For a long time, Microsoft Office has been the reigning champ of office suites, but that doesn’t mean the free alternative, LibreOffice, isn’t worth considering. Let’s take a look at how the two compare, and if it’s finally possible to ditch the paid option for the free one.
You might not think it’s really fair to compare the free LibreOffice and the paid Microsoft Office, but the two are a lot closer in features than you might think. For one, LibreOffice is compatible with a lot more systems, including Windows, OS X, and Linux, while Microsoft Office’s newest version is restricted to just Windows 7 and Windows 8. Besides: it’s not about which one is “better” or “more feature filled.” It’s about whether your work requires what Microsoft has to offer, or if you can get by with something free and save a bit of money. Now, with LibreOffice reaching 4.1, we’ve decided it’s time to give it an in-depth comparison with Microsoft Office.
While we certainly can’t go through each feature one-by-one, we’ll attempt to get a good look at how they compare. If you’re interested in looking for a specific feature, head to this page and search for it on the table. It should give you a pretty good idea of exactly which features are in which suite. In this post, we’re going to talk in more general terms.
Word Processing: Word vs. Writer
When it comes to word processors, LibreOffice Writer and Microsoft Word are easily two of the best out there. If you’ve used Microsoft Word before, then you’ll be right at home with Writer and vice-versa. In fact, in many ways, Writer even blows Word out of the water.
When it comes to straight up features, Writer and Word are incredibly similar. Writer has all the major features of Word, including a fantastic grammar checker, a solid autosave system, support for a huge variety of formats, and plenty more. If you’re a Word user, you’ll have no problem making the jump to Writer because the two operate and look the same. Likewise, if this is your first Office suite, then Writer is easy to learn and use.
For years, Word’s killer feature was a variety of editing options and change tracking. Now, though, Writer comes with all that as well. You can track changes, show edits, and everything else. In fact, I prefer Writer’s simpler layout of tracked changes over Word’s because it’s a bit easier to use and understand.
The Bottom Line
After using both for a couple weeks, I didn’t notice any major features missing in either. Writer is a capable word processor that does pretty much everything Word can do and more. In fact, we picked Writer as the best word processor for Windows. If a word processor is all you really need, then Writer will do everything Word can do and more.
Spreadsheets: Excel vs. Calc
Spreadsheets are a major part of an office suite and Microsoft Excel has long been the king. Depending on how you use spreadsheets, LibreOffice’s Calc may very well be enough for you, unless you’re already invested in Excel’s ecosystem.
For the most part, Calc and Excel work the same way. If you’re a light spreadsheet user, you probably won’t notice much difference between the two. Both can do basic calculations, handle light math, and organize tables in a variety of ways. However, if you use a lot of Excel macros and programming, then you’re going to struggle with Calc.
The reason is that Calc has its own macro language and it’s not always compatible with Excel’s VBA format. This means if you’re trying to switch over to Calc from Excel, you may need to redo a lot of your macros. That said, Calc macros do translate well to Excel—just not the other way around—so if you’re just sending off your own spreadsheets to other people, Calc may suffice.
The Bottom Line
If you’re new to spreadsheets or just a light user, Calc gets the job done. However, if you’re working in an environment where you’re sharing a lot of macros then you’re best off sticking with Excel. Both of them are easy to get started with, support the same file formats, and offer a pretty close selection of features.
Presentation Software: PowerPoint vs. Impress
The word PowerPoint has been synonymous with presentations for a long while, and with good reason: it’s a powerful piece of software and does presentations better than most. LibreOffice’s presentation software, Impress, is capable enough, but it’s not going to convert any naysayers.
The main issue with Impress is that it still struggles occasionally when importing presentations made in PowerPoint. I had issues with some missing fonts and other rendering problems. That said, if you’re creating presentations from scratch, Impress does it pretty well, albeit without quite as much flair as PowerPoint. That pretty much just amounts to a lack of certain slide animations and no support for video exports. Impress also doesn’t have animated diagrams and lacks the ability to collaborate on presentations as a group.
It’s not all bad news for Impress, though. Impress can export presentations in a ton of different formats, which makes sharing presentations a heck of a lot easier because you don’t need to rely on someone else having PowerPoint. Regardless, both feel pretty similar to use, and while neither will magically give you an Academy Award-winning presentation, they’re both equally easy to start.
The Bottom Line
LibreOffice’s Impress is a perfectly capable program, but if you’re working with people who usually use PowerPoint you might run into some compatibility issues still. If you’re just making presentations for your own purposes, then Impress should work for you.
Database Software: Access vs. Base
The last big piece of software included in both suites is the database management systems. Microsoft Access has long been a the default app for database management, but LibreOffice’s Base is a pretty worthy competitor.
The main difference between Base and Access is availability. Access is only available for Windows, whereas Base is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Outside of that, the two are pretty comparable. Both can create forms, reports, SQL, and tables, while connecting to outside databases. Base is meant for small scale databases, and it’s not about running anything on its own, so if you need a standalone database you’ll want to stick with Access.
Interface-wise, they’re both very similar to use. As with most programs in LibreOffice, you can tell they’re modeled after their Microsoft equivalents, and Base is no different. If you’ve used Access before, you’ll be able to jump into Base right away.
The Bottom Line
Unlike the rest of the software in the suite, database software is really more about what you and your company use. Base has fantastic integration with MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Thunderbird, whereas Access integrates better with Outlook and Paradox. Both manage to do what they need to do well, so which you use really depends on the context you use it in.
Which Suite is Best for You
For the most part, LibreOffice and Microsoft Office have the same suite of software with the exception of one thing: Outlook. LibreOffice doesn’t come packed with an email client, so if you need Outlook or an equivalent, you won’t find it here. The rest of the suite is pretty similar.
It’s pretty obvious that if money is tight, LibreOffice is the office suite for you. Even still, if Microsoft Office isn’t actually required at your work (especially with Outlook), LibreOffice has a lot to offer these days. LibreOffice also supports extensions, which means you can customize the look, features, and feel of the suite to suit your needs. Fortunately, the two office suites usually play nice together, so if you want to give LibreOffice a try for a few days you should be able to continue working with documents you’ve already created in Microsoft Office (though as stated above, you may run into a few small issues).
If LibreOffice doesn’t suit your needs, OpenOffice is also worth a look. Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice are built on the same foundation, and while they’re relatively similar, LibreOffice has a little bit more of a mass appeal and gets updated more often. If you’re sick of dealing with Microsoft or you just don’t feel like paying a lot for software, LibreOffice and OpenOffice are both worthy alternatives. It’s certainly taken a few years for them to really catch up, but now that they have, Microsoft has something to worry about.