LibreOffice 5.4: The best office suite gets better

The newest LibreOffice is also the best version to date.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

My first "office" program was WordStar in 1982. Since then, I've used more than I can ever remember, including all the Microsoft Office programs beginning with 1.0 in 1991. I make my living from office software. If there's something good out there, I want to know about it. And that's why I've been using LibreOffice ever since it forked from OpenOffice. It's the best office suite out there, and with the release of LibreOffice 5.4, it's only gotten better.

Why? There are many reasons. Let's start with the basics: It's free. Yes, it's also open source, but I mean "free" as in "free beer". It doesn't cost you a red cent.

I also like its old-style interface. You can keep the ribbon interface. I like having my menu commands where I know I can find them. If you love the ribbon, LibreOffice will let you use the ribbon interface style.

Another feature I like is that LibreOffice has exactly the same codebase and features on Linux, macOS, and Windows. As someone who uses all three platforms, that matters a lot. MS Office 2016 doesn't work or feel the same on macOS and, of course, it doesn't run on Linux at all.

The bottom line is that LibreOffice just works on many platforms and it doesn't get in my way. Too many office suites force you to learn their unique ways before you can really work with them. With LibreOffice I'm using the same keystrokes and macros I picked up with MS Office 2003.

It's not perfect. While LibreOffice works well with Microsoft's Open XML formats, it can still have trouble with it. A particular problem of mine is that it can't read complex and rich text formatting in comments. Still, with any version, LibreOffice gets better at dealing with Microsoft's formats. It's a pity I can't say the same for Office working with LibreOffice's native Open Document Formats (ODF).

Nevertheless, LibreOffice is the office suite of choice for me.

In this latest version, its developers worked especially hard on file compatibility. They made ODF and OOXML files easier to exchange with other users. In addition, the XML description of a new document written by LibreOffice is 50 percent smaller with ODF (ODT), and around 90 percent smaller in the case of OOXML (DOCX), in comparison with the same document generated by MS Office 2016.

In Writer, LibreOffice's answer to Word, there are several new useful features. These are:

  • You can now import AutoText from Microsoft Word DOTM templates. DOTM templates include the default styles and customizations that determine a document's basic look.
  • When you're exporting or pasting numbered and bulleted lists as plain text, their full structure is preserved.
  • In the Format menu, you can now create custom watermarks for your documents.
  • New context menu items have been added for working with sections, footnotes, endnotes, and styles.

The other major updates in LibreOffice 5.4 are in Calc, LibreOffice's spreadsheet.

  • Calc now includes support for pivot charts, which use data from pivot tables. When the table is updated, the chart is also automatically updated.
  • Comments are now easier to manage, with menu commands to show, hide, and delete all comments.
  • When applying conditional formatting to cells, you can now easily change the priority of rules with up and down buttons.
  • Extra sheet protection options have been added, to optionally allow insertion or deletion of rows and columns.
  • Lastly, when you're exporting in CSV format, your settings are remembered for the next export operation.

Put it all together and you have a superb office suite that won't cost you a dime. What's not to like?

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