It’s four years since Microsoft last released a new version of Office for Mac, and If you’re tired of waiting for Office 2016, you’ll find plenty of alternatives
both as web and Mac apps. The best of the
latter category is LibreOffice, a full-featured
office suite which surpasses Microsoft Office for Mac when it comes to the sheer number of apps bundled within it.
It lacks an equivalent of Outlook, but in other respects LibreOffice matches Office 2011. As well as modules for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, there’s a database, a drawing program, a database tool, a formulae and equations tool, and an app for creating and editing charts. There are also add-ons created by a huge community of developers, demonstrating one of the suite’s strengths as open-source software.
What’s more, LibreOffice supports a large number of file formats, including Microsoft’s proprietary .doc and .xls and XML-based .docx and .xlsx extensions.
If you think LibreOffice may be a lightweight alternative to Microsoft’s behemoth, think again. Writer, for example, includes features for adding comments, tracking revisions, and accepting or rejecting changes. It’s spelling and grammar checker are excellent, and it has a large gallery of symbols, shapes and other graphics. Long document support is also great thanks to support for creating indexes, bibliographies, and tables of contents.
However, Writer does lack the page layout mode available in both Microsoft’s Word 2011
and Apple’s Pages, meaning that everything must be done inline. You can’t, for example, create text boxes and place holders for images and drag them around the page. For a free way to do that, try Scribus (see page 33).
The inestimable value of free
Calc, the spreadsheet tool, doesn’t support Visual Basic macros, but it does have plenty of other commendable features. The conditional formatting tool is excellent, for example. There’s a Scenario Manager to allow you to perform complex ‘What If…’ analyses, and a solver component which allows you to solve optimisation problems where the optimum value of a particular cell is dependent on constraints provided in other cells.
LibreOffice’s presentation component, Impress, lacks some of the user interface refinement of Keynote and PowerPoint, and it lacks keyboard shortcuts, but it’s powerful enough for most of us. It has drawing and
diagramming tools, animation and effects, and
the Fontwork tool enables you to create 2D
and 3D images from text. When it’s time to deliver your presentation, the slideshow mode allows you to choose between automatic and manual modes, set the duration for which slides are shown, and decide whether the pointer is visible. Impress supports multiple displays, enabling you to see the upcoming slide and your notes while the audience sees the current slide in the presentation.
Base, the database tool, acts as a front-end to several engines, including MySQL and Microsoft’s Access. However, it can also be used as a simple, standalone database. There are wizards to help you set up a database, and it can integrate with other LibreOffice apps. So, for example, Base can be used to hold records for a mail merge in Writer.
Draw can be used to create anything from quick sketches to technical drawings up to 300x300cm in size. It’s strength, though, is as
a diagramming and charting tool. Whether you
need to draw an organisation chart, flowchart,
or network chart, you’ll find the tools you need here. Smart connectors and glue points make it relatively simple to put charts together, and dimension lines automatically calculate and display linear dimensions as you draw.
Math, the equations and formula editor can be run as a standalone tool or provide its services from within any of the suite’s other components. Formulas can contain a range of elements including fractions, integrals, mathematical functions, and matrices. Like Math, Charts can be called from within any LibreOffice component. It allows you to create different types and styles of charts by simply providing it with the data to be presented.
Bursting with content
The latest version of LibreOffice, 4.4.3, includes
several new features, including the ability to
digitally sign PDFs, and to share them on SharePoint, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and CMISbased content management systems.
This version also sees an overhaul of the user interface, with new menus and toolbars, a re-designed sidebar and a new colour manager. Version tracking capabilities have been beefed up too.
Key to LibreOffice’s appeal are the vast array of extensions and templates that are available for it. These are developed by a community of developers and LibreOffice enthusiasts, and they cover a wide range of features. Among many others, there are extensions to add
a clip art gallery, support for importing and
exporting to Google Docs and Zoho Office,
several language tools that add support for dictionaries in languages other than English.
While the templates available may lack the polish of those included with Apple’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps, that’s made up for in sheer quantity. There are hundreds of templates covering just about every kind of use you can image for a word-processing tool or spreadsheet.
If you’ve tried LibreOffice in the past and found it lacking, give it another go now because version 4.4.3 really is excellent.
LibreOffice Writer looks similar to Microsoft Word and can import Word documents, although some features aren’t imported.
When you open LibreOffice, this window presents pre‑installed templates for you to choose from.
Calc is LibreOffice’s spreadsheet component, and it will be immediately familiar if you’ve ever used Microsoft Excel.