Bigger, better, faster: LibreOffice 4.2

Bigger, better, faster: LibreOffice 4.2

Summary: The leading open-source alternative to Microsoft Office is looking better than ever.


LibreOffice is the leading open-source alternative to Microsoft Office and it's looking better than ever in its latest version: LibreOffice 4.2.

The latest LibreOffice, version 4.2, is looking better than ever.

The Document Foundation's newest release of LibreOffice 4.2 targets early adopters. It comes with many new performance and interoperability improvements for users of all kinds. Specifically, this update is designed to appeal to Windows power and enterprise users.

For most users, the biggest improvement is that LibreOffice 4.2 now does a much better job of supporting Microsoft Office's native OpenXML document format. In particular, LibreOffice works well at supporting Word's DOCX format. Personally, what I like most is that at long, long -- one more time with feeling -- long last LibreOffice supports "Track Changes ON" when present in a DOCX document. Unfortunately, this feature still needs work. Still, it's a good start.

For what it's worth, in my basic tests of converting documents from LibreOffice's Open Document Format (ODF) to OpenXML and back again, the conversions worked well. To see if these improvements will be sufficient for your office documents, you'll just need to test it for yourself. For me, they're good enough.

On the other hand, as UK Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude observed recently, government and companies could save money by switching from Microsoft Office (and its difficult-to-work-with formats) to OpenOffice and Google Docs. In particular, Maude singled out document formats as a problem child.

"Technical standards for document formats may not sound like the first shot in a revolution. But be in no doubt: the adoption of compulsory standards in government threatens to break open Whitehall's lock-in to proprietary formats. In turn we will open the door for a host of other software providers," said Maude.

Microsoft, for its part, promised in 2012 that they'd do a better job of fully supporting ODF and PDF. We're still waiting for that document format interoperability promise to be met.

Andrew 'Andy' Updegrove, standards expert and founding partner of Gesmer Updegrove, a top technology law firm,  believes that it we could get improved document interoperability, "the big winners will be, well, everyone, whether they remain users of Microsoft products or move to a competing alternative."

Why? Updegrove continues: "Because for the great majority of the desktop age, there has been no meaningful competition in that space. The result has been a woeful lack of innovation, leaving those (like me) who spend their lives laboring behind keyboards to watch wistfully while fierce competition brings new jaw-dropping innovations to mobile devices, cameras, and much more on an almost weekly basis. How I would love to see the magic that might be wrought if the same type of effort was brought to the desktop."

LibreOffice is trying its best to make this happen. In addition to the Microsoft Office formats, the new program also boasts new improvements with importing and exporting Microsoft's legacy RTF files. Last, but not least, it comes with new import filters for AbiWord documents and Apple Keynote presentations.

LibreOffice 4.2 also offers two other Windows specific improvements for business users: A simplified custom install dialog, and the ability to centrally manage and lock-down program configuration with Group Policy Objects via Active Directory. The new office suite also comes with better integration with Windows 7 and 8. For example, it now comes with thumbnails of open documents grouped by application and a list of recent documents, both showing on the task bar.

The other major change is that Calc, LibreOffice's take on Excel, has gone through its largest code refactoring ever, which has yielded major performance improvements. If your computer comes with an Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA), such as one in the AMD's new Kaveri APU, LibreOffice 4.2's optional formula interpreter enables massively parallel calculation of formula cells using the GPU via OpenCL.

The LibreOffice user interface (UI) continues to undergo significant cleanup with, The Document Foundation claims, "70 percent of our dialogs now refreshed with many distributed UI tweaks. This release also includes a beautiful new 'flat' icon theme, Sifr, and an updated set of default document styles."

I was sorry to see that LibreOffice still doesn't have a cloud version or mobile versions for Android or iOS. The first two are at least being working on, but they're still not even beta-test ready yet.

That said, I'm still very impressed by this latest LibreOffice iteration and you can run it on FreeBSD, Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. You can see if you like it on your operating system of choice by downloading it and trying it yourself.

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Topics: Enterprise Software, Open Source, Software

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  • ...

    What? No innovation in the desktop? Because what's ribbon, right? What's the formatting pop-up (Mini Toolbar) in Microsoft Office? What's the live preview? Nothing uh?
    • ...

      I mean, I'm all for open formats and hope LibreOffice will continue improving, but the open source community don't need to spread FUD for that.
      • the experimental icon set rocks

        Just enabled the new experimental icon set in libreoffice. This looks and feels so much better than the old ones that its inovation in my book!
    • ribbon = 2007

      That's 7 years ago. I'm pretty sure they mean continued/accelerated inovation
      • ...

        Cool now tell me about the innovations LibreOffice introduced...
        • That's the point...

          they haven't. Compared to mobile, desktop business applications have not had innovative new features for years.

          LibreOffice and OpenOffice are still playing catch-up, so MS haven't felt the need to "push the envelope," they make small improvements all the time, but big new features are few and far between.
          • MS Office is a trap - lock you to Microsoft ecosystem...

            ... and then you have to just pay, pay, pay, buy MS crap and pay, pay, pay ...

            Clever people don't want to live in MS Gulag even if Mr Stalin from Redmond is claiming the opposite.
          • Why would they need to lock you into MS Office

            when the facts show that people are more then happy to pay for it, as opposed to using some half baked free alternative (and I use the word "alternative" quite lightly)
          • WRONG!

            I'm not happy to pay for it!
          • thenyou are in the monority

            Most users out there accept the fact that obtaining a quality bit of software may require payment. Even Ubuntu was begging for money last time I visited their site. These things don't pay for themselves you know.

            Now, did you ever pay LibreOffice for use of their product? I suppose not. They do have costs associated with development, so I guess you are one of the many that expect someone else to pay for everything. Is that correct?
          • MS Ecosystem

            Not so fast! When I upgraded my old laptop to W7, I chose not to install Office 2K7 and went to the browser to use MS web access counterpoints. That was a few years ago and now my laptop is running W8.1. My employer sent an email re the availability of Office 2K13... (you know what I mean) for 10 bucks via Home User Program. I bit on that temptation. Office Home User Program has been on my machine for about 6 mos. and I find I still favor MS Web Access counterpoints. go figure, eh?
            Crashin Chris
        • "Microsoft, for its part, promised in 2012 that they'd do a better job "

          To co-operative with FLOSS and Linux? Well, we know all about Microsoft and its "good will" towards FLOSS&Linux.
          Napoleon XIV
        • Innovations

          Large document support - unlike MS Office, I can write a 200 page document in Libre Office.

          No tendency to suddenly reflow into a tiny square in the corner of page 1, which won't undo.

          I might even lose my "save every sentence" twitch that years of MS Office have trained me into.
        • How about

          - being able to open Microsoft Works documents natively
          - being able to open documents created before Office 97
          - being able to open WordPerfect documents - ALL versions - natively
          - adhering to true standards for document storage and not Microsoft "standards"

          Many more, these are just a few off the top of my head.
          • Opening legacy formats...

   now innovation? MS is the virtual paragon of "innovation" then, with all it does to support legacy applications.

            I think you might want to revisit that premise.
        • Freedom, Open document format (actualy open)

          ODF open and ISO compatible format, freedom, free ($$$ very nice innovation :) ), open source, PDF output (It was first in Openoffice, before MS-Office), runs on many more platforms, plain text file format, interchangable format. Some of this inovations haven't been done in MS-Office. The very nice innovation done is that is a program for the fremen (free minded, open minded, boundaries less minded peoples).
    • I've not used MS Office for agepre-ribbon

      No what is "formatting popup"? Is that a variation on LibreOffice floating "Styles and Formating" popup (its been in Libreoffice for years and years)? Does MSOffice save its docs in compressed files yet in order to save magnitudes of space?
  • you guys make me laugh

    Windows does not randomly crash anymore.. when was the last time you used it?
  • I switched to LibreOffice some time back

    Cannot do without it now. It's not just an acceptable replacement for Office but one of the best productivity apps available. I'll download the new version later today.
    • Its good but

      MS Office is the "best productivity app available", its just not free. Just the advanced copy/paste functions and formatting of that paste alone makes MS Office powerful and that is not even considering all the collaboration tech build into it such as locking down certain aspects of a shared document while allowing viewing/editing in other parts. Integration into SharePoint, SkyDrive, and Office Web Apps. Etc.

      Again, LibreOffice is a great value (free) and is more than enough for the casual user but its is not the best Office.
      Rann Xeroxx