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Experience of Using OpenOffice and LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office, Comparison and Evaluation of the Possible Replacement

As a part of extending the Inreco LAN’s experience in using application software and thus reducing the dependency on a single software vendor, as well as the software’s TCO, once we decided to experiment on using OpenOffice (mostly; though somebody could use LibreOffice) instead of then used Microsoft Office.

The article describes this experience (the experiment’s summary) as well as my personal experience of using OpenOffice in a commercial project where other team members used Microsoft Office. All this is kind of attempt to compare open-source analogs of Microsoft Office and to evaluate them according to the criterion of replaceability (by determining critical and non-critical features as applied to our activity). However, the article does not pretend to be a fully-fledged comparison of the office software suites, and the author will be thankful for any remarks and additions. To be exact: our experiments involved Microsoft Office 2010 (mostly, though there was version of 2003 in the commercial project), OpenOffice 3.3 (the “Infra-Resource” build) and LibreOffice 3.3.2.

Microsoft Office application analogs are:

  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice Calc = Microsoft Office Excel;
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice Draw = Microsoft Office Visio;
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice Writer = Microsoft Office Word.

The main analogs’ features found in the experiments are listed in the table below.

Analog Feature Criticality
Calc (OOo/LO) Does not save in OpenXML format of the table processor (xlsx). Critical for one of our internal applications.
Calc (OOo) Working with comments is not comfortable – to edit one you need to do extra clicks: “Show comment” > click the comment field (in addition there is no cursor seen) > click “Show comment” after editing finished. Critical for financial calculations.
Draw (OOo) Does not work with Visio files, both in the binary format (vsd) and in the OpenXML format (vdx). Critical as it is impossible to edit customers’ Visio documents.
Writer (OOo) Pages DOCuments in a different way than the “native” Microsoft Word (i. e. gives a different count of pages and/or text distribution among pages). Critical as it a particular case led to misunderstanding with a customer referring paragraphs on specific pages.
Writer (OOo) In some cased loses numbers in numbered headings of a document. Critical as it a particular case led to misunderstanding with a customer.
Writer (OOo) Distorts Microsoft Word document template’s styles and adds some extra own ones. Critical for team work and preparing project documents by common templates.
Writer (OOo) After saving a DOCument converts all its auto-updated fields of cross-references to static text. Critical as this makes impossible to use cross-references and their benefits.
Writer (OOo) Marks text with a background color in a different way than Microsoft Word so it is very hard to remove the color marks in the latter. Critical if a document with Writer’s color marks must be cleared from the marks in Word before sending it to a customer.
Calc (OOo) Opens and saves xls/ods files too slow, especially big ones (much slower than MsExcel does). Non-critical as such big Excel documents are rare.
Calc (OOo) A little imperfection with the default aligning long text in a cell. Non-critical.
Calc (OOo) Does not “understand” the Excel’s COUNTIFS function in cells, so it is impossible to use it for some Excel documents. Non-critical, as Excel documents with such a function are rare.
Writer (OOo/LO) Dragging and dropping a file onto the open editor’s windows does not lead to opening it. Non-critical.
Writer (LO) When opening a DOCument either does not show its contents block or shows it with missed hyperlinks for the appropriate headings. Non-critical as the contents block can be regenerated.
Writer (OOo) Distorts OpenXML document templates (dotx) when opening; meanwhile, if you open the OpenXML template in Microsoft Word and save it as a binary template (dot) then the Writer will open the latter correctly. Non-critical as all dotx templates can be converted to dot one time and then not used.
Writer (OOo) Often either does not display or display distorted the pictures inserted in docx documents (particularly created in the embedded Word editor). Non-critical.
Writer (OOo) Either does not always update auto-updated fields or distorts their display format when updates (particularly, of a date field). Non-critical.
Writer (OOo) Does not search (Ctrl + F) among the values of auto-updated fields (for example, when you need to find fields with errors of cross-references lost). Non-critical.

In conclusion let me remind you that the criticality of the features was defined by us subjectively, as applied to our activity that implies quite sophisticated use of office applications to prepare our internal or project documentation. Meanwhile, in most of the cases (when according to the Pareto law 80% of users use 20% of functionality), OpenOffice/LibreOffice is a good replacement for Microsoft Office (but you should still use MsOffice document formats to send your documents outside so that nobody out there needed to install OOo/LO as well).

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