Updated: April 11, 2022
A bunch of months back, having finished testing LibreOffice 7.2, my overall conclusion was one of mild, cautious optimism. Mild, because as often as not, things happen rather whimsically in the open-source world. Cautious because I've been burned before. And optimistic, because I felt that LibreOffice had managed to overcome a long series of usability bugs and problems that had plagued it for years, and that from now on, it would be smooth sailing.
With that in mind, turn our eyes onto LibreOffice 7.3, we must. I did wait a bit, for that first dot-dot release, so the very initial bugs would be quickly identified and fixed, and I could then submit this quintessential libre office suite to a rigorous set of tests. After all, there is igor in rigor. Indeed.
Sideways through code
I don't like repetition. Doing the same thing over and over rather bores me. But for the sake of consistency, I must invest in the process, so that my work with LibreOffice 7.3 can be reliably compared to what went before. And thus, I pretty much did everything I tried the last time. So what be the differences?
Well, there are too many, most of them not good, and that depresses me.
The installation procedure took about 10 minutes. This is identical to 7.2, and quite annoying. There is no reason why the copy operation of roughly 300 MB worth of application code should take long. This might be the case for some "modern" program that downloads GBs worth of nonsense from the "cloud" or such, but not for LibreOffice, which even ships in a portable form (for Windows). I did the same test, same hardware platform like in September. So that would be bug one not squashed.
The visuals seem okay, slightly more polished. You can change the UI layout, and here, we see a bit more consistency overall. But the whole thing still feels quite chaotic. There is no reason to offer so many different layouts, as each requires handling and supporting. These are valuable resources that should go elsewhere, like say Microsoft Office compatibility! Speaking of which ...
Can it DOCX?
Six months ago, I was happy with the improvements in the cross-format support. This time? One word, meh. It seems like all the goodies that went into LibreOffice 7.2 has disappeared again. In a way, this feels like a typical Linux distro testing. Random changes for the sake of it, very little meaningful testing. I don't know what the actual mechanics behind the work are, but they are obviously not working, and/or are being deliberately ignored.
First, I used the same Office 365 Word and Powerpoint templates like last time. I didn't download any new versions, so these are the exact same documents I used previously. The Word ones didn't render that well. Worse than before. Where LibreOffice 7.2 did an okay job, LibreOffice 7.3 does worse.
With Powerpoint, things were quite bad, too. For one of the two templates that barely worked in 7.1 and did open (albeit after a very loooooong time) in 7.2, LibreOffice now embraces the worst of both worlds. The specific template wouldn't even open. We're not talking a mere three-minute delay like we saw in 7.2. No, this time, the thing was indefinitely unresponsive.
Worse, when I "accidentally" clicked with the mouse cursor in a different LibreOffice window, the entire stack froze, and not just the Powerpoint loading window. Effectively, opening a document bricked my LibreOffice session, and that affected an entire palette of open documents.
Quite fragile. Imagine working, having a bunch of Writer files open, maybe a spreadsheet or two, then you try to open yet another file, and boom, everything freezes, and you must hard-kill the suite. As someone who writes books and DOES use LibreOffice all the time, often I have 15-20 files open (usually one file per book chapter or so), and I cross-reference them and whatnot, and I can't afford to have the fear and uncertainty of random crashes or freezes invade my workspace.
Content management is still clunky and inefficient. The styles still need a double-click to apply. The styles list jumps up and down to whatever style is applied/active for the particular element in the document, which makes applying new styles a pain. For instance, you have something marked as First Lined Indent Text Body, and you want to apply this style to the next paragraph or whatnot. But then when you click on the next paragraph, boom, the list jumps up to Default, and you need to scroll back, and apply the style that was in front of your eyes just a moment ago. Another double-click, another paragraph, and again, the same problem. Instead of it being a simple exercise, it's a manic hunt through a jumpy list. Rule No.1 of UI - never change the layout of the tools being used, and LibreOffice Styles does exactly the opposite.
The Writer sidebar overlays/overlaps the actual work area, so you may end with your right margin and/or any comments completely obscured by the sidebar. This might be intentional, but it also means you need to work with your document area stretched horizontally, which may not be the case for all work setups. Either way, I'm not sure this is the best choice here.
Anchoring and wrapping images as part of a text document remains a pain. It's very clunky. Then, I also noticed a weird (remote) marker in the document title in the Writer window header, and I have no idea what that means. The file was local, created right there on my computer. In fact, I've not even saved it yet.
Do I feel unhappy today, or what. LibreOffice 7.3 sure didn't deliver. There are tons of problems here, including some old, outstanding, almost stubborn choices and decisions that only harm LibreOffice and its users. The only benefactor from LibreOffice not rendering Microsoft Office files properly is Microsoft, because people are forced to remain locked in the ecosystem with no viable alternative. Ideology won't sway businesses, and so the only thing left for ordinary users is to compromise. With me looking to leave the world of Windows, this only makes matters worse.
And y'know, the biggest issue with LibreOffice isn't so much the functionality parity or lack thereof, or the visual bugs and problems, or even performance problems, or any of the stuff I've been complaining about for the past decade. The big problem is the lack of consistency in the user experience. If I grab half a dozen files, save them, then try to open them in one version of the office suite and six months after that in another, and the results are so vastly different, then I have no foundation, no baseline to work with. I'm left with nothing.
Anyway, this does not bode well for LibreOffice. Yes, it works. 93% of the time, it delivers results. Perhaps not in the best, most elegant way, but you can sort of get along. But the remaining 7% are a total, wild gamble. That's where everything falls apart. That would be LibreOffice 7.3, and that would be the end of this article. I was hoping for more, but then, it's my fault to have hoped in the first place, it seems.