LibreOffice 7: Now more Microsoft-compatible -- and still free

With Microsoft abandoning PC-based office software, if you don't want to use cloud-based office suites such as Microsoft 365 or G Suite, LibreOffice 7 will be your best desktop office suite choice.

Given a choice between Office 2019 and the just-released LibreOffice 7.0, your pick should be open-source's top office suite LibreOffice. After all, as Jared Spataro, then Microsoft's corporate vice president for Office and Windows group, said, Office 2019's applications are "frozen in time. They don't ever get updated with new features." Of course, what Spataro wants is for you to move to the cloud-based Microsoft 365 where the "apps keep getting better over time."

Microsoft has made it clear that it sees the desktop office suite future on the cloud, not on your PC. As a "last resort" -- Microsoft's words, not mine --  Microsoft recommends Office 2019. Maybe paying an eternal subscription fee for Microsoft works for you. It does for many users. But, if you want an old-style office suite which lives on your PC, LibreOffice is now your top choice. Oh, and did I mention? LibreOffice won't cost you a cent.

This new major release comes with several improvements. At the top of the list for users who've spent their working lives with Microsoft Office, the best feature is better compatibility with DOCX, XLSX, and PPTX files. LibreOffice 7's DOCX is now saved in native 2013/2016/2019 mode, instead of 2007 compatibility mode. This greatly improves interoperability across multiple MS Office versions. The program can also now export to XLSX files with sheet names longer than 31 characters and exporting XLSX checkboxes. A long time Office XLSS bug, the "invalid content error" when opening exported XLSX files with shapes has also been resolved. Finally, he PPTX import/export filter has been improved.

Other noteworthy new features include:

  • Support for the new 2019 Open Document Format (ODF) 1.3 format. ODF is LibreOffice's native, open office document format. ODF 1.3's most important new features are document digital signatures and OpenPGP-based XML document encryption. The new ODF also boasts improvements in change tracking, and elements first pages, text, numbers, and charts.

  • Skia graphics engine and Vulkan GPU acceleration. Skia is an open-source 2D graphics library, which is used for quickly drawing text, shapes, and images. Vulkan is an AMD graphics and compute API with high-efficiency and cross-platform access to GPUs.

Most of the other significant LibreOffice improvements are in Writer, LibreOffice's word processor. These include: 

  • Navigator is easier to use, with more context menus

  • Semi-transparent text is now supported

  • Bookmarks can now be displayed in-line within text

  • Padded numbering in lists, for consistency

  • Better handling of quotation marks and apostrophes

LibreOffice is now available on all major desktop operating systems. This includes Windows, macOS, Linux, and ChromeOS. You can also run LibreOffice from the cloud with LibreOffice Online. Collabora, which offers LibreOffice servers to cloud companies, also supports LibreOffice Online instances for Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, openSUSE, Univention Virtual Machines, and Docker images

This office suite is a true open-source project. While most of its code is committed by corporate developers from companies such as Collabora, Red Hat, and CIB, 26% of it comes from individual volunteers.

LibreOffice 7.0 is LibreOffice's bleeding-edge release. While more than a beta, it's meant for early adopters and power users. The current production edition is LibreOffice 6.4.5.

For enterprise-class deployments, LibreOffice's parent organization The Document Foundation (TDF) strongly recommends working with one of its commercial partners for long-term support, dedicated assistance, custom new features, and Service Level Agreements (SLA)s. 

The TDF also recommends that if you're migrating from a proprietary office suite. you should turn to value-added certified professionals.

LibreOffice 7.0 is available now. The minimum requirements for proprietary operating systems are Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 and Apple macOS 10.12. It will run on any Linux distributions.

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