In my computer repair business, people often ask me whether they really need to buy Microsoft (MS) Office or if there is a good free alternative. For home users I think in many cases they don’t really need MS Office.
There are several good free alternatives but LibreOffice is my 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 also a well known free Office suite and has a large user base. However, a few years ago 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.
So OpenOffice was abandoned and its main commercial sponsor (Oracle) washed their hands of it.
As a result, OpenOffice was not updated for nearly a year (2 years for the portable version) and development. However, LibreOffice took the code of OpenOffice and continued to build on and improve it, enhancing performance and fixing many bugs. LibreOffice was effectively the new version of OpenOffice.
Fortunately, as LibreOffice was basically OpenOffice with further improvements, there was little new to learn when switching to it – existing OpenOffice users would quickly feel at home with LibreOffice.
In recent years OpenOffice has been resurrected, rebranded as Apache OpenOffice and updated – but LibreOffice still enjoyed a head start for a long time and I’ve seen nothing since that convinces me OpenOffice has caught up – it certainly hasn’t overtaken LibreOffice.
LibreOffice Advantages vs MS Office
- It is totally free and can be installed on as many computers as you like – unlike MS Office Home & Student edition which is limited to 1 computer
- 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 or Office 365)
- 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
- Its installation file is about one fifth of the size of MS Office and takes less time to install
- In my 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.
LibreOffice Disadvantages vs MS Office
- Some may think the interface (look and feel) is not as ‘modern’ as MS Office or 365 – I 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 Microsoft Word and Excel may not be fully compatible with LibreOffice (mainly very complex business features like pivot tables that most home users will never need or come across).
How To Install LibreOffice
- Go to the official website LibreOffice.org and click ‘Download Now’ and download the Main Installer installation file (about 280MB in size so may take some time)
- Then download the smaller ‘Help for offline use’ file (click ‘Need another language’ and select your own language before doing this if you don’t want US English)
- After both have downloaded, run the main installer 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 it so it’s easy to just delete it afterwards if you wish]
How To Configure LibreOffice
You may now 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 like that 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 make LibreOffice the default program to open these types of file.
Click one of the items in this menu to open a blank new document and edit away!
If you have any existing Word, Excel or Powerpoint documents on your computer they should open straight up into the relevant LibreOffice application when you double click them: Writer (like Word), Calc (like Excel) or Impress (like Powerpoint).
Changing The File Types of LibreOffice
By default, LibreOffice saves documents in the universally recognized open standard ODF format.
Unfortunately Microsoft were slow to adhere to open standards and only Office 2007 SP2 onwards can open ODF files. Because of this, if you are planning to send your documents to other people (who may use a very old version of MS Office) you need to change the default file formats of LibreOffice as follows:
- In the Main Menu, 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 shown 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 97-2003’
- Select ‘Spreadsheet’ and then from the ‘Always Save As’ drop down list select ‘Microsoft Excel 97-2003’
- Select ‘Presentation’ and then from the ‘Always Save As’ drop down list select ‘Microsoft Powerpoint 97-2003’
Click on OK to save your changes. Now people with any version of MS Office will be able to read the documents you create and save :-)
Is Java Still A Requirement For LibreOffice?
LibreOffice requires that Java is installed for only a few very advanced features – mostly in the Base (Access database equivalent) application that the average home user will never use.
I’ve certainly run LibreOffice, without having Java installed, for many years and have never encountered a function or feature where it was needed. So most users do not have to install Java to use LibreOffice.
If you do, or already have Java installed, be aware that Java also installs plugins into web browsers but it’s unwise to use them unless you really need to – only about 1 in 1000 websites still require Java.
For best security it is wise to disable Java in all browsers if possible – you can then still use Java for offline applications like LibreOffice, without having the Java plugin active while browsing the web.
LibreOffice picked up where OpenOffice left off. It remains the best free alternative to Microsoft Office for the average home user if they will never use the most advanced business features of MS Office.