People have been working together on documents generated by office suite applications for decades now. One person would create the document and write his part before sending it to his colleagues, so she could create her part and make comments on his.
In the past 10 years, this collaboration has happened in real-time. Google’s office suite made it popular and easy for students, colleagues, and others to log in to their Google accounts to work on a document. A group of people work on a document, and they can see each other’s changes almost as soon as they are made. This is known as real-time collaboration.
LibreOffice and Microsoft Office have made strides to catch up to the new kid on the block. Both have taken slightly different directions. They allow for multiple people to collaborate on a document.
However, with its past two versions of its office suite, Microsoft has given users the ability to collaborate in real-time, like Google Drive users can do, through its desktop applications. With the 2013 and 2016 versions, users could work with others at the same time from the applications installed on their computers.
The latest versions of LibreOffice still don’t allow for real-time collaboration through its desktop applications, but they now have applications that can be installed on a server. These allow for real-time collaboration.
This article will mainly compare the collaborative features of LibreOffice and three of the applications from Office 2016: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Comparisons will be made with Google Drive as well since it is the office suite that is best known for real-time collaboration, and like the other two, is used by millions of people.
Real-time collaboration is an area LibreOffice is behind Office in. Over the past two decades the developers of this source code have created a product that his highly competitive to the popular office suite. It has several features and capabilities that Office does not have.
However, the Document Foundation, the organization behind the suite, has not created service-based products like Microsoft’s OneDrive or Office365, so they do not have a way to make their desktop applications collaborate in real-time.
With version 5.3, they released an online version that can be uploaded to a server, similar to how a company would setup a Sharepoint server. Users need to install the online applications on their own servers and maintain them. There are a few services similar to what Microsoft offers, but as of the publication of this article, none of them have a free version, like Microsoft.
While LibreOffice does not have the same real-time collaborative abilities as Microsoft, it offers a few ways of sharing documents with others that the tech giant does not offer in its suite.
Starting with version 5.1, LibreOffice has added Open Remote File and Save Remote File in the File menu of its six applications and StartCenter. These open the Remote Files dialog which gives you access to the following server types:
• Google Drive
• Alfresco 4/5
• IBM FileNet P8
• IBM Connections Cloud
• Lotus Quickr Domino
• Nuxedo 5.4
• OpenText ELS 10.2.0
• Sharepoint 2010
• Sharepoint 2013
• Other CMIS
• Windows Share
You can can connect to an account for one of these services and save a document that you created with LibreOffice to one of them. You also can view a list of documents that are stored on the servers. Double-click one of the documents, and it will be opened with the appropriate LibreOffice document.
This has advantages over using apps that you download to your computer that syncs with the corresponding server, such as Google Drive.
• All of the documents and folders for the account are not downloaded to your computer.
• Each document is opened directly from the server. This means you don’t have to save it to a folder on your computer. The updated document will be saved to its location on the server.
Through Remote Files you can open a document that was edited by someone else, make your own edits, then save the document. When they reopen the document later, they will see your changes and any comments you made with LibreOffice’s comment features. This is the old way of collaboration.
OneDrive, the online storage service that has apps for Windows and Mac, is Microsoft’s key element to make collaboration work on multiple devices (unless you use Sharepoint). The service is integrated with the Office applications. The collaborative features work if you are an Office 365 subscriber.
There are different plans for home users and businesses. Microsoft still has several one-time purchase choices:
• Office Home & Student 2016 for PC
• Office Home & Student 2016 for Mac
• Office Professional 2016. This is only available for Windows.
Collaboration is available for the Windows and Mac versions of the suite. You also can collaborate with others if you are using one of the three applications on an Android device, iOS device, or through office.com.
The document must be saved to OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or a Sharepoint service. It also needs to be saved in the latest file formats (DOCX, XLSX, or PPTX). Collaboration cannot be done on older documents.
AutoSave needs to be turned on Mac and Windows applications for the edits to be synchronized among the collaborators. It should, by default, be activated in documents that are saved to OneDrive and Sharepoint.
Collaboration doesn’t work as smoothly as it does for documents being edited in Google Drive or simply using Office.com with others who are also editing the document through their Web browsers. Setting up documents for collaboration take several steps.
There are typically delays due to networks and multiple applications that need to update. Some of the applications also are designed to only allow others to see the updates after the document is saved.
Like in Google Docs, Word users can see others’ edits as they make them. However, many have reported that it does not well as collaborating on a document in a Web browser.
It is not as smooth when making format changes in real-time. A YouTube video demonstrating collaborating in Google Docs and the Windows version of Word 2016 covers this.
For the most part typing on a document open in the Windows version shows up almost immediately in the same document that is open on a Mac or being accessed through a Web browser. Adding formats, like bullet points, or elements, like a table may take longer.
This has a lot to do with the network and how long it takes OneDrive or Sharepoint to update. On WiFi networks, OneDrive may take several seconds to update the document after it is saved.
In Excel, you cannot see typing changes in real-time. Instead a document needs to be saved after changes are made.
When someone else is updating a cell, you will see the cell in a different color, and you will not see what they added or changed until their version of the document is saved. If they are working through a Web browser, you won’t see the changes until they click on another cell and the document is updated.
PowerPoint is like Excel, you don’t see the changes until the editor’s changes are saved and OneDrive or Sharepoint updates.
Typing in real-time typically doesn’t work. Adding images and charts will not be seen by others until the document is saved and OneDrive or Sharepoint is updated.
Microsoft has taken its flagship product to the next level for business professionals. The most feature-rich office suite on the market now has capabilities similar to Google Drive. While The Document Foundation has made strides to catch up with its online version of LibreOffice and the ability of its desktop versions to connect to different servers, it is still a few steps behind the Redmond giant.
Its new collaboration efforts, however, are not perfect. Its applications are not as smooth as their Google counterparts as far as real-time editing. A document is not as easy to set up as a Google one for real-time collaboration, and many of the things you can do in one of the documents cannot be seen by others immediately. The document needs to be saved before others see the edits.
LibreOffice, on the other hand, has an easy way to connect to Google Drive. Users can take advantage of the open-source suites many features and capabilities (some that Microsoft Office doesn’t have) to create and edit a document before they hand that document over to their neighbor through Google Drive.
Microsoft’s advancements have helped many professionals work together and be more productive. However, its limitations still require them to rely on the old way of collaboration.
Due to the diversity of services it can connect to, LibreOffice has the advantage in the old way of collaboration. Users can most likely connect to their companies’ servers, even if they are not Sharepoint, to work on documents. They also can connect to Google Drive and work with anyone who has a Gmail account.