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Experience of Using 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 (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 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), 3.3 (the “Infra-Resource” build) and LibreOffice 3.3.2.

Microsoft Office application analogs are:

  • Calc = Microsoft Office Excel;
  • Draw = Microsoft Office Visio;
  • 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” MsWord (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 MsWord 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 MsWord 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 MsWord 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), 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).

15 Feb 2012 11:43:45 Roger Morgan (IP) Quote #1
This comparison is pointless. If your criterion is, "compatibility with Microsoft's proprietary file formats, and paginates documents exactly like Microsoft products", you are never going to be satisfied with LibreOffice or OpenOffice. You need just that one-liner in your comparison, not a 17-line table.
A major reason for using LibreOffice (or OpenOffice) is that it does not use proprietary file formats. Your documents belongs to you, not to Microsoft - you aren't dependent on a single company to work with your documents.
17 Feb 2012 08:13:11 Calin Dirth (IP) Quote #2
I disagree with Roger as far as this comparison being pointless. The comparison is far from so. As much as we all may want to shed much of what Microsoft has come to represent, the reality is that Microsoft's Office suite has extremely wide market penetration.
The documents that we produce using any given product are likely to be viewed/edited on one of the MS products at some point.
This is increasingly a critical point when you provide a deliverable to a client only to have the differences in formatting that can occur between Libre/OO/Word make your neat and orderly document appear to have been put together by a child.
Again, put together a presentation on Libre, display it on an in-place laptop using MS and it can look completely different and often extremely amateur.
Until either MS's market penetration subsides or OpenOffice/LibreOffice can manage to convert (vice versa) documents maintaining format then theyre unfortunately not really an option (as much as we may want them to be).
19 Dec 2012 20:48:41 Ron (IP) Quote #3
Working with comments is not comfortable
Pressing the <Esc> key makes comments disappear (in LO at least; don't know about other versions).
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