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LibreOffice 3.3 review

Our Rating :

It’s not without its quirks, but LibreOffice is still a capable open-source office suite and a fine free replacement for Microsoft Office.

Oracle’s recent acquisition of Sun raised a few concerns among open-source software supporters. Sun was the main sponsor of the project, an open-source spin-off of its own commercial StarOffice suite. Sun’s patronage was generally seen in a positive light by the open-source community, but uncertainties remain over Oracle’s commitment to open source – for example, after acquiring Sun in January 2010, it halted development of the OpenSolaris operating system and sued Google for alleged Java copyright infringement in its open-source Android Mobile OS.

There were also frustrations among some developers about the way Sun approved or rejected code changes in OpenOffice, so with a view to improving matters the project’s main non-Sun members formed a breakaway project by ‘forking’ the code — essentially making a copy (completely legal for open-source projects) and developing it themselves as a parallel office suite. Oracle still owns the brand, so a new name was needed for the project, along with a new organisation to oversee it — hence ‘LibreOffice’ and The Document Foundation (TDF).

LibreOffice 3.3 2

LibreOffice is TDF’s first release of this forked project. Its launch coincides with Oracle’s first update to OpenOffice, and both versions of the suite are now at 3.3 (LibreOffice kept the OpenOffice version number for consistency). The suites are superficially similar, but in the four months since the fork TDF has found time to add a few new features to LibreOffice. The suite can import Microsoft Works documents, for example, and save in Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010’s XML document format — OpenOffice 3.3 can read these documents, but not write to them.

At first glance, there’s little to distinguish LibreOffice 3.3 from its Oracle-sponsored counterpart, which is a good thing for anyone who’s making the switch from OpenOffice — or the visually similar pre-2007 versions of Microsoft Office. The component application names are the same, but the interface has been given a subtle makeover to differentiate from Oracle’s release. This is most noticeable with the toolbar buttons, but their redesign is only a partial success and you’ll need tooltips to identify the more cryptic ones.

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Rating *****

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