In a battle between LibreOffice vs OpenOffice, which office software suite would win? They’re both 100 percent free and are great choices to Microsoft Office, but which one will return home the productivity title for you or your organization?
Deciding which to download can be complicated since these office suites don’t look different from the start. On top of that, even the detailed distinctions are subtle. The suite you choose depends on personal preference. We reviewed both to find a few defining features, which might help push you over the fence in one direction.
Why Do OpenOffice and LibreOffice Both Exist?
You understand why two separate office suites built on the same OpenOffice.org code is only possible if you know the history here.
Sun Microsystems acquired the StarOffice office suite in 1999. In 2000, Sun open-sourced the StarOffice software — this free, open-source office suite was known as OpenOffice.org. The project proceeded with Sun employee’s and volunteers’ help, offering the free OpenOffice.org office suite to everyone — including Linux users.
In 2011, Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle. They renamed the proprietary StarOffice office suite to “Oracle Open Office,” as if they wanted to confuse, and then discontinued it. Most outside volunteers — including Go-oo contributors, who contributed a set of enhancements used by many Linux distributions — left the project and formed LibreOffice. LibreOffice was a fork of OpenOffice.org and is built on the original OpenOffice.org codebase. Most Linux partitions, including Ubuntu, changed their bundled office suite from OpenOffice.org to LibreOffice.
The original OpenOffice.org seemed down and out. In 2011, Oracle delivered the OpenOffice.org labels and code to the Apache Software Foundation. The project identified as OpenOffice today is Apache OpenOffice and is being developed under Apache’s umbrella under the Apache license.
LibreOffice has been developing faster and releasing new versions more commonly, but the Apache OpenOffice project isn’t dead. Apache published the beta version of OpenOffice 4.1 in March 2014.
LibreOffice vs OpenOffice: But What’s the Difference?
You can download LibreOffice or OpenOffice for free of cost for Windows, Linux, or Mac. Both office suites combine the same applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases. These two projects share the vast majority of their code. They have similar interfaces and features.
These programs don’t look completely identical. Aside from the different default theme, there’s an entire sidebar in OpenOffice that LibreOffice doesn’t show by default. This sidebar is designed for widescreen displays where upward space is at a premium.
The sidebar can be enabled in LibreOffice, too. (To enable it, click Tools > Options, select LibreOffice> Advanced, check Enable Experimental Features, restart LibreOffice, and click View > Sidebar.) With the sidebar enabled, the two programs look almost identical.
There are other differences, of course. Look at LibreOffice’s status bar at the bottom of the window, and you’ll see a live-updating word count for the famous document. On OpenOffice, you still have to choose Tools > Word Count to see the word count at any given time — it won’t modernize and present itself automatically.
LibreOffice also has support for font embedding in your documents. This can be activated from File > Properties, below the Font tab. Embedding a font in a document ensures that the paper will look the same on any system, even if the computer doesn’t have the font installed. OpenOffice doesn’t contain this feature.
We could go on looking for more differences, but this feels like nitpicking. The vast preponderance of people will have trouble noticing the difference between LibreOffice and OpenOffice. They’re both free and open-source, so you can always download both to compare — you probably won’t see too much of a difference.
The License Situation
The sidebar above is an exciting example of where these projects are going. The sidebar in OpenOffice is a unique new feature the Apache OpenOffice project has added to OpenOffice. On the other hand, the test sidebar in LibreOffice looks identical to OpenOffice’s sidebar.
This isn’t an accident. OpenOffice’s sidebar code was copied and included in LibreOffice. The Apache OpenOffice project uses the Apache License, while the LibreOffice works a dual LGPLv3 / MPL license. LibreOffice’s practical result can take OpenOffice’s code and combine it into LibreOffice — the rights are compatible.
On the other hand, LibreOffice has some features — like font embedding — that don’t look in OpenOffice. This is because the two separate licenses only allow a one-way transfer of code. LibreOffice can incorporate OpenOffice’s code, but OpenOffice can’t contain LibreOffice’s code. This is the outcome of the different licenses the projects chose.
In the long run, this indicates that significant improvements to OpenOffice can be incorporated into LibreOffice, while amazing improvements to LibreOffice can’t be incorporated into OpenOffice. This gives a considerable advantage to LibreOffice, which will develop quicker and include more features and enhancements.
Beyond these exceptions, you’re looking at picking nits so tiny that very few would ever spot them. So, which tool should you use? I opt for LibreOffice.
I favor the faster releases and the fact that it’s just there when I install Ubuntu Linux. Share your valuable thoughts and suggestions in the comment box section below.