LibreOffice: almost 40 years of development

When people think of software, they often think about multi-million dollar corporations. They do not always think of charities or non-profit organizations. However there are many applications that are developed by non-profits and their volunteers. The open-source office suite,LibreOffice, is such an application.

The office suite that is maintained and developed by a non-profit organization, The Document Foundation, has been in existence since 2011. Built on OpenOffice.org source code, it has become one of the most feature-rich suites on the market. It has several features that Microsoft Office for Windows does not have, such as the ability to export documents in the XHTML format. Its applications also can create and editor standard Office formats, from the 1997 versions of the suite to the most current ones. Its primary formats, however, are OpenDocument Formats (ODF).

It is composed of six applications and a document manager, called StartCenter. The applications are Writer, the word processor; Calc, the spreadsheet; Impress, the presentation application; Draw, the vector graphic program; Base, the relational database manager; and Math, the formula editor. These applications have been part of the suite since its beginning.

The suite has these same applications and features, regardless of whether its running on Windows, Mac, a Linux distro, or BSD (Berkely Software Distribution). It can be downloaded in various ways, and it comes preinstalled on most Linux distros. There are also several off-shoot versions that are available for iOS, Android, and Chromebooks.

LibreOffice’s heritage is two office suites that were developed at the same time that Microsoft Office began to dominate the market.

History

StarOffice

The original office suite that LibreOffice code was taken from was developed in Germany in the mid-1980s. In 1985, Marco Börries created StarWriter 1.0, and a year later formed the company Star Division in Lüneburg. It was originally created for CP/M and MS-DOS, and Star Division developed several versions of the stand-alone application in 1986.

For close to 10 years, Writer was the sole application. Then, in 1994, Star Division released version 2.0; its first suite. This included Writer; Calc, the spreadsheet application; and Base, the database application. The suite was originally designed for Windows 3.0.

Version 3 of the StarOffice suite, released in 1995, had a few more applications, and it was the first Star Division product developed for Windows 3.1 and Mac OS. It was also available on a few other operating systems. The next version, 3.1, which was released in 1996, was the first version available for Linux.

Versions 5.0 through 5.2 contained a dozen applications. Most of these were only around for this series of the suite.

Close to the end of the 20th Century, Star Division was acquired by Sun Microsystems, Inc. The California-based company, that was known for developing the Java language, released version 5.2 of StarOffice in Summer 2000. It acquired Star Division originally for internal use, but they decided to release it to the public.

Most of the code for version 5.2, which was released in Summer 2000, was under a free and open source license. This gave spawn to OpenOffice.org, which was developed by Sun employees and a community of volunteers.

Version 6, released in 2002, came with only the six applications. These are the ones that now compose LibreOffice. There were nine versions of StarOffice, all together, before its name was changed by a company that acquired Sun.

Oracle purchased Sun in 2010. It renamed StarOffice to Oracle OpenOffice. Like StarOffice, it was the commercial twin of OpenOffice.org. Oracle only kept them for two years.

OpenOffice.org

OpenOffice.org was owned by Sun for 10 years until the company was purchased by Oracle. Many of the OpenOffice.org developers were unhappy with how Oracle was handling the project, and several of them left in 2011 to form The Document Foundation, the organization behind LibreOffice.

The open-source suite was the dominate suite on Linux distros before LibreOffice came on the scene. It also had versions for Windows and a few other operating systems. Version 3.0 was the first one that ran natively on Mac OSX. Previous version required Mac users to launch the suite using Unix.

OpenOffice and LibreOffice have the same applications and source code. LibreOffice is based on it.

LibreOffice comes into existence

A group of volunteers for OpenOffice.org were concerned about the direction Oracle would take the open-source project. They had wanted Sun to take a more equal approach to the development of the project before the company was bought out, and Sun had stated in 2000 that a non-profit organization would be over the management and development of the suite. The intended organization was never formed.

The community was bothered by Oracle’s lack of commitment to OpenOffice.org, and The Document Foundation was founded in 2010. Several months later LibreOffice 3.3 was released. It was based on the source code for OpenOffice.org 3.3.

The two suites were very similar in the beginning, but due to the focus of The Document Foundation and the development cycle, LibreOffice is more advanced. It releases new versions every six months, so it is more advanced than OpenOffice.org. Oracle donated OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation, and it is now called Apache OpenOffice.

The first version of LibreOffice was based on OpenOffice.org 3.3, so it was called LibreOffice 3.3. LibreOffice’s latest version is 7.1.

Conclusion

LibreOffice is not a top-of-mind office suite like Office or Google’s office applications, but it has features and capabilities that these two do not. The foremost one is that all of its applications and features for each version are available on Windows, Mac, and Linux distros. Google’s applications don’t run natively on these platforms. Office doesn’t run natively on Linux distros, and their Windows and Mac versions differ.

For Linux users, LibreOffice is not the only office suite, but it is the most accessible. The Document Foundation and others who work on the suite have made it available on just about every distro and just about architecture. Those who use Intel computers and those who use Raspberry Pi or another ARM processor can install the suite or will find that it is already part of the operating system they install.

Windows machines received the most downloads and installs of LibreOffice, even though their users have many other choices. The uses like that it handles open formats and that it does not track the number of times it is installed or require them to login to use it. There is also a portable version for Windows that can be stored on an external drive and used on different PCs.

Mac users will have an office suite that is just as capable as the version that runs on Windows. It also has more features than Office for Mac and the iWork suite.

In many respects, LibreOffice is the best suite on the market. It has capabilities and features that are comparable to Office and some that the popular suite does not. Most users may not replace Microsoft Office with it, but it may be an excellent companion to it.

Click here to install LibreOffice free of charge. There are articles and videos about it on the OS-College Website.

Turn a document into an e-book

Many authors self publish and only release their works in digital formats. E-books are also popular formats for publishing houses and booksellers who work with authors to release books in. One of the key formats is EPUB.

LibreOffice Writer can export an EPUB through its versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux distros without the need of additional software. This is a capability that other word processors do not have.

Microsoft Word doesn’t have the capability without a plugin. Google Docs has the option in the download sub-menu in the File menu of a document, but it doesn’t have the same settings as Writer. Corel WordPerfect has the capability to publish EPUB documents, but the office suite is not available to Mac and Linux users. Apple Pages can create EPUB documents specifically for Apple Books. Books on Apple Books are in a proprietary format based on EPUB.

What is EPUB

EPUB is not the format for Kindle books, and Kindle Fire and e-readers can’t read the format. However, other Android devices, Apple devices, and most e-reader applications for desktop computers can read the format. It is an industry standard.

It is a file that combines XHTML documents that contain the content, XML and cascading style sheet documents with metadata, and images that have been inserted in the EPUB file. The file can be opened and its different parts can be rendered by e-book applications. Archive applications allows users to access the XHTML and other document type of documents that compose an EPUB file.

WindowsMacLinux distros
Zip ExtractorUnarchiverArchive Manager
*This is already installed
or in the software manager
Examples of archive applications in different operating system. These are either already installed or can be acquired through the system’s store.

Writer exports EPUB

Writer has two ways to create an EPUB document: directly or through a dialog. Both can be accessed through the File menu.

The Export As sub-menu is in the File menu. It contains
Export as EPUB and Export Directly as EPUB.
  1. Click the File menu.
  2. Move the cursor tp highlight the Export As drop-down menu.

Export as EPUB and Export Directly as EPUB are in the menu.

Direct Method

The direct method skips this dialog and a special export dialog for the EPUB is launched. The same dialog is launched when the OK button is clicked in the EPUB Export dialog.

This is the same dialog that is launched when you click the Export item in the File menu, or it launches when you click the Export item in the menu associated with the Save icon in the toolbar.

One difference between this dialog and the traditional dialog is that the only choice in the File type drop-down is EPUB Document drop-down button.ß The traditional one has several choices, including EPUB Document.

Click here to go to the page that has more information about the Export dialog for Writer and Calc.

Export settings

Writer allows users to control the exportation of an e-book with an EPUB Export dialog. Users, who don’t want to change settings on the EPUB document, can bypass the dialog and directly export it. The EPUB Export dialog has three section: General, Customize, and Metadata. The general section has three drop-down menus. Each menu has two choices.

  • Version
    • EPUB 3.0
    • EPUB 2.0
  • Split method
    • Page break
    • Headings
  • Layout method
    • Reflowable
    • Fixed

The Customize section has two browse buttons. The first one allows you to choose an image stored in your hard drive and connected drives. The images can be in standard formats, such as PNG and JPG.

The second one allows you to add a directory of metadata and links to your EPUB document. The metadata in the document will override the metadata that LibreOffice Writer creates for the document that is about to be exported.

The Metadata section has five fields of metadata that are common in most metadata schema, so LibreOffice Writer can create an EPUB document that is ready to be uploaded to a digital library or bookstore and read by e-book applications.

However, many authors and publishers may use it as a starting point and edit the composing documents to make the book better fit into the desired system.

Links

Announcement of LibreOffice 7.0

Berlin, August 5, 2020

LibreOffice 7.0: the new major release of the best FOSS office suite ever is available on all OSes and platforms, and provides significant new features

The LibreOffice Project announces the availability of LibreOffice 7.0, a new major release providing significant new features: support for OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.3; Skia graphics engine and Vulkan GPU-based acceleration for better performance; and carefully improved compatibility with DOCX, XLSX and PPTX files.

Support for ODF 1.3. OpenDocument, LibreOffice’s native open and standardised format for office documents, has recently been updated to version 1.3 as an OASIS Technical Committee Specification. The most important new features are digital signatures for documents and OpenPGP-based encryption of XML documents, with improvements in areas such as change tracking, and additional details in the description of elements in first pages, text, numbers and charts. The development of ODF 1.3 features has been funded by donations to The Document Foundation.

Skia graphics engine and Vulkan GPU-based acceleration. The Skia graphics engine has been implemented thanks to sponsorship by AMD, and is now the default on Windows, for faster performance. Skia is an open source 2D graphics library which provides common APIs that work across a variety of hardware and software platforms, and can be used for drawing text, shapes and images. Vulkan is a new-generation graphics and compute API with high-efficiency and cross-platform access to modern GPUs.

Better compatibility with DOCX, XLSX and PPTX files. DOCX now saves in native 2013/2016/2019 mode, instead of 2007 compatibility mode, to improve interoperability with multiple versions of MS Office, based on the same Microsoft approach. Export to XLSX files with sheet names longer than 31 characters is now possible, along with exporting checkboxes in XLSX. The “invalid content error” message was resolved when opening exported XLSX files with shapes. Finally, there were improvements to the PPTX import/export filter.

LibreOffice offers the highest level of compatibility in the office suite arena, starting from native support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF) – with better security and interoperability features over proprietary formats – to almost perfect support for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX files. In addition, LibreOffice includes filters for many legacy document formats, and as such is the best interoperability tool in the market.

This is a press release from the LibreOffice Website, written by Italo Vignoli. Click here to visit the article on the LibreOffice blog.

Graphic design apps extend LibreOffice

Office applications are not closed entities that do not interact with other applications. Various elements created by other applications can be imported into an office document, such as a graphic or image. Other applications, such as financial software, can import office documents as well.

The focus of this article how applications outside an office suite can extend the capabilities of that suite. LibreOffice and Microsoft Office can import documents native formats of other applications.

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Portability makes LibreOffice more flexible than Microsoft Office

Tom graduated from university with a degree in graphics design, and finding a full-time job was difficult. He had to take a job creating technical manuals for an appliance manufacturer. This job was through a temp agency.

His cubicle was in the basement of the office, and he was given a 10-year old computer, running Windows XP with the standard Microsoft apps minus a copy of Office. The IT department sees Tom as a low priority, so they have taken there time upgrading his computer.

Tom cannot use his own computer because he is required to save documents to the in-house servers that the XP machine is connected to. This problem would have frustrated most workers adapting to the professional world for the first time.

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Open formats give LibreOffice advantages over Microsoft Office

During the 1980s, software companies were started, developing application types that are popular today. During this time there were several popular operating systems and computer manufacturers. When Microsoft started to dominate the market in the 1990s and early 2000s, many of the companies went out of business, or they were bought out.

For example, when the first Macintosh was released in 1984, its word processor MacWrite was one of the most popular on the market. However, in the 1990s, like many word processors it took a backseat to Microsoft Word.

Many applications were discontinued due to Microsoft Office’s market share, and many people and organizations did not migrate their old documents to active applications and formats.

As technology evolved, and they acquired new technology, many old documents could no longer be opened. This is one aspect of data rot, when data can no longer be accessed. A YouTube video gives more details.

Now there is much less concern over data rot.

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Clipboard managers extend LibreOffice, Microsoft Office

A college student in 1981 is sitting in front of a typewriter working on a term paper for a course in Western Civilization realizes that a lengthy quote he just typed would work great in the paper he is writing for a philosophy course. At this point in history, he has to retype it.

Four years later that student is working in the computer lab on his senior thesis. The Macintosh he is sitting in front of allows him to copy and paste quotes and other passages from one document to another.

The clipboard built into modern operating system and applications has become common place. People use the feature billions of times per day. Typically they copy one passage of text, graphic, or other object at a time. Then they paste it immediately.

More advanced users like to paste several different items in a clipboard, so they can paste different ones later.

The clipboard is an advantage Microsoft Office has over LibreOffice. It comes with a feature that allows up to 24 items to be copied and pasted when the user desires. LibreOffice’s clipboard only allows one item to be pasted at a time.

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LibreOffice, Microsoft Office can share package graphics

Modern office suites allow you to add graphics to any type of document. This includes pre-packaged graphics that comes with the suite.

LibreOffice and Microsoft Office have a series of graphics that are available to any document, regardless of whether it is a text document, spreadsheet, or presentation. Both suites have dialogs that allow for easy insertion of a desired graphic.

LibreOffice has 13 categories by default, and it allows you to create new categories as well as add more graphics. The section is called the Gallery.

In Microsoft Office, the dialog is called Icons. The graphics in this collection are all black and divided into 26 categories. No more can be added to the library, however. The icons are available in the Windows and Mac versions of Office.

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StartCenter makes LibreOffice great tool for multiple documents

LibreOffice has an element and feature that Microsoft Office doesn’t have. The feature is document centralization.

Users can open any recently created and opened documents from any of the applications. A spreadsheet that you created last week can be opened from Writer. You can open the Draw document that you worked on yesterday from Impress.

These documents are listed when you click the arrow next to the Open icon in the Standard toolbar and the Recent Documents sub-menu in the File menu of any of the six applications.

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If you have Visio documents, you need LibreOffice

One interesting advantage LibreOffice has over Microsoft Office is that it works with some Microsoft products and formats that Office does not. One of those products is Visio.

LibreOffice Draw can open standard Visio documents, which are in VSD and VSDX formats. These formats cannot be opened by Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, even though Visio is considered to be an Office application.

There are several other vector-drawing applications that can directly open and edit Visio documents. These include Inkscape and CorelDraw.

Visio is a vector application, but it is different than Adobe Illustrator and those just mentioned. Visio’s purpose is mainly to create diagrams, flowcharts, and similar types of drawings. The other applications are for graphic artists. While they have shapes and flowchart symbols, they also have free-drawing tools that are not present in Visio.

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