is Dead; Long Live LibreOffice!


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Oracle acquired the free, open-source office suite when it bought Sun. After that, it apparently completely failed to engage the community of OOo developers, who “forked” the project and started LibreOffice. For a while, the two existed side-by-side, but a parade of major companies, including Red Hat, Novell, Google, and Canonical, lined up to support LibreOffice. So Oracle’s announcement just the other day was, perhaps, inevitable. is dead.

OOo users can breathe a collective sigh of meh, though, since LibreOffice is a perfectly acceptable alternative with big commercial supporters. I’ve already removed OOo from my system and switched to LibreOffice without a hitch.

One more reason to love open source software

This is not an example of why you should not use open source software. It is just the opposite. It is an example of why I use open source software whenever I can.

If Microsoft were to discontinue Word tomorrow, there would be no non-profit foundation that would keep the software alive. More likely, Microsoft would sue into oblivion anyone who tried to restore usefulness to your hard drive full of Word files. But when an enormous open source project like starts to flail, it nearly always gets picked up, preserved, and moved on.

(Sure, Microsoft is unlikely to discontinue Office in the near future, but in ten years, when cloud alternatives are stronger? Maybe.)

Make the switch to LibreOffice

Whether you are using or Microsoft Office, consider switching to LibreOffice. Cost savings are part of the reason, but so is document longevity. I have also been been impressed with how quickly the LibreOffice developers are moving it forward. While was starting to feel a bit long in the tooth compared to Microsoft Office, it won’t be long before LibreOffice is innovating out ahead of Microsoft.

LibreOffice is perfectly usable for a law practice. I used in a litigation-intensive practice for over six years, with no problems of compatibility (whether proposed orders to the court or shared 26(f) report drafts with opposing counsel). I see no reason why moving to LibreOffice will cause any problems. It’s also just as easy to create beautiful documents with LibreOffice as with Microsoft Office.

However, if you have a good reason to stick with Microsoft Office, don’t feel compelled to switch. PowerPoint is far better than Impress, for example. And any macros you have built for Office will need to be re-created in LibreOffice. There is a cost to switching, even if the software is free. It just may be worth it, anyway.



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  • John Brown

    IBM’s Symphony Software is also a viable alternative. It is based on OpenOffice and is free. It has a number of features not found on OpenOffice, but does not have all the flak that has been added to Microsoft Office 2010.

    There are vendors out there (West / ProDoc for example) that are not set up to work with anything other than Microsoft Word and WordPerfect. However, ProDoc’s technical staff will tell you how to use Symphony through the back door. This does require a few extra steps.

    Also, moving documents back and forth between programs is relatively easy, but you have to watch out for formatting error (indentation, margins, fonts, etc.)

    • John

      Dear John Brown (or anyone with experience with this issue):

      This week I switched to a Mac as my primary office computer for a lot of reasons. I don’t want to start a debate here about which OS is best, but suffice to say I just like Macs and my old PC was about to frag out so when the time came to replace it, I chose to go Mac (been using Macs at home and have a MacBook Air already – very happy with Macs).

      My preference would be to go all Mac, however, Amicus Attorney and ProDoc are two Windows programs I simply don’t want to live without. I installed Parallels and Windows 7 and both Amicus and ProDoc work just fine on the Windows side. I also switched to Amicus Small Firm Accounting 2011 from an old version of PCLaw (I would have been fine sticking with PCLaw, but mine is version 5 and the install disks include floppy disks!). I’ve taken the leap to Amicus Accounting, so we’ll see how that works out.

      I have not yet installed a word processor on the Windows side to use with ProDoc. Franky, I would rather drink battery acid than buy another copy of MS Office for the Windows side, but I may be forced to do so in order to be able to sync data from Amicus to my BlackBerry and to generate documents in ProDoc. I’m planning on using Pages on the Mac side as my primary word processor, which so far is working out just fine.

      Your post interests me, as you’ve apparently been able to successfully use Symphony with ProDoc. Do you know whether other word processors like LIbreOffice or OpenOffice will work with ProDoc? If so, how? Any help you can lend on this issue will be greatly appreciated.

      Ideally, having ProDocs output to Pages would be my preference, but I’m thinking the Windows/Mac issue won’t allow that. If I can output ProDocs documents to a .doc format, I’m good to go as I can open and edit them in Pages. Your thoughts/experiences using something other than Word or WP with ProDocs would be greatly appreciated.

      Also, if ANYONE out there can weigh in on an alternative to MS Outlook to sync data from Amicus to a smartphone like the BlackBerry, please give me your insight and experience. I’m looking for a non-Outlook solution, as crappy Outlook and its constant pst file issues was a primary reason for migrating from PC to Mac.

  • When I used to use OpenOffice, I would run into compatibility problems with MS Word functionality for track changes, automatic outline numbering, and automatic section reference numbering. Do you think those issues are resolved in LibreOffice?

    Also, I know you are a fan of Google Docs. Are there compatibility issues like the ones described above when moving between MS Word and Google Docs? If not, it makes using an iPad as a laptop replacement a lot more palatable.

  • @John, well, that’s the entire MS Office business model, right? It’s a tremendous network effect that forces you to stay with their products because fixing formatting compatibility errors are often not worth the time. If those are ever fully conquered, Microsoft will face a tremendous and rapid erosion of their customer base.

  • Since the fork, libreoffice is struggling with bugs… it’s an unusable package as of the current time.

  • With last week’s release of Apache OpenOffice 3.4, and this week’s news about IBM’s contribution of Lotus Symphony source code to the Apache OpenOffice project, you will have to eat your words about “OOo is now a dead open source project”.

    Which goes to show that even lawyers can speak out of their asses.


    • You are totally right; there was totally no good reason whatsoever to call OOo a dead project when I wrote this post.

      I’ll be happy to post about how it is alive and thriving again when Red Hat, Novell, Google, Canonical, etc., come back to OOo.

  • I use mozilla thunderbird for msoutlook replacement and its working just fine

  • Troy

    Dear Sam,
    I’m relatively new to open source and Linux. This means I haven’t escaped the Bill Gates plantation altogether; I only go on fuloughs of varying lengths. But the furloughs are getting longer, the more I learn about open source. When you mention that there were no compatibility problems using OO for six years, are you talking about things like electronic filing? Did you have to save the file as something like rich text? If sending pdf docs, saved in something other than adobe, by e-mail or electronically filing them with the court, were there problems opening them on the other end? I usually run Linux Mint. Does this pose problems for you, if you run Linux, or for anyone else you might know that runs Linux. Could the explanation of no compatibility complaints coming from the courts just be a result of the fact that judges don’t bother to read briefs, having already made up their minds at the beginning of the case? (just kidding)

    • Since LibreOffice/OOo are able to save in DOC and PDF formats, you can exchange files with anyone using MS Office.