LibreOffice Is Free and Better

Libre Is World Class Software

Though it is expensive and sometimes frustrating to use, Microsoft Word has long been the standard tool for word crafters. LibreOffice is a cooperatively developed, open, and free alternative.

The LibreOffice word processor (Writer) is a drop-in replacement for MS Word. Beyond the cost advantage, there are other good reasons why a professional writer might prefer LibreOffice Writer to Microsoft’s offering. We review the latest release.

LO Writer, like MS Word, belongs to an elite group of full-feature word processing programs. They both have the features and the horsepower to handle even large, complicated writing projects. Both products have excellent support for paragraph styles, outlining, and hierarchical navigation through huge manuscripts.

But while you might pay hundreds of dollars for Microsoft Office, LibreOffice costs nothing. Remarkably, many users will find LibreOffice to be as good or better than Microsoft Office.

Availability

The new LO Writer even has a few tricks that MS Word lacks, and I now prefer it over the Microsoft product.

LibreOffice is the only full featured word processor that fully supports all three of the commonly used consumer operating systems… a good hedge against technical obsolescence.

Learning LibreOffice

If you’re a user of MS Word, you should feel pretty comfortable with LibreOffice. The writer will discover that most common actions work the same way in both products. LO Writer has a really excellent built-in Help facility. I’ve found it a more than adequate source for learning the non-obvious aspects of LO Writer. I also use Google extensively as a “help desk”. For example, if I want to find out how to “dock” a toolbar, I Google for “LibreOffice toolbar docking”.

Compatability

If you have a disk full of MS Word (.doc) files you may be concerned about switching to a new word processor. It’s not a problem! LO Writer can seamlessly open and save documents in Microsoft format. If you’re so inclined, you can even set an option within LibreOffice to make the Microsoft formats the default for saving documents. On the other hand, the LibreOffice format is now an international (ISO) standard, and LibreOffice files tend to be more compact, taking up less space on your hard drive.

onepage.gif

Figure 1 — LO Writer with a manuscript for a novel. Navigation on the left, Custom styles on the right.

Another new ability of LibreOffice is the creation of PDF (Portable Document Format) files. Apple computers have this built-in, but if you run Windows, the new ability to create PDFs without buying additional software is a real boon.

Large Document Support

If you write novel-length works, then you are familiar with the problem of locating a particular scene when you are working on another part of your manuscript. MS Word has the “outline view” as well as the “document map”. The former means abandoning your normal page view, navigating the outline, then changing back to the page view again — clumsy! The later has a fatal bug that been part of MS Word for years: enabling the document map often “auto-formats” your document… not the kind of “help” a writer needs.

LO Writer has a separate Navigation toolbar (see Figure 1) that shows you an outline of the entire document side by side with the document itself. The illustration shows a chapter outline, but a click will reveal an outline down to the scene, or even paragraph level, if you set up your paragraph styles to support it. Nice! On the same screen, note the right hand display of the paragraph styles, making it easy to create consistent formatting of a manuscript with your own custom formatting instructions.

Figure 2 — LO Writer with a manuscript for a novel. “Two-Up” display

Other Goodies

The Figure 2 illustration shows the new “two-up” side-by-side display of two pages at a time. At the bottom of the window is a slider control for the amount of zoom, an easier way to adjust the displayed size of a document and to select 1-up, 2-up, 4-up, or whatever display.

In summary, the new LibreOffice appears to be a better MS Word for the best possible price ($0.00).

LibreOffice is a free download, whether you’re running Windows, MacOS, or Linux on your computer. On the LibreOffice website you can find downloads for the newest versions, as well as earlier releases.