel/Powerpoint documents on your computer they should open straight up into the relevant LibreOffice application: Writer (like Word), Calc (like Excel) and Impress (like Powerpoint) when you double click them.
Changing The File Types of LibreOffice
By default, LibreOffice saves documents in the universally recognized open standard ODF format. Unfortunately Microsoft (as usual) are slow to adhere to open standards and only Office 2007 SP2 onwards can open ODF files. Because of this Microsoft problem, if you are planning to send your documents to other people (who may have an older version of MS Office) you need to change the default file formats of LibreOffice as follows:
In the Main Menu (as shown above), click on ‘Tools’ in the top menu bar then click ‘Options’ to open the Options window. Double click on the ‘Load/Save’ menu item then click on its ‘General’ sub menu as below:
In the right hand panel, from the Document Type drop down list select the following:
- Select ‘Text document’ and then from the ‘Always Save As’ drop down list select ‘Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP’
- Select ‘Spreadsheet’ and then from the ‘Always Save As’ drop down list select ‘Microsoft Excel 97/2000/XP’
- Select ‘Presentation’ and then from the ‘Always Save As’ drop down list select ‘Microsoft Powerpoint 97/2000/XP’
Click on OK to save your changes. Now people with any version of MS Office will be able to read documents you create and save
LibreOffice requires Java for a few of its more advanced features. Java also installs plugins into web browsers but it is unwise to use them unless you really need to – only about 2 in 1000 websites require Java. For best security it is wise to disable Java in all browsers – you can then still use it for offline apps like LibreOffice.
LibreOffice picks up where OpenOffice left off. [Apache Open Office 3.4 was released in May so previous users do now have an upgrade path]
However, LibreOffice has surged ahead and is now up to version 3.6 – it remains our favorite free office suite as it is more up to date and feature laden than Apache OpenOffice.