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LibreOffice 4 liberates you from Microsoft Office

Jon L. Jacobi | June 28, 2013
LibreOffice is a competitive alternative to Microsoft Office that is extensible, highly compatible, highly configurable, and free.

Base is capable enough that I'm seriously considering moving my invoicing system over to it from Access. It has all the basic features, including forms, reports, SQL, and relational multiple table support.

It can connect to external databases, including those from Microsoft Access. Base doesn't import Access forms and reports, but its form design wizard and editor are good enough that recreating them is a not an unduly tedious task. Subforms are supported so you can display multiple tables in a single form.

Base requires Java for its own databases. However, as a front end for external databases such as the Access database I used in my hands-on, Java is not required.

My test database had only about a thousand records, so I can't say how well Base scales. Feature-wise, it's strictly an end-user database. There are no means to make a database run as a standalone.

LibreOffice Impress

Impress didn't display some portions of PowerPoint presentations imported, so in that regard it was one of the less successful modules in LibreOffice.

However, Impress is quite facile at creating presentations, and it exports to PDF, which is the format I see most often these days. PDFs don't require proprietary software, namely PowerPoint, to render. A design wizard and a decent collection of nice-looking templates help to get you started.

LibreOffice Math and Draw
Both the Math (formula rendering and shaping) and Draw applications are capable. I found the Draw program and its myriad shapes and objects particularly useful and easy. You can also use the Draw app to create presentations.

Interface and Compatibility

LibreOffice's interface is enough like Microsoft Office's that few users will have trouble adjusting to it. It also give you complete control over the contents of menus and toolbars, as well as the actions invoked by keyboard shortcuts. This makes it easy to emulate a program you might be more familiar with, or to streamline your workflow by hiding features you don't use. Personally, I decidedly do not miss Office 2010's window-obscuring menu, poor organization of options, and too-many-clicks interface.

As much as I like LibreOffice, I do have some minor gripes. I do not like the mixing of document types in the recent files list in all the modules. When I'm in Writer, I want to see Writer documents, not the database files and spreadsheets I've been working with. At the very least, they should be divided by type. On the other hand, I like it that LibreOffice provides other types of documents under the "New File" heading. Yes, some reviewers are just hard to please.


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