A fact of life is that Microsoft’s Office suite has become the standard for editable documents. I say “editable” because PDF is the standard for document portability. In order to share things across a team of people, you have to consider “format” – especially with a volunteer staff who may or may not deem it justifiable to purchase document software. Luckily there is a solution – and it’s free.
LibreOffice (formerly OpenOffice) is a full-featured office product that is a group effort between major technology players, like Sun, Novell, Redhat, and Google. It is extremely feature rich and stable, and enjoys constant development. Here are some reasons why I think LibreOffice can (and should) be a valuable player in your ministry’s collaboration culture.
- It’s free. LibreOffice is a major competitor to the Microsoft Office Suite, and is offered by libreoffice.org free of charge to anyone. You can download an entire suite of office applications – including word-processing, spreadsheet, database, graphics, and presentation software – for free. And these are impressive applications, even offering some features not found in their commercial counterparts.
- It’s compatible. While the software has it’s own format (open document format or ODF), you can set each application to default to saving and opening to its Microsoft Office counterpart format. For instance, you can set “Writer” to save as one of several flavors of Microsoft’s “Word” format, and you can set Calc to open and save in Microsoft’s “Excel” format. This means that no one has to buy any additional software, but you still can use the same formats for sharing files.
- It’s pretty good software. This is subjective of course, but LibreOffice does not feel like a cheap-o free Office wanna-be. It’s good software. Sometimes it seems slower than office. Sometimes the margins are off a little when moving files between LibreOffice to Microsoft Office (but not unmanageably so). But all in all, after using it as my exclusive office suite for 8 years, it works great.
- It’s cross-platform. LibreOffice runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OsX, and Solaris. it is also available in a ton of languages.
If you want to get everyone on the same page for document formats (try mixing Microsoft Office and Microsoft Works files – blech), then LibreOffice is a very good solution that won’t cost your ministry a single dime. Your team-members who already own Microsoft Office can still use it, and the rest of your team can use LibreOffice and be able to collaborate with one another.
Now, it’s not perfect software. The formatting “issues” can be mitigated by tweaking the default template settings between Office users and LibreOffice users – but this is tedious. Also, if you’re an old-pro at Microsoft Office, you will have a minimal re-learning curve. But the free price tag makes it worth the re-learn.
Oh, and did I mention that it is absolutely free?
NOTE: I recently ran across this list of additional alternatives to Microsoft Office.
P.S. I just recently, after 8 years of using LibreOffice exclusively, began using Microsoft’s Office suite. The reason wasn’t because of any problem with LibreOffice. Late one night, while working on a project, I decided to relent to the recurring messages and update Apple’s Java. Something in Apple’s update broke my LibreOffice. Since I had to get the project done, I decided to purchase Microsoft Office online. The java issue persists so I still can’t use my LibreOffice. Thankfully, I set all the LibreOffice apps to save to their Microsoft counterpart formats. What’s interesting is that my wife’s MacBook Air has the same Java update, and LibreOffice works just fine for her.