LibreOffice 5.0 review - Good stuff


Updated: August 29, 2015

I woke up this morning babe, and the Internet was storming, inside of me. And when I get that feeling I know I need some LibreOffice testing. Yes. What happened was, I opened the browser, like, and I was, like, there's a new, like, LibreOffice, like, and it's a whole-number version. Yay.

In all seriousness, LibreOffice 5.0 got me really excited. Yes, I know, it was an almost arbitrary increment of a minor version to a major one, much like Mozilla did with Firefox a few years back. Still, I totally liked the previous version, and for the first time in many years, it showed real, actual potential of being a viable alternative to payware solutions. Let's see in which direction this latest edition carries the good news and all that hope.

Teaser

Setup

My test system was Linux Mint 17.2 Rafaela, which already comes with LibreOffice 4.4. But you can install the new version side-by-side with the default program. You can either download and extract an archive available from the official site, and then install the individual packages, or you can use an official PPA. For Ubuntu-based systems, that is.

Menu, side by side

Cruisin'

LibreOffice sounds mighty French when you think about it, so we shall now commence to start testing, or as they say in the Republique, se chatouiller le poireau. Anyhow, the new office suite comes with a spanking new splash, but the overall interface does not look like it's changed significantly.

Main view

And yet, changes

The official list of fixes, additions and whatnot is quite long. However, that's completely irrelevant. What I want to see is whether they are any improvements in day to day use, if the Microsoft Office compatibility remains preserved, and if I can go happily about creating documents and presentations and spreadsheets without feeling my methods and efficiency are impeded upon in any way.

I really like the new Calc. It's that much easier to use, even if you cannot spot all the little differences, but there are enough of them to give you a justifiable sense of it-looks-better, even if you can't put your finger to it. Pivot tables, yes please. Extra speed, less sluggishness, complementary, on the house.

Calc, looking improved

Pivot table in Calc

In Writer, you can also visually preview styles. Rather than offering just a list of available styles, you also get to see what they look like before you apply them. This is a tiny but welcome gesture.

Visual styles

Editing charts and figures is also easier, faster, less annoying. Again, this might be a placebo effect, but I am feeling positive and optimistic, and that's all that counts. So yes, tons of tiny but important stuff. A mid-life facelift. Impress is also more impressive [sic], hi hi.

Editing charts is easier now

Impress, okay

Microsoft Office compatibility

Here we go again. I have deliberated this a thousand times before, and only ever got really satisfied with LibreOffice 4.4. It was the first time this free, open-source office suite managed to give me a reasonable level of high-fidelity conversion and support for DOCX files to feel that it might be a worthy replacement in day-to-day life. And not because one or another is a superior format, technology or anything. Simply because most people still use Microsoft Office as their ONLY office suite, and they expect files to arrive in the relevant format, without any surprises or ugly little glitches inside.

I did the same think like before. Grabbed my Linux kernel crash book, converted the PDF to DOCX using Cometdocs online conversion service, then opened the file in LibreOffice. This non-trivial exercise gave me a lot of grief in the past, and it was only in the previous round of testing that I was able to give the program a proper thumbs up.

This time, things were ... different. LibreOffice 4.4 and 5.0 offer the exact same conversion quality. But then, the page count was all wrong, in BOTH versions. Only when I scrolled all the way down to the end of the document did the count change from 247 to 182, which is the correct number. I do not know why this happened, and even worse, why would the old version would struggle, after it's shown such great results in the past.

Wrong page count

Page count changed

Then again, there have been a lot of changes in LibreOffice 4.4, plus it's an ever so slightly different version. The underlying system and desktop environment probably do not play any role in the end result, but then, they might, in whatever weird way.

All in all, I tried several other documents and trivial conversions, and things were fine. But I am worried about the page count thingie, especially since it's a regression, and it also seems to affect LibreOffice 4.4. This means the new edition is neither better nor worse, but that's not a good thing on its own. After all, it should improve. Always.

Other stuff

Extension? Yes, still there. A bit lean and thin on content, but it's a framework that could become really powerful once LibreOffice takes off. Enhanced functionality and custom changes are always welcome, especially among the more tech savvy crowd. It's often been the dividing line between okay products and awesome products, and sometimes, success hinges on the modability of programs - and games, regardless of what their baseline offering really is. More about this in a couple of days.

Extensions

Conclusion

LibreOffice 5.0 is a very nice release. Stable, robust, with a simple installation. It's also that much faster and more elegant. Then, there are a thousand little fixes all over the place, and you feel like you're using a more mature, more polished version of the old, familiar office suite.

On the negative side, I am worried about Microsoft Office compatibility issues. This one will probably never be perfect, and it may remain a struggle for a long time, but it's also the most critical piece of the whole equation. If and only if - and when - LibreOffice finally reaches the stage where it can be seamlessly exchanged with Microsoft Office in all and every regard will it become a proper household name with the wider global audience. That's the sorry reality, but the golden standard is Microsoft Office, and that's what must be. It will take a long time until the reality changes, and LibreOffice has to be spotless along the journey. Tip top.

Well, there you are. For LibreOffice fans and users, you have nothing to lose by upgrading. It's no worse in any one aspect, merely identical to the previous version when it comes to supporting proprietary formats, and everywhere else, across the range, there's a whole bunch of good, solid fixes and improvements. Refreshing, fast, stylish. Exactly what you want and need. So you should install and test, and I'm sure you'll be pleased. All in all, a right step in the right direction. Go, LibreOffice, go. See you, fellas.

Cheers.

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