Bigger, better LibreOffice 5.3 released for the cloud

The latest version of LibreOffice is out now for Linux, macOS, Windows, and, at long last, the cloud.

Almost two years ago, The Document Foundation announced it was going to bring LibreOffice to the cloud. With the release of LibreOffice 5.3, that day has finally come.

LibreOffice MUFFIN

LibreOffice's new MUFFIN-based interface gives users a more flexible document creation experience.

LibreOffice, the popular open-source office suite, is arguably the best desktop-based office suite. Why? Italo Vignoli, co-founder of The Document Foundation, explains:

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1. Independence from a single vendor, who's interested in locking-in users to secure their bottom line. LibreOffice is free software.

2. The chance to influence LibreOffice's development -- either by contributing directly or by paying contributors for the development of specific features. For a large deployment, the cost is usually lower than the purchase of MS Office licenses.

3. Reduction of interoperability costs. Since its truly open and standard document format, Open Document Format (ODF) is the same across applications and operating systems.

4. Lower document security, thanks to ODF files intrinsically stronger security, compared to Microsoft's Office's Open XML (OOXML) since OOXML files often contain binary blobs. This makes it easier to inject them with malware.

5. Lower training costs, as LibreOffice's user interface is consistent across operating systems.

This new version isn't simply a minor update. It's one of the most feature-rich releases in its history.

It starts with the first source release of LibreOffice Online. This is a LibreOffice 5.3 cloud office suit. It provides basic browser collaborative editing of documents by re-using the LibreOffice "core engine." It's based on work done with Collabora, a leading LibreOffice developer company.

LibreOffice Online is fundamentally a server service. You'll need to install and configure on your own cloud server with a SSL certificate. Builds of the latest LibreOffice Online source code are available as Docker images.

Be warned that this is very much a do-it-yourself cloud project. LibreOffice states, "LibreOffice Online is a server service, which -- to be fully functional -- has to be integrated with file access and authentication provision."

Indeed, "The Document Foundation is not going to develop a cloud solution similar to existing products from Google and Microsoft, because this would not be in line with the original mission of the project. The task is therefore open to ISPs and providers of open-source cloud solutions, and several options [such as Collabora Online Development Edition (CODE)] are already available on the market."

As for the other features, they include:

  • A new cross-platform text layout engine that uses HarfBuzz for consistent text layout on all platforms.
  • A revised Help menu -- with new quick links to user guides and community support forums -- for an improved user experience.
  • Better import/export filters to new and legacy MS Office document formats.
  • Writer now supports Table Styles for applying formatting to a table, which is preserved when you make edits to it, and a new Go to Page box to enable jumping to another page with just a few keystrokes.
  • Calc, LibreOffice's equivalent to Excel, provides a new set of default cell styles, with greater variety and better names than in previous releases.
  • Calc also now enables wildcards in formulas by default rather than regular expressions. This improves its compatibility with other spreadsheet software.
  • Impress, the suite's equivalent of PowerPoint, now opens with a template selector, to get the user off to a quick start, and a new Slide Properties Deck is now available in the sidebar while in slide master mode.

LibreOffice 5.3 also has numerous "under the hood" improvements.

This latest LibreOffice has a new experimental user interface (UI) as well: Notebookbar. The Notebookbar is similar to MS-Office's ribbon interface. This doesn't replace the Default UI with two toolbars (the Single Toolbar UI and the Sidebar with a Single Toolbar). There are four different UIs now available, counting the new one, and each UI layout is meant to serve the needs of different LibreOffice users.

Taken all together, the revised LibreOffice UI is codenamed My User Friendly & Flexible Interface (aka MUFFIN). MUFFIN is designed to be "simple for beginners and powerful for experts." It's based around four key principles: First, novices can start to work with LibreOffice without needing to read a manual; second, in every situation the user is confronted with only a few options but can get all options on demand; third, full access keeps usability first but might need some training; and fourth, experts will have access to all functionality.

All this said, LibreOffice 5.3 is a bleeding-edge release. It's meant for early adopters and power users. For business users, the more mature LibreOffice 5.2.5 version, which comes with optional commercial support, would be a better choice,

LibreOffice 5.3 is available now for Linux-based clouds, Linux, macOS, and Windows. While LibreOffice is free to use, you can support the program with a donation to The Document Foundation.

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