LibreOffice Suite Now Competes Directly with Google Docs


On the heels of announcing new versions 5.2 and 5.1.5 of the free, LibreOffice suite of productivity applications, The Document Foundation has provided statistics indicating that LibreOffice is gaining traction with Linux users, developers, administrators, and enterprises. In fact, the new version 5.1.5 of the suite is specifically tuned for enterprise users.

The Document Foundation’s Annual Report notes that the LibreOffice project now has more than 1,000 contributors with 300 making commits in 2015. Moreover, new releases of the suite include enhanced focus on compatibility and standards. The suite’s import/export filters have improved exponentially, and — in a move that will appeal to many admins and cloud-minded users — the suite has been steadily adding direct integration with platforms and services including Google Drive, SharePoint, and Alfresco. You can now open files directly from — and save files to — these services via menu choices under the File menu in LibreOffice applications.

Integration with these platforms and services, of course, means that LibreOffice is now much more competitive with Google Docs. Additionally, as security concerns remain on everyone’s radar, The Document Foundation is working closely with the Transglobal Secure Collaboration Program (TSCP), a public-private partnership formed to secure electronic communication for organizations including defense contractors and government entities. The TSCP has specifications and frameworks that preserve more secure shared documents online. LibreOffice 5.2 complies with these document classification specifications.

In LibreOffice 5.2, documents can be classified into categories (e.g., “Confidential”) according to TSCP standards. Additionally, multiple digital signatures and descriptions are now supported, along with import and export of signatures from OOXML files.

The Ubuntu Connection

LibreOffice is, of course, familiar to many Linux users, especially Ubuntu users. After all, the suite has been the default office suite of the Ubuntu OS for years, and it runs fluidly on Ubuntu tablets as well. And, Ubuntu is among the most popular platforms on which to build OpenStack deployments. On the Ubuntu front, The Document Foundation has also recently announced that Canonical, Ubuntu’s parent, has joined its Advisory Board.

The Document Foundation recently clarified that LibreOffice is now on a six-month cycle for major releases, to keep it in step with other open source projects, including OpenStack and Ubuntu. Canonical’s participation on The Documents Foundation’s Advisory Board will help inform and enforce this release schedule.

Of course, LibreOffice, like Google Docs, takes criticism on some fronts for not being fully compatible with Microsoft Office formats and standards. In fact, you can find lively debates on this topic online. The new releases, though, are much more compatible with them. For example, changes to the formula engine within LibreOffice’s Calc spreadsheet app remove restrictions on table structure references in cells. The upshot of this is that the spreadsheet application has better interoperability with other applications, especially Microsoft Excel.

In what could be a very critical next step in encouraging more adoption of LibreOffice, The Document Foundation is developing mobile versions of the LibreOffice applications for Android and Apple iOS devices. These will extend well beyond the limited, document “viewer” applications that you can get now. The full-featured mobile versions will likely integrate directly with popular cloud services, giving users full access to documents and content on the go.

In significant ways, LibreOffice is emerging as a viable competitor to both Microsoft’s productivity application suite and Google Docs. It’s also gaining traction in some notable global organizations. For example, a huge branch of the Italian government has switched from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice, and the UK government has made similar moves.