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Alternative to Microsoft Office Works with Windows, Mac, and Linux

You might sometimes dabble in Web alternatives to Office, like Google Docs or Zoho. While they're great for lightweight, on-the-go document creation, eventually you probably need to go home to Word and Excel. Now you have a new choice.

LibreOffice is a free, Open Source office suite that is thoroughly cross-platform: You can use it for Windows, Mac, and Linux. But let's get this out of the way right up front: LibreOffice is not something completely new. It's based on the same source code as Oracle's OpenOffice, and right now it is substantially the same overall product. As it evolves, though, LibreOffice will continue to diverge from OpenOffice and -- this is the most important thing for many people -- it is not under Oracle's influence, which means it's going to remain free and available no matter how OpenOffice is affected by Oracle's business plans.

Politics aside, LibreOffice is a worthy alternative to Microsoft Office. You can get the Windows, Mac, or Linux version from the download page, and comes with a half-dozen key productivity apps:

  • Writer is a Word-like word processor.
  • Calc is the spreadsheet alternative to Excel.
  • Impress, like PowerPoint, is a slide-based presentation tool.
  • Draw is a Visio-like structured drawing too.
  • Base is, as you might guess, a database application, like Microsoft's Access.
  • Math is an equation editor, not entirely unlike the one that comes with Windows 7.
LibreOffice, like OpenOffice before it, is a mixed bag. On the plus side, you can install an unlimited number of seats across all three platforms at no cost, which makes it a powerful tool for controlling software costs. But you don't get any technical support, which could cost you a lot more down the road.

More significantly, you might have some problems with the interface. Conventional wisdom says that Open Source projects are more agile than closed, proprietary software products. If that's the case, then why does LibreOffice look 10 years old? The interface is Spartan and ugly, like something that would have been at home in Windows 98. It doesn't benefit from any of the advances in usability we've seen in recent years, like Office's ribbon.

And while all of the apps are rough approximations of their Microsoft equivalents, and can do all of the common tasks you'd need to do in Office, they don't always do them as efficiently or easily. In Writer, for example, I sorely miss the elegant table formatting tools Microsoft provides in Word 2010.

Bottom line: There's no harm in rolling out LibreOffice as an addition to an existing Office deployment, but this suite is more about saving money than increasing productivity.

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Dave Johnson was employed by Microsoft Corporation at the time this article was written.