May 30, 2012

LibreOffice 3.5.4 and Apache OpenOffice 3.4 - FIGHT!

For those of you who may be scratching your head at the post title, LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice are both free, open source, cross-platform office suites.  For those who may be scratching your head at my explanation, I'll break it down.  They are free, as in don't cost money (although someone could easily and legally sell you a copy if they wanted to).  They are open source, which means anyone with the desire to do so is allowed to download the source code - the computer instructions that are used to build the software.  They can download them, read them, copy them, and even change them, and it's a-OK!  They are cross-platform, meaning they work on a lot of different operating systems, like Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Unix.  And they are office suites, they are software programs that do things like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, (yes, I'll say it, like Microsoft Office™).

And they have a unique shared history.  Apache OpenOffice started life as a for-sale, not-free, not-open office suite called StarOffice.  The company that owned it thought it would be a good idea to open the source code, so they basically split the software in 2, StarOffice would be its for-sale, closed software with its secret sauce ingredients, and (yes, that was it's name, not just its web URL) would be its free, open source version.  That lasted for a while, and the company was bought out, and resold, and eventually the company that ended up with the rights to StarOffice and the hosting of the project didn't want it anymore, so it "donated" the trademark and the website and all the resources that went with it to Apache, a long-standing open source organization.

Before all the trading took place, established itself as a high-quality office suite, and the fact that it was open and cross-platform earned it a very positive reputation among Linux and Open Source Software supporters.  In fact, was one of the top 2 office suites to be bundled with most Linux distributions and systems.  Even some hardware companies included on their Windows machines in place of Microsoft Office.

However, when the corporate mergers and acquisitions started, some members of the community that had grown up around the project didn't like the way their supposedly open source project was being treated, and traded around like corporate property.  So they took the source code (which, again, they had every right to do) and started a new project, called LibreOffice.

Over the past couple of years, many have turned to LibreOffice as the true successor of, viewing its lack of corporate entanglements and its large and active community support, as well as its ongoing development as proof of its legitimacy.  Many Linux distros that used to ship with now ship with LibreOffice.

Since Apache received the custodianship over - not much has been seen publicly.  No major releases, no new features, and not even bug-fixes have been released since Apache took over.  It truly seemed that Apache took and didn't have any plans to do anything with it.  However, a recent announcement of the release of (the newly renamed) Apache OpenOffice 3.4 shows that there is, in fact, life there, and development is still underway.

On a personal note, I was at first perplexed and even slightly annoyed by the software sharing the title of its web address, but over the years, I grew attached to it, and even enjoyed nit-picking with my fellow tech enthusiast when they mistakenly called it just OpenOffice or even Open Office (GASP!  a SPACE!!!).  I mean, you wouldn't let them call it an I-phone would you?  Ok.

So now Apache OpenOffice is at 3.4 and LibreOffice is at 3.5.4 - but having a higher version number doesn't necessarily mean it is more advanced. There have been a some comparisons made between the two office suites, one in which LibreOffice supporter Michael Meeks has a very detailed chart showing all the progress that LibreOffice has made in the form of features that LibreOffice has that Apache OpenOffice does not.  You can find that comparison here.

Another comparison showed the difference between the two suites in terms of performance.  As in, which software performed faster on a given task on the same hardware.  You can find that comparison here.

It seems that LibreOffice is currently more feature-rich than Apache OpenOffice, but Apache's offering may offer better performance. (Although, as Michael Meeks accurately pointed out in the comments of the later comparison, it may have just been the documents that were used in that experiment that favored Apache, and without controls and access to the documents in question to replicate the experiment, one cannot say for sure that Apache OpenOffice is *always* faster than LibreOffice.)

I'm wondering, though, if now Apache has all their ducks in a row to start moving ahead, if LibreOffice will be able to remain ahead in features.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment below.
  • Do you think the community will return to OpenOffice now that it's in production again?
  • Do you think Distros who have switched to LibreOffice will switch back?
  • In your experience, have many distros switched in the first place?
  • Do you think the corporate support (IE Google) will return to OpenOffice, or will they stick with LO?
  • Do you think the 2 projects will ever remerge?
  • Do you think having a free, open, full/fullish featured offline office suite even matters anymore in a day with Google Docs, smartphone office suites, etc.?
Apache OpenOffice 3.4
LibreOffice 3.5.4

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Alan Phillips said...

Although... with Google's recent acquisition or QuickOffice, that could change the playing field a bit...

Chad Smith said...

Possibly, but QuickOffice isn't a direct competitor with AOO, LO, or MSO. It's just on mobile devices from what I understand. (IE Android, iOS, Symbian, and webOS.)

From what I can tell, it would be easier to make an off-line version of Google Docs (or Drive or whatever they call it now) than to bring QuickOffice up to the Desktop.

What I can see happening with QuickOffice is what Microsoft did that got it in trouble with the Department of Justice - and that is bundling. Now that Google owns QuickOffice, they could easily make it free and include it with every copy of Android, and therefore kill all the competition for the office suite space on mobile devices. I'm actually not happy about that acquisition at all.