LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice: Which free office suite is best?

OpenOffice or LibreOffice are popular as free Office alternatives, because they offer practical and compatible standard applications for text creation, spreadsheets and presentation, and some have attractive additional features. However, features for team communication, an email client or cloud storage are lacking in LibreOffice and OpenOffice.

Our comparison highlights which of the two office solutions is suitable depending on individual requirements. This article was last updated in September 2021.

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Quick Overview: Libre Office vs. OpenOffice

Similarities between LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice

Pros Cons
✔ Purpose-built applications for text creation (WRITE), spreadsheet (CALC), and presentation (IMPRESS). ✘ Simultaneous file-editing is not integrated
✔ Open from and save to common Microsoft file types such as .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx. ✘ No cloud storage solution
✔ Applications for drawings (DRAW) and databases (BASE) ✘ No solution for team communication
✔ With standard formatting, good compatibility with other Office applications ✘ Partially incompatible with more complex formatting
✔ Available free of charge for Windows, macOS, and Linux ✘ No integrated email client

Differences between LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice

  LibreOffice OpenOffice
User interface More closely aligned with Microsoft Office applications More closely aligned with Google Office applications
Additional features ✔ Creating charts (CHARTS)✔ Larger selection of presentation templates✔ More additional functions in the writing program✔ More import and export functions ✔ Better compatibility with more complex formatting ✘ Fewer additional functions than LibreOffice✘ Less compatible with more complex formatting
Speed, stability and security ✔ Slightly faster 64-bit version available✔ Regular updates with new functions✘ Many additional features come at the expense of stability ✔ Runs more stable even on older or less powerful computers✘ Only 32-bit version available✘ Rarely updates, hardly any new functions
Teamwork and language settings ✔ Joint editing of files possible via additional app✘ Own server required for teamwork ✔ Multiple language versions installable✘ Shared editing of files not integrated
Suitability (recommendation) Also suitable for smaller companies More suitable for home users

Introducing OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice: Who was the original?

It all started with OpenOffice. The application originated as a commercial office product from the German company Star Division. The company launched StarOffice 3.0, an office solution for Windows, OS/2 and Mac in 1995. Star Division was bought by the Californian Sun Microsystems in 1999 - in the same year Sun StarOffice 5.2 was released. This was the precursor to OpenOffice: one year later the source code of StarOffice was released, so that developers could see it and use it for their purposes.

Thus OpenOffice.org was born and the spread of the free software took its course. OpenOffice is an open-source application because of its use of open source code, which is reflected in the name. This means that users can make their own adjustments or use parts of the OpenOffice code for their own purposes by accessing the source code.

10 years after OpenOffice emerged, Sun Microsystems was bought by Oracle, who discontinued the product ‘StarOffice’ which has since been renamed Oracle Open Office. The commercial version of the office solution disappeared. OpenOffice was renamed Apache OpenOffice.org.

The takeover of Sun Microsystems by Oracle also marks the start of LibreOffice. The US company Oracle was aiming for profit, and so some developers moved away, subsequently establishing their own foundation called ‘The Document Foundation’ and have since continued their vision of the OpenOffice project under the name LibreOffice. According to an analysis by the Foundation, there were around 200 million LibreOffice users worldwide in 2018, many of which are Linux users.

The main uses of LibreOffice and OpenOffice

The genesis or the transition of the developers from OpenOffice to LibreOffice is also reflected in the scope of the two packages in terms of the main programs. The products are very similar and in both cases they are available for users of Windows, macOS, and Linux. Both products offer a total package of applications with their office suite, as known from other providers, for example Microsoft with its office solution including Word and Excel. LibreOffice and OpenOffice each include:

  • WRITE: Create and edit texts
  • CALC: Manage tables and set up calculations
  • IMPRESS: Design and present presentations
  • DRAW: Create drawings
  • BASE: Manage databases

Users who have previously worked with Microsoft Office will immediately find their way around both of the presented applications. The applications are very similar, as well as the user experience and the functions. For example, formatting texts in WRITE is very similar to the market leader Word from Microsoft. Similar in structure to Excel, the other applications from LibreOffice or OpenOffice also offer a whole range of functions that users will already be familiar with.

Note

It is simple to open and edit documents produced in an MS Office program with one of the two open-source variants and to share this with other users. However, for more complex formatting, for example within a text or if special animations were used in PowerPoint, the free applications reach their limits. This can sometimes also lead to documents not being displayed correctly and editing can therefore be limited.

There are four main areas for daily tasks when studying or working in the electronic office environment: text creation, spreadsheets, presentation design, and emailing. Wondering if the free office alternatives LibreOffice and OpenOffice can keep up with the competition?

  • With the free applications, texts can be created and formatted in the familiar manner, insertions can be made, and even sent texts can be provided with comments and traceable changes.
  • The functionality of spreadsheet applications is similar to what MS users are familiar with. In addition to simple formulas, pivot functions or the automatic embedding of diagrams as graphs, bars, or pies are also part of the game.
  • For the creation of presentations there is a practical template wizard, which takes different specifications as a basis for the creation of a template when creating a new presentation - similar to a master slide in PowerPoint. PowerPoint users will notice that the open-source versions are limited when it comes to embedding multimedia content such as videos or music, or that the range of functions cannot keep up with paid products. Nevertheless, IMPRESS can be used to create professional presentations, which companies can also use to accurately present their products, processes, or services.

LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice: What are the similarities between the two?

As can be seen from the list of main applications, the application packages of the two office suites are almost identical. This is also true with regard to the fact that neither application packages have an email client, as is the case with Microsoft’s universally known Outlook. Here, you can rely on Outlook alternatives like Thunderbird or SeaMonkey to be able to send emails in addition to creating documents.

In terms of compatibility with other programs, both applications perform well. LibreOffice and OpenOffice can each also open and save files in the widely used Microsoft Office formats:

Otherwise, the programs of the two office solutions already offer application areas known from Google Workspace or MS Office, which are almost identical in both. The design of the two packages within the programs is also quite similar in terms of the arrangement of the icons and the user-friendliness - LibreOffice is somewhat more similar to MS Office, while the look of OpenOffice is more similar to Google Docs. However, this has no influence on the operation of the programs.

This means that collaboration with customers, agencies or other users who use a different office system, is possible with both LibreOffice and OpenOffice.

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Differences: Does LibreOffice or OpenOffice have more to offer?

Even though the functions of both office solutions are very similar, there are some differences when comparing OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice.

Additional functions:

  • In addition to the presented applications such as CALC or WRITE, LibreOffice includes another application that is especially suitable for visualising data. CHARTS is aimed at all users who frequently want to produce professional graphics in the form of bar charts and other representations. (03/2021)
  • In terms of design templates in the presentation tool IMPRESS, LibreOffice has a head start. Although both versions provide a large number of sample slides, LibreOffice has an even larger selection than OpenOffice. (03/2021)
  • As already described, both solutions sometimes encounter problems when they have to access Microsoft file formats that have very different formats to the usual formatting. It has been shown in practice that LibreOffice copes better with complex formatting. (06/2020 and 02/2021)
  • LibreOffice offers more or simpler ways to format text or data; for example, CALC allows table cells to be color-coded with a click. Users are also more likely to find other helpful functions such as word counting or watermarks in PDF files in LibreOffice. (09/2018)
  • A more limited feature set of OpenOffice is also evident in a similar point: LibreOffice supports more import and export functions. (02/2021)

Speed, Stability, and Security

  • No 64-bit version in OpenOffice: Unlike LibreOffce, OpenOffice only offers a 32-bit variant. Since 64-bit versions are usually a tad faster, LibreOffice has the edge here. (06/2020)
  • There are more developers working on LibreOffice, which means that updates are released regularly and bugs can be fixed more quickly. For example, version (major release) 7 in August 2020 improved compatibility with the MS Office formats of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In 2021, smaller updates followed, most recently to version 7.1.3, which brings more than 100 bug fixes, including even greater compatibility with the MS Office file formats DOCX, XLSX, and PPTX.
  • However, these innovations compromisethe stability of LibreOffice. OpenOffice has the edge here, as its Office programs run more stably on older computers. (02/2021) This is also due to the lower RAM consumption of OpenOffice - LibreOffice demands more available resources here. (06/2021)
  • In the case of OpenOffice, although the last update was in 2021, it was an update to version 4.1.10, which is only a maintenance release. This means that no new features were added in this update. In terms of security, regular updates are important, which is where LibreOffice shines. (06/2021)

Teamwork and language settings

  • OpenOffice does not offer a solution for teams that want to work together on files and documents. With LibreOffice, the process is much more complex than with other providers. To use online editing, an app must first be installed on a dedicated server. Only then can team members use the collaborative work functions in their web browser. (02/2021)
  • LibreOffice users have to commit to the first selected language after startup, while OpenOffice users can load additional language packs and thus adapt their application to their own needs afterward. (03/2021)

Summary: Individual requirements determine whether LibreOffice or OpenOffice is best for you

With both Libre Office and OpenOffice, youget a real MS Office alternative that maps the basic functionalities of Microsoft 365. With it, you can edit texts, design presentations, and create tables in your everyday workspace.

Formatting is handled effortlessly by the WRITE programs, and the CALC applications are also on a par with Excel when it comes to editing tables. The functionality is good enough for the majority of processing requirements, so that the free solutions are ideal when you need to consider a large number of licenses.

Whether you ultimately choose OpenOffice or LibreOffice depends on your personal preferences and which system you work with:

  • Are you looking for up-to-date software that receives regular (security) updates and is constantly being further developed in terms of functionality? Then LibreOffice, together with its better compatibility with Microsoft products, covers all the requirements of free software.
  • On the other hand, is it more important to use a stable and high-performance office package that also runs smoothly on older systems? Then OpenOffice is the application of choice.

Important: Only LibreOffice offers users the possibility to work together on files. However, this is only possible with additional effort, because additional resources in the form of a server must be available for this. (02/2021)

Note

Companies check whether the two alternatives presented would be ideal for work use and take into account with which office suites and to what extent, for example, customers interact with the company. If formatting plays an important role in day-to-day business, this could mean that LibreOffice is better suited, for example. For private users, LibreOffice and OpenOffice are equally good as free office alternatives.

Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace: The (paid) business-friendly alternative

If you lack aspects such as a powerful email client, collaboration options within individual files, and cloud services, then neither LibreOffice nor OpenOffice will meet your requirements.

In that case, other applications are needed, such as Microsoft 365, which not only gives users access to familiar programs like Word or Excel, but also to OneDrive, an online storage allowing access to files anywhere – desktop or mobile. Of course, Outlook is also part of the Office 365 package as a comprehensive email program.

Tip

In addition to extensive cloud storage and a dedicated email client, Microsoft 365 gives you Microsoft Teams, an easy-to-use tool for web meetings where both video conferencing and presentations can be set up regardless of location. Ideal for teams in different locations.

Or take a look at Google Workspace, which gives each team member their own extensive online storage and allows collaboration to happen across teams through real-time file syncing.

Tip

If you are already working with some of Google’s apps, the Google Workspace packages from IONOS are ideal as they give you a place for all Google apps. This includes the Gmail email client, as well as Google Docs and Spreadsheets, which can further enhance collaboration by allowing you to chat within a document.

Included with both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace are regular security updates and consistent customer service, making it easier and more secure for businesses to use on a day-to-day basis. The article ‘Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365’ shows all the advantages of the two providers in a clear comparison.

Particularly for businesses, Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace offer valuable features such as extensive cloud storage, integrated email solutions, and the ability to work on files and documents quickly and easily as a team - without the need for administrative tasks.


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