Tech-Friendly: A free, reliable office productivity suite

October 24, 2012

By Paul Gorski

Most of us have fairly simple word processing and spreadsheet needs, whether it be at home or office. If you don’t need, or want, to pay for a bloated, full version of Microsoft Office, LibreOffice may be the free solution for you. Yes, Google Docs is a free web-based office suite; however, some of us haven’t embraced working in the “cloud” yet, and that’s where LibreOffice comes in.

LibreOffice installs on your desktop or laptop computer and includes a number of applications, including: Writer (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet), and Impress (presentations). More applications are included, but as this is a “tech-friendly” column, I won’t review applications that you’re not likely to use.

Writer is the best application in the suite, and that’s good, as that’s the program you’re most likely to use. Writer offers very good compatibility with Microsoft Word documents. You can open and save documents in Microsoft’s .doc and .docx formats, in addition to a variety of other formats.

You might already be familiar with Writer’s interface, as Writer’s menus were largely copied from Word 2003, before ribbon menus confused many Microsoft users. No, I’m not a fan of Office’s new ribbon menus. In my opinion, ribbon menus complicate the relatively simple task of putting words on a page.

Calc, the LibreOffice spreadsheet program, is the next strongest application in the suite. That, too, is good, as many home and business users need a reliable spreadsheet program. Calc spreadsheets can be opened in Excel just fine, but Calc may have problems opening Excel spreadsheets containing pivot tables. If you don’t know what a pivot table is, don’t worry, you’re not alone. If you’re an average user, you won’t be missing a thing.

Even average users might make charts and graphs from their spreadsheet data. Calc supports charts and graphs, but doesn’t support all the charts and graph features that Excel offers. If you’re a graphing fanatic, you might stick with Excel.

If you’re a presentation fanatic, you might stick with PowerPoint. You can use LibreOffice’s Impress presentation program to make nice presentations, but Impress isn’t as polished as PowerPoint. However, I don’t find many home or office users making presentations; these tasks usually get delegated to the presentation specialist in the office.

If you really like presentations, get a Mac and install Apple’s Keynote. PowerPoint pales in comparison to Keynote. Keynote is a great presentation program, with excellent slide transitions and multimedia support. But I’m off topic.

If you’re an average computer user looking for a reliable, free alternative to Microsoft Office, look no further than LibreOffice. Download LibreOffice for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux at http://www.libreoffice.org/.

Paul Gorski has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments that he hard-wired to the back of an Apple IIe.

From the Oct. 24-30, 2012, issue

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