OpenOffice vs LibreOffice: A Comparison of the Twins

By CIOReview | Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When most people think of office suites, the only program that comes to mind is MS Office. But, the same cannot be said for enterprises. Companies which are in search of an open source office suite often find themselves in a dilemma of choosing between OpenOffice and LibreOffice. The dilemma arises when users realize that there is not much difference between the two as LibreOffice is the forked out version of OpenOffice.

The History

Scroll back a few years to 2010, when was the only open source suite out there. OpenOffice has its roots in StarOffice, a German program that Sun Microsystems acquired in 1999. Sun further developed the suite and open sourced it to rival the dominant player, MS Office. In 2010, faced with financial difficulties, Sun was taken over by database software company, Oracle.

Rumblings soon developed when Oracle threatened to pull the plug on OpenSource which eventually prompted many programmers to jump ship along with backers like Red Hat, Novell, and Canonical. The programmers who left the company formed the Document Foundation and forked OpenOffice’s code to create LibreOffice. A year later, Oracle donated OpenOffice’s code and trademarks to the Apache Foundation who renamed it as Apache OpenOffice.

Since then, both these suites have had contrasting fortunes. LibreOffice buoyed by so many programmers, made significant innovations and went on to become the default office in Linux distributions while OpenOffice gradually lost ground due to sporadic upgrades. Moreover, Apache’s acquisition has left OpenOffice with an Achilles Heel. LibreOffice has a “copyleft” license whereas OpenOffice has migrated from copyleft to an all-permissive Apache license. Copyleft licenses allow anyone to use an open source code, but anything that is derived from it is bound by the same terms. In contrast, OpenOffice’s all permissive Apache license gives one and all the freedom to use the code for commercial purposes. As a result, whenever OpenOffice introduces a new upgrade, LibreOffice can replicate it without any permission whereas OpenOffice can’t do the same.

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However, OpenOffice still has a huge following as it was the original mainstream suite to rival MS Office. On the other hand, LibreOffice is only known to “geeks” mostly. So, what can enterprises expect while opting for one of these solutions? Let’s have a look.

The Comparison

As mentioned earlier, both suites have a lot in common and are pretty much like identical twins. Though they have similar feature sets, OpenOffice has a few unique options like a macro recorder, media player, and a horizontal rule of web pages. Then again, LibreOffice had intentionally dropped these features as part of a massive cleanup of its code. Reports say that LibreOffice now has 7.2 million lines of code while OpenOffice still has about 11.2 million lines. This has made LibreOffice lighter, faster, and meaner. But, LibreOffice has two big aces up its sleeve which makes it more endearing to enterprises.

Embedded Fonts

LibreOffice supports embedded fonts in documents ensure that the document will appear the same on any system even if the said font is not available in the computer. OpenOffice, sadly, is not equipped with this feature. The lack of embedded fonts can make formatting in OpenOffice tiresome and quite frustrating for a user.

Office Open XML Support

Office Open XML format or the .docx format is the current default file type in both Office 365 as well as Office 2013 Word documents. LibreOffice supports the Open XML allowing users to open and also save a particular document in that format. Though OpenOffice can open files of the .docx type, saving is, unfortunately, not enabled in the program. This means that enterprises using OpenOffice will find it difficult to transition from one environment to another, that is, from MS Office to OpenOffice. Moreover, communicating with other enterprises can also become complicated. Also, OpenOffice’s sporadic updates mean it is doubtful whether the programmers will introduce an upgrade to resolve this issue.

For enterprises, who are looking to cut costs can test certainly these open source office suites without much of a rethink. Though both have similar interfaces and features, LibreOffice, with a robust developer community and constant upgrades, surely holds an upper hand over OpenOffice.