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Sysadmins: Is LibreOffice a viable office suite choice for your users?

LibreOffice is a full-featured office tool, but it has been slow to replace proprietary alternatives in many spaces.
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Is LibreOffice a viable Microsoft Office alternative for your users?

Choices

At some point in our lives, we have all been in a situation that required us to make use of a software suite for productivity. For most of us, that software has been Microsoft Office. Some of my earliest technology encounters (aside from taking typing classes in elementary school) involved sitting down at a desktop computer to type up a homework assignment, or a surprise five-page expose on the universal themes permeating The Grapes of Wrath. (Insert eye roll here.)

As technology continues to develop, the range of useful operating systems we have at our disposal continues to diversify, and that’s a good thing. MacOS has never been more popular, and we are even seeing a surge in Linux and Chrome OS users. The problem with all of these technologies is that users need compatibility across platforms. Many educational institutions still require work to be submitted in a Microsoft Word format, and this requirement can be problematic without the use of additional software for non-Windows users.

Another aspect that sysadmins need to consider is cost. With the trend toward subscription models, making a decision now requires a different calculus. A subscription option allows you to always have the most up to date version, although it only covers one software license unless you are purchasing for a business. You still have one-time purchase options, however, it will never receive updates in the future outside of routine maintenance patches. For small business sysadmins, every dollar counts. If you can save your company money on software licensing and still have a robust productivity suite, you will not struggle to prove your value to the company.

So, what is a forward-thinking, frugal, open source sysadmin to do? As this is not a trick question, the answer is simple: Use open source software to solve the issue. I want to look at what open source can do for us in the productivity space.

LibreOffice

I am currently writing this article in LibreOffice, and am admittedly biased. However, I’ll try to be objective. First released in 2011, LibreOffice was born from a fork in development on OpenOffice.org. This suite is available for Windows, Linux, and macOS. It contains all of the essential tools that one needs to compete with Windows and is the front runner for open source in this race. LibreOffice is regularly updated by an active community of developers and allows you to read and write in Microsoft Office compatible formats! Also, for collaboration and ease of access, there is LibreOffice Online. This allows for functionality that is very similar to Google Docs. It is worth noting that there is another variant of the OpenOffice development called Apache OpenOffice. However, it is less updated at this point and IMHO is no competition for LibreOffice. For Mac users specifically, there is a native experience based on LibreOffice called Neo-Office. It requires a small investment but may meet the needs of a niche group of users.

As for actual software modules, LibreOffice currently contains a word processor called LibreOffice Writer, a spreadsheet utility named Calc, a presentation utility called Impress, a Microsoft Paint alternative called Draw, a formula processor called Math, a database utility called Base, and a chart/graph utility cleverly named “Charts”. This suite is my personal choice for open source office productivity, and I can’t recommend it enough. The full list of tools can be explored at LibreOffice.org.

Final thoughts

Open source suites can offer high functionality and compatibility for little to no investment on the part of the user. I hope that this article helps you find a useful, open source alternative to the overly commercialized software suites that dominate the market today. We can create a better market and better products through competition by elevating open source technology in the new year!

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Tyler Carrigan

Tyler is a community manager at Enable Sysadmin, a submarine veteran, and an all-round tech enthusiast! He was first introduced to Red Hat in 2012 by way of a Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based combat system inside the USS Georgia Missile Control Center. More about me

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