OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

OpenOffice.org was once the preferred open source office suite, but it has split into two separate projects: Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice. It doesn’t matter Oracle Open Office, which was actually a closed-source office suite and has been discontinued.

Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice still exist and are releasing new versions of their competing but similar office suites. But what’s the real difference, and which one is the best?

Why do OpenOffice and LibreOffice both exist?

Understanding why there are two separate office suites built on the same OpenOffice.org code is only possible if you understand the story here.

Sun Microsystems acquired the StarOffice office suite in 1999. In 2000, Sun made StarOffice software open source: this free, open source office suite was known as OpenOffice.org. The project continued with the help of Sun employees and volunteers, 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 cause confusion, and then discontinued it. Most of the external volunteers, including Go-oo contributors, who contributed to a number 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 code base. Most Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, have changed their bundled office suite from OpenOffice.org to LibreOffice.

OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

The original OpenOffice.org looked down in the dumps. In 2011, Oracle provided the OpenOffice.org trademarks and code to the Apache Software Foundation. The project known as OpenOffice today is actually Apache OpenOffice and is being developed under the umbrella of Apache under the Apache license.

LibreOffice developed faster and released new versions more frequently, but the Apache OpenOffice project is not dead. Apache released the beta version of OpenOffice 4.1 in March 2014.

OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

But what’s the difference?

You can download LibreOffice or OpenOffice free for Windows, Linux or Mac. Both office suites include 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.

Below, we have a screenshot of LibreOffice Writer, LibreOffice’s word processing program.

OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

Next, we have a screenshot of OpenOffice Writer. These programs certainly don’t look completely identical. Aside from the different default theme, there is an entire sidebar included in OpenOffice that LibreOffice doesn’t show by default. This sidebar is designed for widescreen displays where vertical space is at a premium.

OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

The sidebar can also be enabled in LibreOffice. (To enable it, click Tools> Options, select LibreOffice> Advanced, select Enable Experimental Features, restart LibreOffice, and click View> Sidebar.) With the Sidebar enabled, the two programs look almost identical.

OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

There are other differences, of course. Look at the LibreOffice status bar at the bottom of the window and you’ll see a real-time word count for the current document. In OpenOffice, you still need to select Tools> Word Count to view the word count at any time – it will not update and show itself automatically.

LibreOffice also supports embedding fonts in documents. This can be activated from File> Properties, in the Font tab. Embedding a font in a document ensures that the document will look the same on any system, even if the computer does not have the font installed. OpenOffice does not contain this functionality.

We could keep looking for further differences, but it really feels like a nit. The vast majority of people will have a hard time 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 notice too much difference.

OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

The licensing situation

The sidebar above is an interesting example of where these projects are going. The sidebar in OpenOffice is a completely new feature that the Apache OpenOffice project has added to OpenOffice. On the other hand, the experimental sidebar in LibreOffice looks basically identical to the OpenOffice sidebar.

This is not an accident. The OpenOffice sidebar code has been copied and incorporated into LibreOffice. The Apache OpenOffice project uses the Apache license, while LibreOffice uses a dual LGPLv3 / MPL license. The practical result is that LibreOffice can take the OpenOffice code and embed it in LibreOffice: the licenses are compatible.

On the other hand, LibreOffice has some features, such as embedding fonts, which do not appear in OpenOffice. This is because the two different licenses only allow a one-way code transfer. LibreOffice can embed OpenOffice code, but OpenOffice cannot embed LibreOffice code. This is the result of the different licenses chosen by the projects.

In the long run, this means that the great improvements of OpenOffice can be incorporated into LibreOffice, while the great improvements of LibreOffice cannot be incorporated into OpenOffice. This clearly gives LibreOffice a big advantage, which will develop faster and incorporate more features and enhancements.

OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: which one should you use?

It doesn’t really matter

It doesn’t matter if you use LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice. Both are good choices if you’re looking for a powerful free office suite. The two projects are so similar that you will hardly notice the difference.

We recommend LibreOffice if we had to choose one of the two. It has seen the most exciting development and has the most long-term potential.

But it’s hard to go wrong here. OpenOffice would probably work just fine for you too.

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