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.

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