I spend a lot of my day using Microsoft Tools…it is the nature of my job. I am left with very little choice to use Internet Explorer (certain productivity tools will only work with IE), and as a Sales Professional I generate my quotes in MS Word, do forecasting and scenario builds with MS Excel and build, show and manipulate presentations with MS PowerPoint. It is the nature of what I have to do in the environment that I am in for almost 10 hours per day. When I get home though, it is all Open Source (at least as much as possible) and while 90% of the computers at home run Linux…I do keep a computer running Windows 7 so that I can ensure compatibility with my work content.
When I received word that LibreOffice 4.0 was released, I was more than a little excited as with each iteration, there has become more and more compatibility with existing features of the Microsoft Product line. On the Windows Machine that I have running, I have the latest iteration of Microsoft Office running and while I am not usually a fan of anything Microsoft, the Office 2013 is pretty solid.
LibreOffice is a great alternative though because it is completely FREE and available as a 184MB download. Within the Suite you get Writer (MS Word Replacement), Calc (MS Excel Replacement), Impress (MS PowerPoint Replacement), Base (MS Access Replacement), Math (no MS equivalent) and Draw (MS Visio and Publisher Replacement). As a solution for anyone who wants to save the $99-500 price tag for having the latest and greatest MS Solution…it is a good choice, but the real question will come from the use of MS formatted files which has always been a challenge with the OpenOffice and LibreOffice solution.
In my full time job, we leverage the power of Microsoft formatted documents daily, it is part of the solution that we provide so I thought that I would put some of these docs through their paces and see if there really is a justification and use case for moving away from MS Office and saving that money.
MS PowerPoint to Impress comparison
When viewing a presentation built with MS PowerPoint 2007, there was no problems with PowerPoint 2013 displaying exactly how it was meant to look, the file format has not changed and the display was all well suited to the newest form. When I look at the same presentation from within Impress though…there are some obvious challenges, text boxes are overfilled, aligned text within images are off and Title Headings seem to be out of skew just ever so slightly. I then took that same presentation and saved it as an ODP from within MS PowerPoint and while some of the formatting improved when it was reopened in Impress…the conversion was to the Open Document Format was messy and actually revealed some hidden fields left by the author. Interestingly, this issue also presented itself when I opened the ODP file in PowerPoint so the blame firmly goes with Microsoft and its conversion of the Presentation.
As far as developing new Presentations…MS PowerPoint has hundreds of options and I suspect that I will use this analogy a lot but think of it as a Swiss Army Knife…it has tons of options, but with Impress…it is get to action. Robust enough to let you explore dynamic presentations but not so complex that you are left spinning your wheels trying to figure out how to do the next “neat thing”. One thing that I have learned about Presentations over the years is that simple is better and while there are some formatting challenges…Impress is good enough and then some.
MS Excel to Calc Comparison
For the most part, a spreadsheet is a spreadsheet but when used as a Data Visualization Tool…Excel and Calc can be a very powerful way of expressing and transforming complex data into simple graphs and charts. The real question is…when Data is collected in one format, is it viewed the same? Unfortunately in the 4 sample xls templates that I downloaded…it did not present the information as cleanly from Excel to Calc.
Even when I saved the Excel file as an ODS file that should improve compatibility…it failed to deliver on the format compatibility. The same can be said for when you are using complex macros withing Excel to build in functionality into an Excel Spreadsheet…the world of Visual Basic does not play well in the Open Format world.
When we look at it coming from Calc to Excel though…the challenge is not quite as grand as the Basic Compiler works quite well and if the file from Calc is saved as an Excel .xls or .xlsx it works quite well.
MS Word to Writer Comparison
Some might say that the world of a Word Processor has not changed too much since the days of type writers and while for the most part that is true (you type, set formatting and then print) there are features that continue to evolve.
When I opened the Word Documents that I was testing compatibility with…I did not see any significant differences. Manipulating the information in the Word Docs was far easier and straight forward with Writer than with Word. I strongly feel that the developers at Microsoft are trying to reinvent the Word Processor when there really is no reason to do this. It is a tool…just like having a Hammer in your Toolbox at home is a requirement…but do most of need to have a Hammer that can do 27 different things when all we really need it to do is be a Hammer and pound in Nails?
While Excel and PowerPoint are in many ways superior to their LibreOffice counterparts, the advantages are more in line with the way that they support Open Standards than with the feature sets themselves. When it comes to Writer and Word though…it is a dead heat.
There are many reasons why having the MS Office solution would make sense but the price tag that comes from having a full solution for every employee, may not make sense. There are MS Office Viewers available for free, but there is a need for giving the ability to edit information to those who do not live within to Office Suite on a consistent basis and for these people, I would say that there is a good reason to save money and leverage the power of LibreOffice 4.0.
I will be updating all of my Linux Machines to this and I was overall quite impressed. LibreOffice is available for Mac, Windows and Linux from the www.libreoffice.org.
Chris J Powell