LibreOffice, Google Drive: two great companions for collaborating on documents

Office suites are almost as old as the personal computer, and like the personal computer, they have evolved over the decades. Modern office suites can open and edit universal formats and directly connect to the Internet.

Two of the most popular office suites are free for everyone and work well with each other: LibreOffice and Google Drive. Both are compatible with almost every operating system.

LibreOffice was designed to work equally well on Windows, Mac, Linux distros, and several other operating systems. Google Drive can be interacted with most Web browsers. It officially supports FireFox, Chrome, Safari, Explorer, and Edge. Firefox and Chrome have versions for the previously mentioned operating systems.

Applications file formats

LibreOffice and Drive have the core applications that are common to all office suites: a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation. Both can open the native file format for Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. They also can save or export documents to these popular formats.

LibreOffice Google Drive
word processor Writer (can save or export: ODT, DOCX, HTML, UOT, TXT, RTF, WPD, PDF, and others) Docs ( can export: ODT, DOCX, TXT, RTF, EPUB, HTML, and PDF) Only can edit GDOC
spreadsheet Calc (can save or export: ODS, XLSX, HTML, UOS, CSV, PDF, and others) Sheets ( can export: ODS, XLSX, TSV, CSV, HTML, and PDF) Only can edit GSHEET
presentation Impress (can save or export: ODP, PPTX, UOP, HTML, CSV, PDF, and others) Slides ( can export: ODP, PPTX, TXT, JPEG, PNG, HTML, and PDF) Only can edit GSLIDES

In addition to the standard Microsoft file formats, both can save or export documents to other popular formats, such as PDF and OpenDocument Formats. This makes exchanging text, spreadsheet, and presentation documents between the two suites easy to do.

The catch is that a document created through a LibreOffice application cannot be opened by a Google Drive one without first being converted to a Google format. Drive will convert a document to gdoc, gsheet, or gslides before you can edit it and collaborate with others on the document.

LibreOffice users can collaborate with Google Drive
Users can share and update documents stored in Google Drive, that are not converted to Google's formats. LibreOffice users can use it to collaborate on documents that are still in OpenDocument formats

A document created through Google Drive will be in one of these formats. It has to be downloaded in one of the common formats before it can be opened in LibreOffice or another application.

Google Drive can store various kinds of formats on its servers, and it gives you tools to preview documents before they are converted to Google’s formats. Through Drive you also can perform other functions on a document that cannot be opened by one of its applications.

These include Sharing the document and uploading new versions. Both of these features allow you to collaborate with others on a document.

Through the Share item in the list, you can send the document to others through their Drive accounts. Manage versions, allows you to upload new versions of the document.

Starting with version 5.1, LibreOffice added a feature that gives you the ability to access remote servers from the File menu. One of those servers is your Google Drive account, so documents created in a LibreOffice application.

LibreOffice Remote Servers dialog
This dialog can be accessed by clicking Open Remote File or Save Remote File in the File menu of a LibreOffice application.

If you are using the Windows or Mac versions of LibreOffice, you can save documents to Drive with the Save Remote File item. You also can open files on your Drive account through the Open Remote File item.

Connecting through Open Remote File

  1. Click the File menu in any one of the applications or StartCenter.
  2. Click Open Remote File. This will launch the Remote File dialog.
  3. In the dialog, click the Add services button. This launches a File Service dialog.
  4. Choose Google Drive from the Type drop-down list, if it is not already the choice.
  5. Enter the email address for your Drive account in the User text field. As you type the Label text field will change to show “(your user name)’s Google Drive. You can change this to something more preferable.
  6. Enter your password. If you are going to connect to your Drive account in the future, mark the Remember password box.
  7. Click the OK button.
Linux-distro users also have these items in the File menu, and Google Drive is one of the options in the drop-down menu in the File Services dialog. However, there is typically an error dialog that appears when you try and access your account.
  1. Another dialog will open that relates to the settings of your Google account.
    • If you clicked the Remember password box, a dialog will appear with your Google email address and the password field blank.
      1. Enter your password again.
      2. Click the OK button.
    • Sometimes LibreOffice will ask for a 6-digit verification code. This is part of Google's two-step verification process.
      • LibreOffice does not handle 2-step verification well.
      • You will need to turn off Google's two-step verification to connect LibreOffice to your Drive account.
  2. The next step is the master password for LibreOffice.
    • If this is your first time connecting LibreOffice to a server account, the dialog will ask you to create a password.
      1. Type the desired password.
      2. Retype the password in the Reenter password textbox.
      3. Click the OK button.
    • If you have connected to another account, a dialog will appear simply asking you to enter the master password.
      1. Type the master password.
      2. Click the OK button.
  3. You will be returned to the Remote Files dialog. Files from your Drive account will be listed in it.
  4. Click the desired document in the list.
  5. Click the Open button.
A list of files in Google Drive in LibreOffice's Remote Files dialog
This is an example of how the File Services dialog will look when you successfully connect to a Google Drive account. If you clicked Save Remote File, there will be a Save button rather than an Open button.

Connecting through Save Remote File

If you create a document and want to save it to Google Drive, click Save Remote File. If you have not set up a connection to your Google Drive account follow the steps in the previous section.

However, if you already have connected:

  1. Click the File menu.
  2. Click Save Remote File.
  3. Select the Google account from the Service drop-down menu, if it is not already the selected account.
  4. Type a desired name for the document.
  5. Choose the file format from the Filter drop-down menu.
  6. Click the Save button.

Google Drive application and alternatives
The other way to save documents created in LibreOffice to you Drive account is to download the Drive syncing application for Mac and Windows. This can be done by going to this Website.

For Linux-distro users, there are a few third-party applications that you can install. Insynchq is one of those applications. It can be installed on Windows, Mac, and multiple Linux-distros.

The application has several advantages over the one created by Google. You can connect to more than one Google account, and you can convert documents created by Google’s applications to Microsoft Office formats or OpenDocument Formats when the document is downloaded.

It costs $29.99 per account to connect.

This allows you to use Google Drive and LibreOffice together to work on documents and collaborate with others. For those who work in OpenDocument Formats, connecting to Google Drive and the Share and Manage versions items are useful features.

Features
Most of the collaborative features in Google Drive are available through the three applications: Docs, Sheets, and Slides. These are accessed when a corresponding is clicked in Google Drive and they are converted to Google formats.

NOTE: The latest versions of LibreOffice have an online version. However, these are applications that need to be installed on a server maintained by you or an organization you work with. It is not a free service that you simply sign up for.

LibreOffice’s corresponding applications have more features than Google’s. They also can open and edit various formats, from documents created in different modern and legacy office applications.

Microsoft Office and most browser-based office suites do not allow you to collaborate in the OpenDocument Formats. They require that you convert documents in those formats to another format first.

Using both suites together allow to collaborate on the three most commonly used types of documents: text editor, spreadsheet, and presentation.

Other applications in the suite

Besides the basic three applications that are part of most suites, Drive and LibreOffice also have vector art applications. Most office suites that have the three applications, do not include a separate drawing program that is part of the suite.

Google Drawings creates documents in the gdraw format, which cannot be opened by any other application. The only editable format that it can download a document in is SVG. It also can download documents in PDF, PNG, and JPG formats.

SVG-formatted documents can be opened and edited in LibreOffice Draw. The only format Draw creates documents in is odg (OpenDocument Graphics). To convert a drawing to another format, such as SVG, you need to use the Export item in the File menu.

LibreOffice Draw has many more features than its Google counterpart, so you can create more complex drawing with it. The Share and Manage versions discussed in the previous section can be used, so you can work with others on a drawing who have LibreOffice and a Drive account.

However, odg documents cannot be opened by Google Drawings. If you want to use Google’s common in-application collaboration features, such as real-time multiple user editing, you will need to covert the LibreOffice document to SVG before submitting it to your Drive account.

Google Drawings needs to convert SVG documents to gdraw before the in-collaboration can be used, so before this step is taken, you may need to be done with editing in LibreOffice Draw.

Conclusion

LibreOffice and Google Drive can be seen as competing products. They are made by two different organizations, and they both have applications that do the same thing.

However, both suites are free to use, and they can be used on just about every operating system. Their applications also have strengths over the other’s corresponding applications.

Even if you subscribe to G Suite and pay a monthly fee for everyone in your organization, LibreOffice can be an excellent set of applications to augment your work. It gives workers the ability to collaborate, as well as advanced tools for each application type.Using both gives you the best of both worlds.

There are two main ways of connecting the two suites, where every time you update it in LibreOffice, it will automatically be saved to Google Drive. Both have their advantages over the other.

Using either Save Remote File or Open Remote File allows you to directly access Google Drive from LibreOffice. This method allows you to manage documents in LibreOffice, and you do not have to download documents to your computer's hard drive.

However, if you have two-step verification set up or are using a Linux distro, this method may not work. You also cannot work offline with this method either.

The other way is to use the Google Drive application that installs on your Windows or Mac computer or use a third-party application, like Insynhq. It downloads the documents to your hard drive, so you can edit them offline. They will be synced with Drive when you reconnect to the Internet. They also will be organized in the StartCenter, so you can manage them with LibreOffice.

The major drawback is that unless you use Insync and pay for each account, you can only access one Google account. This would be a detriment for anyone who has multiple accounts they want to work with.

Either way you decide to connect, however, having both suites in your toolbox will enhance you ability to create and edit documents and collaborate with others on them.

Obtaining the suites

LibreOffice and Drive can be used without spending any money, and they can be accessed on any computer, not just your own.

LibreOffice

LibreOffice can be downloaded from its Website, which will allow you to choose the type of operating system you are running so you can download the right version. Many Linux distros also come with LibreOffice pre-installed, but this Website allows you to install later versions for your Linux-based operating system.

There also is a portable version that can be downloaded to a USB drive or other external drive. It can be run on any computer, running Windows XP through 10, without having to install it.

Google Drive

If you have a gmail account, you have Drive. Simply access your Gmail account on any computer on any Web browser. Click the Google apps icon in the top, right corner of the screen, then click Drive. You also can go to drive.google.com

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